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KAUST alumnus William Bass (M.S. ’12, bioscience) worked for Saudi Aramco after graduating from the University, and is now running for U.S. Congress. Photo courtesy of William Bass.
-By Caitlin Clark, KAUST News
KAUST alumnus William Bass (M.S. '12, bioscience) left small town life in Herkimer, New York, U.S., behind when he moved to Los Angeles, California, to begin his bachelor's degree in 2002 at the University of Southern California (USC). Little did he know this was the beginning of his transcontinental—and global—adventures.
After graduating from USC in 2006 with a B.A. in political science, Bass joined the U.S. program Teach for America and began teaching math in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He then moved to Austin, Texas, where he taught at a small private school.
"Once the school closed due to financial issues, I returned to New York and got my second bachelor's degree in applied mathematics from SUNY Institute of Technology," Bass explained. "I began researching graduate schools and programs, where I was first introduced to KAUST."
Impressed by the late King Abdullah's vision to build a world-class research university from scratch, Bass says he saw an opportunity at KAUST to be part of something historic. "Attending KAUST would be an adventure that would open my eyes to new experiences, different cultures and diverse communities. Once I was accepted, there was no question that KAUST was where I wanted to be," he said
Bass applied to KAUST to study math, but in his first week changed his degree program to bioscience, working in the University's Red Sea Research Center under the supervision of Professor Michael Berumen.
"I originally wanted to study mathematical biology, so bioscience in the Reef Ecology Lab got me as close to that goal as possible," he said.
After graduating, Bass joined Saudi Aramco in Dhahran, working in the Marine Protection Unit of the company's Environmental Protection Department. There, he worked on infrastructure, research and biodiversity enhancement projects, setting up Corporate Biodiversity Stewardship Areas for Aramco. He also led an environmental team and was part of corporate risk assessment projects.
"I very much value the time I spent at Aramco, where I further developed what I learned at KAUST and put it to practical use," Bass said. "I was lucky to work with a great team of international scientists and engineers who saw the world from different angles, which was crucial to my personal growth. I grew so much as a person and a scientist at Aramco."
At the beginning of 2018, Bass left Aramco to do something dramatically different: run for the U.S. Congress. Returning to New York, he began a campaign for the state's 24th Congressional District, which spans four counties in upstate New York. Although Bass originally ran as a Democrat, he later withdrew from the party and is now running as an independent—or no party affiliation—ticket.
"As an American, I couldn't sit by and watch [what was happening in the U.S.]—I needed to step up and take action," he said. "As I learned early on, 'If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.'"
Bass feels his campaign's independent status "allows us to reach across the aisle and build a truly inclusive movement...without the interference of a major party."
"The platform I'm running on would be described as progressive," he noted. Major parts of his platform include strengthening environmental protection laws and overhauling the U.S. education system.
Although Bass has found campaigning challenging—especially as he has no backing from an established major party—he feels his international experience and KAUST degree give him an edge over other candidates.
"I'm the only candidate in our race who has lived abroad," he said. "I think this gives me a unique perspective others don't have, as I saw how U.S. foreign policy affected the world and Americans living abroad. And, as a scientist, I'm able to think about problems in a different way—I believe I'm more objective, using evidence and facts to drive policy rather than emotion or partisan politics."
Bass is also highlighting the work he did at Aramco in his campaign. "I believe it shows that even when you have different backgrounds, you can still come together and solve problems with solutions that work for everyone. This is what I'm trying to bring to Congress," he noted.
"So far, I've really enjoyed the campaign experience, especially trying to build a movement that is inclusive and diverse," he said. "We're really trying to do things in a different way—to break away from the status quo and think outside the box."