In the early summer of 2020, Ross Gittell, Ph.D., took on the greatest challenge of his career — one he would cite as his hardest-earned accomplishment, as well. Gittell, who was transitioning from a decade-long role as chancellor of the Community College of New Hampshire system to the president’s office at Bryant, was tasked with figuring out how to reopen campus in the fall while navigating the early unknowns of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the end, Bryant was one of only a few higher education institutions across the nation to remain open with continuation of in-person classes without interruption — the effect of which reverberates today as our 2022 graduates celebrate the highest return on investment in university history and our classes of 2026 and 2027 are the largest on record.
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Gittell, an economist with a doctorate in public policy who’s authored books on sustainable business and urban revitalization, understood the importance of resilience and innovation amid unprecedented times. Today, as he navigates more uncharted territory — the execution of Bryant’s Vision 2030 strategic plan — Gittell is deploying the same steady-handed leadership that built trust during the pandemic which, now, will usher the university into a period of national recognition and growth.
Below, Gittell shares how he, working with many others at the university, will harness the lessons of the past to build a stronger future for Bryant.
Three years in, what’s been the biggest challenge of your career at Bryant?
Ross Gittell, Ph.D.: Preparing for the fall of ’20 and a return to campus amid the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. The health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff were of the utmost importance as we worked to keep the campus open and operate as normally as possible — and we exceeded that benchmark. This would not have been possible without strong leadership, community commitment, and creative problem solving.
I felt fortunate I was able to contribute in some way during a period that was difficult for us all, personally and professionally. I also know that, as a professional-oriented and business-oriented and management-oriented institution, we are positioned well to navigate challenges with agility and innovation.
What has been your biggest accomplishment?
RG: I’m so proud of the way we were able to maintain operations during the early COVID days. Our faculty, staff, and students demonstrated incredible resilience during this period. Because of them, and because of the unwavering support of our Board of Trustees, we are now able to position the institution for a strong future with Vision 2030.
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What’s next for Bryant?
RG: Through Vision 2030, we’re building upon a strong foundation in academics and student life, and our commitment to student success, to continue to ensure our graduates experience a top 1 percent return on investment and the institution, more broadly, is further recognized for our outstanding education. To do that, we will enhance our already strong experiential programming; incorporate AI and data analytics across the curriculum so our graduates can effectively use these tools and understand their value, and also their limitations, across different disciplines; and further grow and develop our graduate and executive education programming.
What would you say to those who argue that the college isn’t worth the cost?
RG: More and more, young people and their families are looking at career outcomes the minute they begin the higher education search process. At Bryant, where 99 percent of our graduates have jobs or are in graduate school within six months of graduation, we can do what many institutions across the nation cannot: We can deliver on the promise of a great education that leads to great careers for our students.
"We talk about outcomes for students. Our graduates talk about outcomes for organizations, which is why so many of them go on to be leaders in their fields."
Bryant’s interdisciplinary education model — which integrates business with liberal arts or health sciences — is a major contributor to Bryant’s success. The business of health, for example, offers a lot of exciting career opportunities. We recently added a degree in healthcare informatics, which combines data analytics and health sciences in a way that helps organizations run effectively while also delivering healthcare efficiently.
At Bryant, we promote a continuum of results, from the practitioner to the practice. It’s embedded into our curriculum, and the impact is tangible. We talk about outcomes for students. Our graduates talk about outcomes for organizations, which is why so many of them go on to be leaders in their fields.
What do you enjoy most about working at Bryant?
RG: The community. Our faculty, staff, and students are so focused, so ambitious, and so aspirational. But, at the same time, they support each other. It’s inspiring. We also have a very engaged board that’s two-thirds alums, and their support has been critical to our success.
How do you wind down at the end of the day?
RG: I walk back from my office on campus to the Callahan House [president's residence] along Alumni Walk and I have a view of all the early evening activities: the academic seminars, student organization meetings, the student-athletes practicing on the athletic fields, groups headed to the library or to dinner. They give me a nice hello and we often chat for a few minutes. Those interactions remind me of why I do this work; it’s a great way to close each day.
My wife Jody, who is a professor at Brandeis, and I also do a lot of reading in the evenings. Right now, I’m reading a biography of Senator Claiborne Pell called An Uncommon Man. I enjoy reading biographies of leaders, but I do read fiction, as well. I just finished Death and the Penguin by Ukrainian author Andrey Kurkov, which offers a glimpse into the culture, the environment, the corruption, and the influence of Russia in Ukraine.
Last month, after reading his book, By the Grace of the Game, you invited author and former professional basketball player Dan Grunfeld to campus for Hillel’s 75th anniversary celebration. What was your biggest takeaway from your conversation with Dan?
RG: Dan said he attributes a lot of his success as a venture capitalist to his experiences playing basketball. Both require a lot of teamwork, analysis, and the kind of drive to do whatever it takes — win or lose. As someone who played sports myself, mostly basketball, that idea really resonated with me.
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At Bryant, our student-athletes do so well academically and have leadership roles on campus, which tells me that a college education is critical to future success, but the student life piece is so important, too.