Faculty Giving Helps Scholarship Recipients ‘Think and Do’ Times Two
Ross Bassett has been a professor in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHASS) for 25 years, but his impact on NC State goes far beyond his classroom. Bassett is also the director of the university’s Benjamin Franklin Scholars, a unique dual-degree program for engineering students.
He hasn’t stopped at simply supporting the Wolfpack through his time and talents as a faculty member, though. He is also a donor to several NC State funds that are near and dear to his heart.
Path to the Pack
Bassett graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and then worked for IBM for eight years, designing semiconductor memory systems for large computers. He eventually returned to college and earned a master’s degree (Cornell) and a Ph.D. (Princeton) in history, a subject he has always been passionate about. His studies focused on the history of technology; specifically, how technologies and engineers move across a variety of boundaries.
Then, in 1998, a job opening paved the way for him to come to NC State.
“I was really fortunate that, the year I finished my Ph.D., the person who taught the history of technology at NC State was retiring,” Bassett said. “It really was just a perfect fit for me because of the university’s engineering programs and my interest in the subject.”
Bassett soon joined CHASS and now teaches undergraduate- and graduate-level courses. He has published two books on the history of technology, with his third, in progress, analyzing the relationships between American and French engineering educational experiences.
In 2007, Bassett took on another important role at NC State by becoming the director of the Benjamin Franklin Scholars. This dual-enrollment scholarship program enables its members to simultaneously earn one bachelor’s degree in engineering and another in the humanities and social sciences, the latter in CHASS or in the Poole College of Management’s economics program.
The result: a well-rounded education the namesake Founding Father would certainly have approved of — and that the graduates can use to great effect in their careers.
“It is an incredible program,” Bassett said. “We have students who are passionate about learning, who are very, very curious, who study a wide variety of things. I really enjoy working with them.
“We have some who do traditional careers and some who I don’t think necessarily have a career reason for doing the two degrees,” he added. “They just say, ‘I love Spanish.’ ‘I love French.’ ‘I love philosophy.’ And so, they don’t necessarily know what it will do, but when you have a stack of résumés and you have a candidate who has studied aerospace engineering and, maybe, philosophy, it sort of makes that person stick out.
“They often have a broader education, more communication skills, the ability to write, the ability to think more broadly than other candidates who are more narrowly educated.”
Powering the Pack
A quarter-century of teaching at NC State is an invaluable gift in and of itself, but Bassett wasn’t content only to teach members of the Wolfpack while knowing some struggled to fund their educations. His time with the Benjamin Franklin Scholars, in particular, furthered his decision to give to the university financially.
Special payroll deductions and one-time gifts, including many on Day of Giving, make his philanthropy possible.
In the 2022-2023 fiscal year alone, more than 2,000 NC State faculty and staff members chose to give back financially to the university above and beyond their normal work efforts. Bassett was one of them, contributing to the Franklin program, the History Enhancement Fund, Feed the Pack Food Pantry and more.
“The History Enhancement Fund provides the history department with additional money to do some extra programming such as hosting outside speakers, and then Feed the Pack, we’ve had some students in the Franklin program who have been involved in it, so the issue of food security is something that I’m really aware of. I’m really grateful that NC State has these programs and am glad to be able to support them,” he said.
Making a lasting difference in the lives of NC State students doesn’t always require a lot of zeros at the end of a gift amount, however. Whatever the amount and whichever fund, Bassett’s overarching goal has always been the same: ensure that more students can fully Think and Do as members of the Pack and go on to successful lives as NC State alumni.
“My dream would be to have students be able to graduate without debt,” Bassett said, “and then that they would be free to choose opportunities based on what they see is most attractive, what is most using their talents, rather than saying, ‘Well, I have X-amount of school debt I need to pay off, so I need to find the job that pays the most.’”