Passion for Data Leads Bassani to Teaching, Overcoming Obstacles Along the Way

Gisella Bassani, a professor in the Department of Business Information and Analytics (BIA) within the Daniels College of Business, has been teaching at the University of Denver since 2011. From working on her PhD that she hopes to wrap up this upcoming spring to being the advisor for the music business club, Bassani wears many hats.

Before becoming a professor, Bassani spent over 25 years in the corporate world, gaining experience and learning about information systems in a variety of functions. After college, Bassani worked in Italy, New York and Atlanta before landing at the University of Denver to get her Masters in Business Administration (MBA). One thing has always remained true over the years - her love for data.

What experience led you to want to teach?

I started climbing the corporate ladder and realized it wasn’t as fulfilling as I thought it would be. Between college and coming back for my MBA when I was in New York, I taught adult classes on how to use Excel [and] Word. I remembered how exciting that was for me, but you could only see these people for a day. Whereas I thought, ‘Wow, at the college level, you get to see someone for a whole quarter.’ You get to see them grow and really apply the lessons that you are teaching them. I was in between jobs, so I came to the University of Denver. I asked if I could teach, and they just happened to have an opening.

What has been one of the biggest lessons that you’ve learned working in BIA and with big data?

All data has a story to tell. My advice to everybody is learn all the stories your data can tell because if you just look at one little piece, you can tell a very different story than if you look at another same little piece but from a different perspective. It’s really important to have this holistic view of data. Not that it only tells one story, but that its story is rich. That is why it is so easy to get data to lie for you because if you only take it from one perspective, one calculation, it is very different. To me, that’s super exciting. All the stories the data has to tell and the stories that still need to be told on the data we’ve already collected.

What led you to go back to school for your PhD? What has the process been like so far?

I decided to do this so I could get a job at Daniels, in the BIA Department. I’m where I want to be already.

It has been very hard. I didn’t realize how much time alone I’d have to spend. For everything that you do, if it’s hard, keep going. Yeah it’s hard, but look at all the things you can learn from it being hard. If everything’s easy maybe you’re not learning a whole lot. To me, this has been a huge growth experience. Most people don’t get a PhD at my age. I was pretty late to the game. I have to say although it’s hard, it’s been a joyous experience. I love learning about academia. I’ve met so many cool people, and I’m networking.

What is it like juggling working and studying? Do you have any tips for students who may also have a lot on their plates?

Learn what your priorities are to you and make a list. It’s so easy to make a list. Then say, ‘Is this worth it? Will this be good in the long run for me? Or should I just not do this anymore because I have figured out halfway through that this is not for me at all?’ You can always reprioritize. You can’t do everything, and your health is paramount. It’s really important to take care of your physical health and your mental health. Get sleep.

My family and friends have understood for quite some time that I probably I’m not going to hang out with them as much as I used to because I just don't have enough hours in the day.

What is your biggest piece of advice for BIA majors?

BIA is hard, but there are so many rewards at the end. It will teach you grit, just keep going at it. Do not let people tell you that you cannot do something. I’ve had people come to me and say ‘I don’t know if I want to be a BIA major. Somebody told me I’m too bubbly and social to be a BIA major.’ And I’m like, ‘Well I’m bubbly and social, that’s my thing!.’ You can do anything you put your mind to.

With everything going on in our world and new technological developments, what is your outlook on Business Information Analytics? Where do you see the industry going and how do you feel about it?

Exponential growth. More and more data, videos [and] stuff out there to analyze. These are essential skills at this point. This is really like learning English, learning your base.

Look at Albert Lin, he does a show on National Geographic where he goes to ancient sites and uses Lidar, and they have discovered the amazing amount of structures that are in Mexico and Central America right now that nobody ever knew existed because they were covered with forests. That technology is only possible because of things like data. It is amazing what we’re discovering these days. As we go through history, we all have prejudices in our mind based on how we live today. A lot of the history was written by people who had very specific beliefs, so they thought ‘Oh, Viking warriors all must be men.’ Turns out that was not true at all, there were a lot of Viking warriors that were women and had honorable burials just like the Viking men. We are rewriting history as we speak.

So rewriting history, rethinking the way that we think about the world, all of that is based on research and data and putting that data together and doing something cool with it. Being able to find new frontiers.

Do you have any specific experiences where you faced pushback going into BIA?

One of my most memorable was when I went in for a job interview and they said: ‘Wow! You are really smart and you have all the qualifications but I don’t see you behind the computer all day long. You’re just too friendly, have you ever thought about going into sales?’ I was a little taken aback [because] you want people who are communicative. If you are not going to [hire] people that are open and can have important conversations, you’re going to end up with an IT department that is ineffectual. At one point, I thought I needed to change my look, maybe wear some glasses, look a little more librarian-like when I go in for interviews and try not to smile as much. But they would eventually realize, and the cultural fit wouldn’t be there.

You have to find places where you are going to culturally fit in. Where people are going to be happy that you come into their place of work. Companies come and go, so find a company that has a longer staying power. Places that are diverse, whether it’s in race, gender, religion or anything else. The more diverse, the better your company is going to be. Then it can look at all of the stakeholders and all of their customers and be able to understand where those customers are coming from. They will be more successful.

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