A life of learning

Dr. Cynthia Baum ’78 confers an honorary degree to Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and former president of Costa Rica, Dr. Óscar Arias Sánchez, at Walden’s 48th Commencement Ceremony in August 2012.

Cynthia Baum ’78 had expected to become a clinical psychologist after graduation. But as it turned out, she never strayed far from academic life. After more than 20 years in education, Baum is about to wrap up her first year as the ninth president of Walden University, an online school with a mission of promoting positive social change.

Baum began her career at Denison at a young age. She was only 17 when she matriculated. She knew what she wanted in a university when she was searching during high school—a small, elite private university.

“I was looking for a place where I could be challenged academically but in an environment where I felt supported,” Baum said. “I had never heard of Denison. I drove by and saw the sign and went, ‘Oh, why not?’” It was at Denison that Baum realized how much she wanted to become a faculty member at a college or university.

“Many of them taught full time but also were able to practice some clinical psychology,” Baum said. “They were able to spend their time dedicated to the students. It was a very different career path than someone at a large state university. I loved the idea of being able to both teach and practice. I had a couple of really great role models.”

One of those was Professor Dene Berman, her senior research advisor. To Baum, he was more than just a professor; Berman was a life coach.

“Late in the year, he invited me to go out and get a soda. We went to the Granville Inn, got off campus,” Baum said. “We chatted about everything except research. And at the end, he said, ‘Here’s what I think you should do.’ He understood at that time I needed more than a solution—I needed someone to be there.”

Those experiences, and examples of putting students first, have traveled with Baum as she has built her career in higher education. After beginning her career with tenure track faculty appointments at Virginia Tech and The Catholic University of America, she worked as the assistant executive director for education at the American Psychological Association before becoming a regional vice president for the Kaplan Higher Education Corporation, where she was in charge of operations at seven campuses. Baum, who earned her M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Georgia, served in leadership roles with the American Psychological Association, the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, the Society for the Teaching of Psychology, and the National Council of Schools and Programs of Professional Psychology, where she served as president. Before that, she managed several of The Art Institutes schools and Argosy University.

Baum assumed the Walden presidency (she’s the second female president in the school’s history) after serving four and a half years as vice president of the College of Health Sciences and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and, most recently, as the executive vice president of Walden.

Baum is loving her new position and finds one of the biggest challenges is building community—something very different than what she experienced on the hill.

“I have more than 2,500 faculty and 1,600 employees who are geographically dispersed around the world,” Baum said. “It’s challenging and great fun.”

Baum is just one of several Denisonians who have gone on to sit in the presidential seat. Here’s a look at just a few of the folks who have served or are currently serving as a college or university president:

  • William G. Bowen ’55, former president of Princeton University
  • Dale Knobel ’71, current president of Denison University
  • Cheryl Norton ‘ 71, current president of Slippery Rock University
  • Danielle Ripich ’67, current president of the University of New England
  • Orlando Taylor ’57, current president The Chicago School of Professional Psychology

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