One of the most beloved faculty members in the history of the College of Optometry recently received very positive and deserved news: he was promoted from Associate to Full Professor. For Director of Research, Dr. Carl Bassi, this promotion came rather late in his tenure but represents a very significant accomplishment. The number of Full Professors at UMSL is not large and his promotion doubles the number of Full Professors in the College of Optometry. In fact, the College of Optometry has only had five Full Professors in their 37-year history.
He came to UMSL nearly 30 years ago after receiving degrees from several prestigious institutions, a PhD in Psychology from Vanderbilt University and a Post doctorate Fellow in Ophthalmology from the University Of Southern California Doheny Eye Institute. Based upon his background he was most qualified to teach Monocular Sensory Processes but as that course was always the priority for another vision scientist he has literally taught every course in the curriculum but MonSens. He has taught 14 different classes with a wide diversity of content ranging from Neuroanatomy to numerous optics classes. The one constant: the students love his teaching style and they learn. In fact, he is very dedicated to ensuring that every student understands the material as Madison Moss (’20), first year Class Representative relates: “Dr. Bassi is an exceptional professor because he cares deeply for his students. From the very first day of class, he has always made a point to ask the class if we are all "with him" and understanding the material he presents to us. If he notices a look on someone's face indicating that they might be the slightest bit confused, he takes the extra two minutes to explain the concept once more, for the benefit of all. This is a big part of what makes Dr. Bassi such an incredible professor. We respect him for his intelligence and accomplishments, but also for the kindness he shows towards us. We know Dr. Bassi cares that we learn the material well, and we are encouraged by the fact that he believes in us. In every respect, Dr. Bassi is an outstanding individual and professor, and he is so deserving of this promotion to Full Professor. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn from him!”
Remarkably, in all of the teaching evaluations for his courses, with over 1000 total comments, there was not one negative comment about him personally. The students consistently described an instructor who cared about his students and could communicate the information enthusiastically and in a manner for which they would enjoy and learn.
He has been voted “Outstanding Optometric Educator” twice; no one in the College has received this prestigious award more. Every year the second-year students select the faculty member they want to speak at their “White Coat Ceremony” and every year they select Dr. Bassi who proceeds to entertain them during this very important ceremony. He also coordinates the annual Fechner Day in which a very prominent vision scientist presents a seminar in front of our current students and faculty as well as members of the UMSL community. He has also been actively involved in teaching outside of the classroom, including a very active involvement in the highly successful “Nutrition and the Eye” annual symposium held at UMSL.
Dr. Bassi is also very innovative, having received numerous patents for his innovations and showing no signs of slowing down. He and his team of Wayne Garver and Michael Howe have teamed together on many new technologies including a device capable of quickly measuring visual suppression in patients which they have termed the “Q3D” for Qualitative Three Dot Test. It is his belief that the Q3D will be a valuable tool for assessing suppression as a standard clinical tool in all eye care professionals’ offices. He has also been very much associated with important research pertaining to age-related macular degeneration. His team has developed a new device to measure glare sensitivity in these patients and then followed up with a device to measure macular pigment across the visual field and correlate levels with contrast sensitivity and glare sensitivity. His intellectual curiosity knows no boundaries. A case in point is that he is currently working with both Stanford University and College of Optometry faculty on visual applications using the “Foldscope” device. This is an origami folded piece of paper along with a glass bead and a small LED light that can be used as a microscope. His research and innovations display remarkable diversity and also include such topics as glaucoma, Alzheimer ’s disease, and color vision assessment.
Dr. Bassi has recently established an exceptional program for students interested in performing research, the Optometry Scholars Program. This program encourages students who are interested in research to work with interested research faculty. Summer funding, and travel fellowships to attend research meetings are typically included. In the three years that the program has existed, Dr. Bassi has enrolled 10 students, most of them working directly with him. Already that group of students has produced 12 abstracts and several publications. Because of its success, the program is sought after by entering UMSL Optometry students, who compete to be included. One of the current students in this program is Blair Gerratt (’19) who has benefited greatly from both the program and his mentor: “There is a Japanese proverb that says, ‘Better than a thousand days of diligent study is one day with a great teacher.’ Dr. Bassi possesses a rare gift for teaching; without being critical he inspires excellence. He demonstrates understanding of his subject, boundless excitement about the material, and care for the students. These outstanding qualities facilitate real learning from his pupils. He has the unheard-of ability to help an entire class understand optics while simultaneously entertaining them. Outside of the classroom, Dr. Bassi always makes time in his busy schedule to help students. Whether that student’s concern is an optics question, research guidance, or brainstorming options for a new puppy name, he makes it a priority. As director of the Optometry Scholars Program, Dr. Bassi helps students discover their passion for research and expanding the field of optometry. He provides opportunities for the optometry scholars to grow while still providing valuable direction and assistance. He is quick to give credit to the students even when he may be responsible for the success of a project. Dr. Bassi once said of someone else that, ‘they are kind to everyone and that’s a great way to live life.’ He would know from experience because that’s how he lives his own life. If ‘intelligence plus character is the goal of true education,’ then Dr. Bassi’s students leave his classroom having truly been educated.”
Dr. Bassi is well-known on campus because of his long-standing role as Chair of the UMSL Institutional Review Board (IRB). The IRB has the ever-important task of reviewing all protocols for faculty desiring to perform research involving human subjects. Dr. Bassi’s support of the IRB’s change from a paper-based protocol to a web-based electronic system was very important and his skills in working with faculty ensured that the change was seamless.
Dr. Bassi’s abilities have been well recognized by those he impacts as noted by Dean Larry Davis: “Carl has distinguished himself as an inspirational instructor who is highly popular and valued by students and alumni. Beyond that he constantly explores opportunities to design and test “better widgets” and is often a resource and collaborator for faculty colleagues in the College and on campus. He has served as a key contributor for at least three patents. His recent promotion is much deserved.”