Staff Spotlight: Michelle Bassford

Michelle Bassford
Meet Michelle Bassford, chief experience officer for the Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program.
August 17, 2021

About Michelle

I’m a UNK graduate with a comprehensive business degree. I attended when it was still called Kearney State College, so it’s been a while ago! I am married to my high school sweetheart from Minden, Nebraska for 33 years this summer. We have two kids, ages 22 and 16 and are approaching the empty nest phase in two more years. We lived in Tucson, Arizona for 10 years right after college to get away from the Nebraska winters, but then moved back here to Lincoln when our son was 1 to be closer to family. I’ve worked a variety of jobs in the insurance industry from running an agent’s office, getting licensed to sell and then transitioning into the corporate world working personal injury liability claims for Allstate Insurance. After moving back to Lincoln, I decided to stay at home for a period of time while my kids were young before feeling a call to help out my church and manage their office after someone else retired. Several years later, the opportunity presented itself to work on East Campus in the Engler Program, which has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life so far.

What is your position at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln?  

My title is chief experience officer for the Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program in CASNR. That title evolved over time as the program grew. My responsibilities have pivoted from strictly administrative and organizational help on the front end to creating memorable event experiences for students, serving as a student liaison for the staff and general manager of everything. We are a small but mighty staff of five and our team is like a family. The working relationship is the best I’ve ever encountered as we all have different strengths and talents, but completely trust one another and work together beautifully. I believe our culture is one of the most unique on campus as we focus on emboldening students to courageously pursue their purpose through the art and practice of entrepreneurship.

What drew you to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln? 

My husband, Jeff Bassford, is an Assistant Vice Chancellor for IANR in the finance and personnel area. He’s worked for UNL since we moved back 20 years ago, so I have many acquaintances on East Campus. Retired Dean of CASNR Steve Waller was a neighbor who recommended me to director Tom Field of the Engler Program eight years ago to help him build this fairly new program. I didn’t really know what I was getting into at the time, but it’s turned out better than anything I could’ve imagined.

What aspect of working in an educational setting do you enjoy the most?  

I’ve always loved the beauty and small town feel of East Campus, so it was an exciting opportunity to work here in particular. I have a feeling of kinship with the students here who mostly hale from small towns in Nebraska as I do. Although I did not grow up involved in agriculture, I was surrounded by it. The students I get to work with through this program are some of the brightest, most hardworking and innovative high-achievers I’ve ever seen. They never cease to amaze me as I get to watch and be a part of helping them to find their purpose and build their enterprises. In our program, we work with these students as our peers, giving them full autonomy to help create the culture of Engler and guide us into the future. It’s a rewarding relationship for everyone involved.

What do you consider your greatest achievement? 

Personally, it would probably be the adoption journeys with our kids. Our son was adopted from Russia at age 11 months and our daughter from right here in Lincoln at 3 and a half weeks. Two very different experiences and each with their unique challenges. Professionally to date, I would say the successful construction and design of our new space in the Dinsdale Family Learning Commons. Our transition from Miller Hall, which has been taken down, to this new space was exciting and intimidating. We didn’t want to lose the culture we had built in Miller. After six months in our new space, I think I can safely say that our culture is stronger than ever thanks to our staff and students and the thoughtful design of our new spaces.

What is something that most people don't know about you?  

My claim to fame is being cast as an extra in the golf movie Tin Cup with Kevin Costner, Rene Russo, Cheech Marin and Don Johnson. It was an eye-opening experience to participate in the filming of a movie and see what long hours and hard work everyone puts in. It was a lot of fun getting to meet the celebrities and be a part of everything from costumes to the dining tent. If you know where to look you can even catch a few glimpses of me in the scenes!

What is your life like outside of work?  

Outside of work I enjoy yard working and backyard birdwatching on our acreage, attending Husker athletic events, reading, visiting wineries and travelling as much as possible. We love to take a family trip once per year to create lasting memories for our kids. You may not remember where or when you got a certain gift, but you’ll always remember when you were walking on a trail in Denali National Park and saw a baby moose!


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