Computer science's gentle giant

Bennie Bauman cared deeply for JMU students
By Anita Noggle Powell ('78)

Originally published in Winter 2008, this is just one of many stories from Madison magazine's award-winning Professors You Love series, written by JMU students and alumni, about the professors that have made the most impact on their lives — then, and now.

Anita Powell (first row, far left) and computer science professor Bennie Bauman (back row, center) appear in the Phi Beta Lambda chapter's 1976 Bluestone photo.

Anita Powell (first row, far left) and computer science professor Bennie Bauman (back row, center) appear in the Phi Beta Lambda chapter's 1976 Bluestone photo.

Computer science professor Bennie M. Bauman and I started at JMU the same year — 1974. I was assigned to help him in the spring of 1975 through the work/study program, in which I provided secretarial services to two professors.

We worked out of the same small office — me at my IBM typewriter and Dr. Bauman at his desk. Students seeking help would come in the office and sit at a chair next to my typewriter. I was impressed with how he always took time to help and encourage students. Dr. Bauman took a personal interest in his students. His technique for helping was to ask questions and get students to find their own mistakes. He showed them that they could solve problems.

Dr. Bauman was much loved for his approach to teaching. He was an energetic and enthusiastic lecturer, who wanted his students to feel the same way about computer science. Grades weren't as important as helping students learn the material and gain confidence.

He was a gentle giant. Dr. Bauman was a large man in stature — more than 6 feet — and he had a heart of gold. He became a second "father" to me providing me with much help and encouragement to get through the marketing/management program. When I started at Madison, my parents were going through a bitter divorce, and my tuition became one of their issues to throw at each other. My first semester, I discovered my mother had moved without contacting me. My father was incommunicado, also setting up a new home. Dr. Bauman helped me deal with the pressures of school and the college culture. He was a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on when I needed help and understanding. At one point my father refused to pay my tuition, which meant I would have to leave school. Dr. Bauman helped me discover other sources of aid, so I could stay.

Because of these financial constraints, I needed to graduate as early as possible. Dr. Bauman helped me discover courses I could get credit for by taking tests (typing and clerical) to prove I had mastered the subject area. He also introduced me to a way of earning course credits by doing a research project under the guidance of another professor. I did a comprehensive research project and analysis and earned six additional credits. I increased my course load for the rest of the semesters and was able to fulfill graduation requirements and earn a double major in three and a half years.

Without Dr. Bauman's insight and help, I probably would have dropped out of school. Instead, I got involved in JMU's Phi Beta Lambda Chapter, serving as president and later as Virginia chapter president. Dr. Bauman was our group's adviser, and he encouraged each of us to push ourselves and to excel. Our chapter placed first in a few state competitions and participated in the national competitions in Florida. Dr. Bauman insisted on driving us round trip, and it was a great experience. We all benefited greatly from our beloved professor's enthusiasm, spirit and encouragement.

Dr. Bauman's humor and encouragement are still with me. He gave a part of himself to me that I will never forget. When my parents came to my graduation, I was able to introduce them to my "second dad." I was so proud of my accomplishments, but I know I couldn't have done it without Dr. Bauman. He was a real credit to his profession. Professors give so much of themselves; it is important for us to tell them when they have made a difference in our lives. I'm so glad that I kept in touch and thanked Dr. Bauman for his influence in my life. He passed away in 2001, but he will always be in my heart. His example is a continuing inspiration that I hope to emulate in my own life.

About the professor
Ben M. Bauman taught computer science at JMU from 1974 to 2000. He died April 5, 2001, after a brief illness. He served the Society of Data Educators — now known as the International Association for Computer Information Systems — for 25 years in several elected positions, including treasurer and director of conference arrangements. Bauman served in the U.S. Air Force for 23 years, including several tours in Vietnam and other overseas assignments. He was one of the pioneers in the application of military data processing. In recognition of his contributions to higher education, Bauman was selected as the National Data Educator of the Year in 1985.

About the author
Anita Noggle Powell ('78) double majored in management and marketing and earned an M.B.A. in marketing from George Mason University in 1987. This year, she earned an M.A. in theology at Notre Dame Graduate School. Powell has worked in marketing in the telecommunications field, most recently as a director. She and her husband, David, have been married for 23 years. She volunteers for Hospice in patient care and teaches religious education at her church. Powell also visits the sick in nursing homes and private homes and serves as an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist.