“America Needs a Rebirth of Public Service”

Now retired from FSU, the Bambacuses' hope to continue inspiring Frostburg students to become involved in public affairs


Reflecting on their long and distinguished careers at Frostburg State University, John ’70 and Karen Bambacus enjoy when they hear from former students they inspired.

"When they drop you a note or come up to you, it really makes your day," Karen said.

Now that they have retired – John, from the Department of Political Science in 2004, and Karen, as director of Instructional Technology in 2011 – they have created a scholarship through the FSU Foundation, Inc., to continue inspiring Frostburg students.

The John and Karen Bambacus Civic Engagement Scholarship is awarded to full-time students who demonstrate an interest in local, state or national service, with preference given to U.S. veterans. The chosen criteria are based on subject matters that are dear to the couple's hearts.

John and Karen Bambacus in front of a stone castle-like building

John arrived in Frostburg as an undergraduate in 1968. A Marine freshly back from a 15-month tour in Vietnam, he found himself in the midst of the turmoil happening in our nation and on the Frostburg campus. When he graduated in 1970 and started his master's degree, John was hired by the Admissions Office to work as a veteran's counselor. Karen arrived three years later, after graduating from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, to work as a media specialist and teach video and audio production and design classes.

“It's one thing to see students in class. It's quite another thing to see them in a congressional or governor's office or a judge's chamber.”

In 1972, John was hired as a professor and later served as chair of the Political Science Department; he continued in those roles until his retirement. He experienced many career highlights away from the FSU campus, including serving as a Maryland state senator for eight years and mayor of Frostburg for four terms. As the long-time director of the FSU's Public Affairs Institute (a predecessor to the J. Glenn Beall Institute for Public Affairs, which began after John's retirement), John oversaw the placements of "hundreds and hundreds" of student internships at the local, state and national levels. He looks back at those appointments with great pride.

"It's one thing to see students in class. It's quite another thing to see them in a congressional or governor's office or a judge's chamber." John said. "It was always fascinating to see the student's growth. … So many of them said it was the best experience of their lives."

Karen, too, always enjoyed when her students showed interest in the local community and reflected that in their class projects. She recalls multimedia presentations on Cumberland bridges and one profiling the familiar faces around Frostburg.

In retirement, John finds time to volunteer at the Veterans Center on the FSU campus. "It gives me a sense of purpose" he said.

John and Karen are quick to credit the legacy of Dr. Nelson Guild, who was Frostburg president when both were hired. Guild's openness and support, and hosting faculty and staff in his home, set a welcoming tone on the campus. John and Karen continued that tradition and often opened their home for gatherings of political science and Public Affairs Institute students.

They hope their scholarship will encourage today's Frostburg students to get involved in civic engagement, especially in light of recent world events.

"Today, more than any other time, America needs a rebirth of public service. … When America faces a crisis – whether it's Pearl Harbor, 9/11 or the insurrection at the Capitol – we need to focus on 'what do we do next?'" And, he said, it's not only politicians, but also staff members and community volunteers who are needed. "Universities are well-suited to provide students with those types of experiences."

To make a gift in support the John and Karen Bambacus Civic Engagement Scholarship, call the FSU Foundation at 301-687-4068 or visit online at