Alumnus Profile: Jacob Baum
An Aquinas education is reputed to foster academic rigor, the ability to synthesize information, and interpersonal communication skills. These broadly applicable traits have been utilized by graduates in a variety of fields - from business to education - consistently finding success. Take Jacob Baum, a 2004 alumnus and assistant professor of history at Texas Tech University.
Initially, Baum looked to attend a liberal arts college, one with small classes and the ability to interact with professors - qualities he soon found at Aquinas. As a history major and German minor, Baum encountered constant faculty support and mentorship throughout his studies.
“Dr. Chad Gunnoe, of the history department, really took me under his wing and offered me a lot of guidance,” Baum said. “He gave me a couple interesting projects to do while I was an undergraduate. I worked on a translation of a sixteenth-century witchcraft treatise, out of Swiss German into English, which ended up being the subject of my senior thesis. At the same time, Dr. [Katharina] Gross helped me with the language and taught me about the culture of Germany, seeing the plurality of German culture and not going on the typical American stereotypes.”
The interplay between these two disciplines worked well in Baum’s classes, a fact noted by Dr. Katharina Häusler Gross, Associate Professor of German. “His long-standing scholarly interest and competence in medieval and European history especially enriched classroom discussions in two German Literature seminars,” Gross said. “He often enjoyed sharing his knowledge gained in history classes with his fellow students in German, volunteering to give brief presentations about sociopolitical and historical developments that occurred in German lands throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.”
Having earned a Ph.D. in Early Modern European History from the University of Illinois, Baum currently teaches undergraduate and graduate level history classes at Texas Tech University. This year, his repertoire includes courses in Western Civilization and the Protestant Reformation. “It’s really an ideal job for me,” he said, “because there’s a teaching component to the job, but there’s also a fairly significant research aspect as well. Individual professors are encouraged to go out and pursue their own research projects and get them published. That’s where my real passion lies, actually. I’m very interested in pursuing the research side of being a professor and it’s worked out very well for me, from that perspective!”
In addition to teaching, Baum’s position has enabled him to pursue research on the origins of the Protestant Reformation and the fifteenth century, a passion fostered during his studies at Aquinas. “I think that my education at Aquinas really directed me in that way,” he said. “I was already interested in how the Protestant Churches saw the Catholic Church, especially in regard to the ritual life of the Church - and that’s mainly what my research centers on now. I think Aquinas certainly sharpened my focus on such questions and provided me an environment for cultivating those interests.”
Reflecting on his undergraduate studies, Baum emphasized that Aquinas’ atmosphere of easy communication with professors created a uniquely formative experience - one he recommends to those still discerning the right school. “I feel that, here, I always had really good relationships with my professors,” he said. “I don’t think I would have ended up on the career trajectory I eventually pursued, if I hadn’t built those relationships with those professors, if they hadn’t been there to guide me and act as mentors. I think that Aquinas provides this unique environment, and I think it’s fundamentally important. It served me, and I think it would serve anyone well.”