Photo of President Melissa J. Baumann

For a seed to transform into a towering tree, basic elements such as water, warmth and luck are needed. According to Ohio Northern University President Melissa J. Baumann, similar sustaining elements are required for students to grow into their full potential, too. As a child and throughout her college years, Baumann said she received essential support from her parents, who planted the seeds of her success from a landscape shaped by love, hard work and family. That’s why she is creating the Johann and Marilyn Baumann Endowed Scholarship, named in her parents’ honor, as part of ONU’s Forward Together Campaign.

The scholarship preferences underrepresented and women students.

President Baumann, a first-generation American and first-generation college student who earned a Ph.D. in materials science and engineering, says her late parents instilled in her the values of hard work, education and giving. Yugoslavian-born Johann Baumann had been a tool and die maker for General Motors. Marilyn Baumann had been a bookkeeper. 

“For the two of them, it was all about doing your best. It wasn’t about the task. It was about the value of the work itself,” Baumann says. Remaining positive despite challenges was also a family tenet, she explains. “My dad had polio. He would get sick often. So, we just didn’t take a minute for granted, ever. We were always acutely aware of every passing minute. Life is precious.”

Baumann, who has a history of promoting and supporting women in the STEM disciplines, intends for her gift to ease the financial burdens for students when it comes to earning a degree. She is well aware there are those who struggle to work extra jobs to pay for their tuition or food. “You are owed nothing” in life, her family taught her, but “they recognized the value of community and help,” including helping those we don’t know, she points out. “There are so many fortuitous happenstances. We’re all the beneficiaries of so many different things. Let’s be generous with others.”

“Where I came from, people didn’t have a lot but they came together with what they had,” she says. Every little bit of assistance can mean the difference between a student staying in school or dropping out. “I made it an endowment so this would live on, so that there will always be somebody whose educational experience is made a little bit more possible because of the hard work of my parents.”

“I hope this scholarship funding helps someone stay here and flourish and know that, again, it’s someone they didn’t know who believed in their potential,” Baumann says. And, she hopes it inspires others to give to students who could really use a hand, no matter their educational interests. “Higher education is the pathway to a better life, she adds. “I think it’s important for people to figure out their passion and become who they’re meant to be,” she says, and to channel those passions “into things that actually make their communities better.”

From an engineering perspective, Baumann’s gift is targeted at increasing representation in a professional field that is still lacking in the numbers of women and underrepresented students.

Baumann thinks that if her parents were here to see her accomplishments and the scholarship established in their names, her “humble, modest” parents would’ve been honored. “They recognized the value of working together for the greater good. So, I do think they would view this as almost a pay it forward for all the sacrifices they made for me,” she says. “I am honored to pay it forward in their names.”