Getting to know...Charlie Bass
Dr. Charlie Bass, the Dr. & Mrs. Harry H. McCalla Professor of Chemistry, is a true Southerner who loves family, teaching, and the great outdoors. In talking to him, the two things you’re most likely to notice first are his humility and sense of humor. The one thing he’s most passionate about is his family.
“My family is from Long Beach, Miss.,” says Bass. “My mom and dad lived up here for almost a year after (Hurricane) Katrina as three feet of the Gulf of Mexico came inside their house. My wife Carri’s mother and stepfather lived with us from a few days before the storm hit until a few weeks after. It was a great time for my children to get closer to their grandparents.”
Carri, who runs a photography business in Spartanburg, was born in California, but luckily enough for Charlie, her father was transferred to Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi. He met Carri in high school and the two married and left the Gulf Coast for graduate school at the University of Tennessee. Next they moved west. Way out west.
“I spent a year in a post-doctoral study at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver,” he says. “Basically, that’s a halfway house for chemists who haven’t really decided whether they want to go into academics or industry. You work at a university primarily doing research under a professor.
“Then I did a second post-doc at Arizona State University and their cancer research institute. After about three and a half years there, I had a mid-life crisis and decided I wanted to come back to where my accent would not be a hindrance, so I started looking into smaller colleges in the South and I got lucky.”
He found Wofford, and Wofford found him.
“Wofford was perfect,” he says. “It was the right size for me. It’s about the same size as my undergraduate school, only the chemistry program is a lot stronger. Science is a much bigger emphasis here, so I’m very happy. If I had to sell one thing about the chemistry department to prospective students, it would be the interactions with faculty. We have an excellent faculty here and we care a lot about the students.”
Bass could have made twice the money had he decided to pursue industry over academics, but teaching called to him.
“In high school I was a tutor for chemistry,” he explains. “That’s when I first got interested. I sort of fought the teaching notion for a while, but the one-on-one time with students appealed to me and eventually I broke down and decided to teach.”
He also grills. Once a year, the Basses will host a cookout for Wofford chemistry students.
“I enjoy the interaction with students away from class,” he says. “I really like working with them on science activities with elementary school students.”
Bass’s oldest son, David, took a class at Wofford this summer and loved it. His youngest, Michael, is in the marching band at Spartanburg High School.
“This helps Carri and me relive our high school days,” he says. “She was in the band.”
Meanwhile, as assistant scout master for his son’s boy scout troop, Bass gets to go camping, kayaking and all the other “ings” associated with the outdoors.
But there is still the serious chemist side to his personality. Okay, semi-serious. When asked who he liked best growing up, Beakman or Bill Nye the Science Guy, he replied: “Probably Beakman. For one, he’s goofier. I think Bill Nye is very talented and intelligent, don’t get me wrong, but to have hair like Beakman would be nice for me.”
Bass is seriously working with Italian professor Bruno Botta, an organic chemist at the largest university in Rome. The two met in Vancouver and became great friends. They have exchanged visits and one of Bass’s students, Bernie Sikes, got to do research one summer in Professor Botta’s lab in Rome.
“He and I hope to do some collaborative research,” says Bass. “He is most definitely the brains behind that operation. I think this cooperation is a wonderful opportunity for our students to work with a world-renowned chemist.”