August 14th, 2019
Board Member Profile: Linda Gasser Brings Wealth of Experience to the Board
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Linda Gasser has worked with Cornell faculty members to help professors and business professionals in Central and Eastern Europe make the transition from Communist rule to a democratically free society through education. But after 30 years of organizing human resources training in countries from Slovakia to Romania, Gasser is now working with communities closer to home as a member of the Community Foundation of Tompkins County Board of Directors. “I’m at the point my life where I’m interested in giving back to the community, and this was an opportunity to think about where my funds might go, where my energy might go, and where my support for the community might go,” says Gasser, who was appointed to the board in January.
A native of Parsippany, New Jersey, Gasser moved to Ithaca in 1983 to earn a PhD in organizational behavior and human resources management from Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. While she fully intended to leave Ithaca and teach after graduating in 1991, she was immediately hired by ILR to build its international programs.
With a $1.5 million Mellon grant, Gasser created an educational partnership at two universities in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. “We were training faculty on the ‘people side’ of management and on managing change,” she says. “They were going through a major change from Communism to a more capitalist and more democratic society. We helped them learn how to go through that change.”
After becoming the assistant director of organizational development responsible for career development and training for Cornell staff and working in that position for 12 years, Gasser decided it was time for her to retire. But her retirement was short-lived, as she was quickly hired as an assistant professor of management at the Ithaca College School of Business.
In 2013, she tried retiring a second time, but again found her skills in demand. Missing international connections, Gasser started some leadership training and coordinating the Friendship Partners for Cornell’s Humphrey Fellowship Program, which brings mid-career professionals from developing countries to campus annually to explore agriculture, climate change, and sustainability issues for ten months.
Another post-retirement opportunity came four years ago when she was hired to train leaders of nongovernmental organizations in Central and Eastern Europe in a program run through the University of Michigan’s William Davidson Institute.
Over the past 30 years, Gasser’s work developed skills in strategic planning, professional, managerial, and leadership development, organizational change, and cross-cultural interaction. Her international interests have allowed her to visit 65 countries and all 7 continents. She made it to Antarctica in 2008, when she and her husband took a cruise to learn how climate change was impacting that continent. “I like travel and learning new things,” Gasser says. “And I like exploring how people live differently.”
Gasser decided to join Community Foundation’s board after she was approached by George Ferrari, Jr., chief executive officer. In 2017, Gasser had been a member of the Women’s Fund review team and was fascinated by the breadth of the applications submitted for funding. “I learned so much about community issues that I didn’t know about,” she says. “And I was intrigued by what people were proposing to do to have an impact.”
Since joining the board, Gasser has worked on the Community Impact Committee, which helps define issues the Community Foundation might address and assesses the impact of grants that have been awarded to local nonprofits.
“The Community Foundation in my view is trying to help the local community make changes it wants or needs to make,” Gasser says. “And we’re doing it in what I find a very creative and effective way by trying to engage all different groups in our community to think about these issues in collaborative ways. I hope my skills and perspective can help.”
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