While no two Park Scholars are alike, a commonality among them is multipotentiality: each scholar possesses strengths and interests in disparate areas. One manifestation of this trait is an eclectic set of academic and life experiences, and Win Bassett’s rather circuitous professional path exemplifies this.
When we last shared an update on Bassett ‘07, who holds undergraduate degrees in electrical and computer engineering and a law degree from UNC-Chapel Hill, he was serving as an assistant district attorney in Raleigh, N.C. Now he’s teaching English at an all-boys independent school in Nashville, Tenn. As abrupt as this shift might seem, Basset’s rationale for transitioning from courtroom to classroom is sound.
In his role as assistant district attorney, he regularly interacted with teenagers who’d committed non-violent crimes. Many were repeat offenders, and Bassett began to feel a bit of moral distress at the justice system’s primarily punitive – rather than rehabilitative – treatment of these young people.
“I came to the realization that I needed to teach secondary school,” said Bassett, “because I really wanted to have an impact with respect to character formation. I think the teenage years are the best ages for this influence, and a school, where children spend most of their time, is the best setting.”
As Bassett contemplated whether he would be best suited to enter the secondary education realm in the capacity of teacher, administrator, chaplain, or coach, he stumbled upon a book called With Love and Prayers. It was a compilation of addresses by the author, the Rev. Tony Jarvis, to his students over his 30-year career as headmaster of Boston’s Roxbury Latin School.
“I fell in love with this book and thought, ‘I need to spend as much time with this man as possible,’” Bassett said.
Conveniently for Bassett, Yale’s Berkeley Divinity School – an Episcopal seminary attached to the larger Yale Divinity School – had recently recruited Jarvis to start a one-of-a-kind Educational Leadership and Ministry (ELM) certificate program to train people seeking careers in schools. Upon his acceptance into the program, Bassett met with Jarvis, who further convinced him to come learn under him. In addition to the ELM program, Bassett enrolled in a two-year Master of Arts in Religion and Literature program, through which he took half of his courses in the Yale Divinity School and the other half in Yale’s English department.
During his studies at Yale, Bassett concluded that it wasn’t the right time for him to pursue ordained ministry to become a school chaplain, so he decided to enter school life as a teacher, mentor, and coach. He applied for and received one of Yale’s few Teaching Fellow positions, which are typically reserved for Ph.D. candidates. This role afforded Bassett the opportunity to teach an undergraduate class called Poetry Since 1950, and receive mentorship from Yale English Department Chair Langdon Hammer.
The summer following his first year at Yale, Bassett attended the International Boys’ School Coalition annual conference, which was held that year at Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville. Bassett had connections in Nashville because his fiancée grew up there, almost across the street from Montgomery Bell Academy. A Virginia native, Bassett knew by this point that he wanted to return to the South to teach at an independent school. During the conference he met Montgomery Bell’s headmaster, Brad Gioia, of whom Bassett’s mentor Jarvis spoke highly.
“Perhaps one of the most important factors in deciding what school to go to,” said Bassett, “is [a headmaster] who knew that I wanted to pursue leadership opportunities eventually, and someone who would take me under his wing, if you will, to mentor me.”
Bassett found that in Gioia, and after numerous conversations, came on board this year to serve the school as an English teacher and cross country and track coach – his “dream job.” An almost 150-year-old boys day school and the basis for the movie Dead Poets Society, Montgomery Bell Academy is a traditional school where all students are required to study Latin. As a new teacher to the school Bassett cites gaining credibility and respect – not from the other teachers, but from the students – as his greatest challenge this year. He’s successfully overcoming that challenge, however, by building rapport with the boys inside and outside the classroom. Bassett has enjoyed traveling with his cross country athletes to a summer camp in northern Alabama and to weekend invitational meets. He also finds it gratifying to help his students, especially those who are the most resistant or difficult, achieve breakthrough moments with respect to certain writing concepts.
Writing is one of Bassett’s cherished hobbies, and he’s had works published in The Atlantic, The Paris Review Daily, Oxford American, Men’s Journal, Guernica, and various other magazines, journals, and anthologies. Two publications of which Bassett is proudest are “Teachings,” an essay for The Poetry Foundation website, and an op ed he wrote for The Roanoke Times as a Father’s Day tribute to his father.
In addition to his busy teaching, coaching, and writing schedules, Bassett makes time each year to serve on the Park Scholarships Selection Committee – an activity he appreciates sharing with his brother and fellow Park Scholar, Tyler Bassett ‘09.
“I had a wonderful time at NC State, and my Park Scholarships experience was life-changing,” said Bassett. “I would not be where I am right now if it weren’t for all of my journey, and that’s law school all the way back to my Park Scholarships experience. I still count some of the people from my class as my best friends. I serve on the committee to give back, to help shape the Park Scholarships program that was so formative to me.”