Faculty Perspectives: Anna Gassman-Pines

Anna Gassman-Pines.

Anna Gassman-Pines, Professor of Public Policy

Bass Connections Teams: Examining Racial Inequality and Reform through Driver’s License Access; Justice Reform Efforts and Effects on Self-sufficiency; North Carolina Early Childhood Action Plan: Evidence-based Policy Solutions; Where Does the Money Go? Federal Spending on American Children; Racial and Educational Inequality as a Consequence of Family Structure: Learning from Shotgun Marriages

Anna Gassman-Pines has led Bass Connections teams exploring questions at the intersection of social science and policy since the program’s founding in 2013. From 2015-2022, she was also the faculty leader of the Bass Connections Education & Human Development theme, which supported 121 project teams over nine years. She shared advice at a Spring 2022 retreat for newly tenured faculty.

Asking Your Own Questions

Early in her time at Duke, Anna Gassman-Pines often found herself conducting projects using secondary data, which other people had collected. Over time, however, she realized she wanted to invest in a primary collection data project. “What would I do if I asked questions myself?” she wondered. This ownership of the research question and data collection process would allow her to answer pressing questions in social science and policy.

She opened herself up to what it would mean to design and implement a project. Because seed money is necessary to fund smaller projects that could potentially lead to larger grant funding, she recognized the value in leveraging resources on campus, including the research power of Bass Connections project teams. 

Making Your Mark

When Gassman-Pines became a tenured professor in 2015, she also was appointed as a theme leader for Bass Connections in Education & Human Development (EHD). At a retreat for newly tenured faculty, she encouraged them to consider which university-level roles will be meaningful to them and how they’ll connect to professional goals. 

“I am so proud of the work of the EHD teams over the last 9 years,” said Gassman-Pines. “These scholars, students and community partners have not only helped to shape the science of human development but have generated insights with real-world implications for policy and practice. As the theme leader, it was thrilling to see students’ eyes opened to new ways of learning, colleagues’ research flourishing through team-based inquiry and local and global partners building their work through partnership.”

When faculty are at a career turning point, she recommends getting involved on campus. “Think of things … that make you feel proud and also are synergistic with your research goals,” said Gassman-Pines. 

Finding Your Collaborators

Gassman-Pines also recommended identifying intellectual partners that will make you stronger. It can be useful to leverage close intellectual partners when embarking on a new project. “One collaborator gave me a sense of stability and grounding to go in a new direction,” said Gassman-Pines. Having partners you already trust can make new directions less scary.

Gassman-Pines with project team.
Gassman-Pines (middle in stripes) and members of her 2014-2015 project team

Inspiring New Learning Methods

In Bass Connections, students participate on collaborative research teams for credit. The program gives students the chance to learn in a new and exciting way and changes the faculty-student dynamic. “I don’t know the answer to this question that we’re asking together,” Gassman-Pines tells her students in the fall, “but we’re going to figure out part of the answer or at least get ourselves closer to the answer by working together this year.” 

Not knowing the answer is exciting, she said. Students can learn to collect data for the project themselves and are challenged to figure out how to handle new situations. Gassman-Pines sets up the research question and a guiding vision, but the direction of the project is student-driven, which creates an atmosphere of interdependence and ownership. Working in this way combines research and student engagement that motivates students and helps them get comfortable with tackling open-ended research questions that still contain lots of unknowns.

Engaging Community Partners

Gassman-Pines also stressed the importance of research collaboration with policy partners and community partners. For one specific project, she needed to connect with policy workers and labor organizers but wasn’t familiar with anyone in this space. Fortunately, through inquiries to colleagues, she was able to connect to the right partners, and the relationships greatly enhanced her work. “It was helpful in my own work to talk to labor organizers and hear what on-the-ground folks were saying about what was working, what was not working and what questions were important,” she said.

See other faculty perspectives and learn how you can get involved in Bass Connections.