The Ohio State University Alumni Association

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Q&A with alumni board chair Catherine Baumgardner

Ohio State threads are woven throughout this alumni association leader’s life.

Catherine zavatsky Baumgardner ’84, ’86 MHA speaks with a warm, genuine smile as she talks about earning two degrees from her alma mater, her role as chair of The Ohio State University Alumni Association Board of Directors, her mentors and common threads. The smile is present even when tears fill her eyes as she shares what the university has meant in her life.

“I earned my master’s here and went into the professional world,” says Baumgardner, a faculty member at Penn State and president of Catherine Baumgardner & Associates, a consulting practice for organization and leadership development and executive coaching. “Then, I decided to take a leap of faith 25 years later and pursue my PhD. The common thread is that Buckeyes are always somewhere on the journey. The opportunities Ohio State helped me to see and take advantage of don’t happen anywhere else. Whenever I face a challenge in my life, I try to remember to take a breath, and then I remind myself, ‘I’m a Buckeye. I can do this.’” — Dan Caterinicchia

What is your most memorable day as a student or alumna?

It’s the same day: commencement. Ohio State was always this magical place for me. My grandmother always told me, “People can take anything from you, but they can’t take your education.” So I wanted to decorate my cap, and I put a big red Z on it for my maiden name. I wanted my family to be able to find me in the sea of caps. I was trying to find them in the crowd and they were right behind me, which we did not plan. To be able to see the look in their eyes was special.

Did you have a mentor?

Oh, many! The first are my mom and dad, George Zavatsky and Mary Styrcula Zavatsky ’61 BSN. They gave me roots and wings. I never believed there was anything I couldn’t do. In my mind, college was what you did after high school, but that was not a reality for everyone I went to school with. My mom set that aspiration for me because she went to Ohio State.

Mr. Anthony Violi ’42 is another one. You know who he is because he dotted the i as a 100-year-old. He was my junior high band director. He epitomizes the Buckeye spirit. I always remember we ended every concert with something Ohio State, whether it was the “Buckeye Battle Cry” or something else. He always pushed me to do my best, he always believed in me, and I still get notes from him. He sent me a note recently when I was appointed to the board of directors. I saved them through the years because they are inspiring.

Steve Loebs was another one. He was director of the Master of Health Administration program, and I remember interviewing with him. We stay in touch, and when I went for my PhD 10 years ago, he wrote me a reference letter.

And then the biggest mentor of all: Mabel Freeman ’66, ’75 MA, ’88 PhD. She’s been a friend since 1984. She pushes me when I need to be pushed. She sets my head straight when it needs to be set straight. She’s been a force in my life for many years. [Freeman retired in 2012 after a 27-year career in which she led undergraduate admissions and First Year Experience among other things.]

The common thread there is that they were not just mentors at a point in time, they have opted to be mentors for life. How lucky can you be?

What one piece of advice would you give to students graduating in the spring?

Never stop learning! Your Ohio State degree is only the beginning.

What does it mean to you to serve as board chair during our sesquicentennial year?

It’s special at any time, but it’s extra special this year because of the shoulders that we stand on. I am sensitive to the legacy that we’re living. It’s 150 years of common thread, and now I have this responsibility to pick up that thread and carry it forward.

Time and Change: The Ohio State Campaign has a goal of attracting 1 million supporters, unprecedented for any school. How do you decide what to support?

First, it’s not how much you give, but that you can give. Do whatever you can and celebrate that. For me, it all comes back to students. I benefited from scholarships from people I never knew, and I vowed that someday, when I could, I would return that favor.

About the author

Dan Caterinicchia

Dan Caterinicchia is assistant vice president for strategy and administration in the Office of Advancement.