President Ross Gittell, Ph.D., comes to Bryant University with extensive academic and professional credentials – but it’s his experiences outside academia and economic forecasting that make him who he is. Here’s a look beyond the résumé at Bryant’s new president.
Building his path
Gittell grew up Queens, NY, where he enjoyed playing basketball with friends and exploring the city. It’s also where he got his first job – shoveling snow. “It was a very supportive environment,” he notes, one that informed his philosophy as an educator. “That's what we want to do for future generations – make sure that they have the support, the engagement, and the interaction that will make them stronger, better people,” he says.
His mother, Marilyn Gittell, Ph.D., a college professor and political scientist, inspired him to go into academia. “She was always very deeply engaged with her students – and her students really loved her. She made a difference in so many people's lives through being an educator,” Gittell says. “I hope to come close to what she achieved.”
President Gittell’s father, Irwin Gittell, was a CPA with an independent practice who also taught Accounting at night at Queens College and authored an accounting textbook. A first-generation college student and WWII veteran, he attended college with the GI Bill.
“Part of being there for people and being helpful to them is listening to them, and learning from them, and supporting them in what they want to do and what they're experiencing.”
Off the clock
When he’s not working, Gittell is an avid basketball fan. “I've loved sports my whole life,” says Gittell who played point guard when he was younger and now runs and swims for exercise. “There are a lot of parallels between academic work and athletics,” he notes. “To be successful at both requires a lot of concentration, a lot of focus, and a lot of preparation.”
In fact, if he could try his hand at another profession, he’d love to be a professional basketball coach – a job where he also could help others achieve their full potential. “I was always good at play-making as a player, and I think that would have transferred over to being a good coach,” says Gittell. “I also like encouraging people to excel through teamwork and collaboration.”
Colson Whitehead, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Nickel Boys, is Gittell’s favorite author. His favorite movie is Saturday Night Fever and his favorite musician is Bruce Springsteen. “I've seen Bruce maybe five times at various stages of my life and my wife and I got Bruce Springsteen tickets for our wedding,” he says.
Gittell enjoys spending time with his wife, Jody Hoffer Gittell, Ph.D., a professor of Management at Brandeis University and Executive Director of the Relational Coordination Research Collaborative, and their two daughters. “My family and I all really enjoy music,” he says. “My wife and my daughters and I all listen to each other's music and one thing we all agree on is Bruce Springsteen.”
"I have a passion for lifelong learning and learning from other people...I think that's why I've always stayed in the academy, because you could help people learn at the same time you're constantly learning through your interaction with others."
Learning from others
One of the biggest lessons Gittell has learned from his family is how to listen. “Part of being there for people and being helpful to them is listening to them, and learning from them, and supporting them in what they want to do and what they're experiencing,” he states. “If I had one super power, it would be being able to really listen and understand different people's needs and who they are.”
If he could have dinner with and learn from three figures from history, Gittell would choose Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Barack Obama and former NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – the first two because of their roles in shaping history and the third because Gittell idolized him as a child and because of his dedication to social justice.
As President of Bryant, he’s most looking forward to interacting with the University’s students, getting to know them, helping them, and learning from them. “I have a passion for lifelong learning and learning from other people,” says Gittell. “I think that's why I've always stayed in the academy, because you could help people learn at the same time you're constantly learning through your interaction with others.”