Alumni Stories | 04 Jacqueline Gasser-Beck
A Balancing Act
It’s hard not to believe in fate after hearing the story of Jacqueline Gasser-Beck. Throughout the larger part of her adult life, Jacqueline’s path kept circling her back to the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts. To this day, the picturesque New England town has left a significant mark on her career, character and family.
If there’s one word that describes Jacqueline most accurately, it’s probably “supertasker”: A thriving career woman and academic, a mother of two, a political advocate, creative and innovator, perpetually bursting with ideas.
When I scheduled the call for this interview with Jacqueline, she immediately came up with ideas on how to make my life easier. “I don’t understand why more educators don’t use Zoom. It’s perfect for long-distance teaching. I’ll send you the recording of our conversation afterwards,” she declares, with a swing of joviality in her voice.
Jacqueline first came to Cambridge in 2002 as a Visiting Researcher at Harvard Law. “That was my first point of contact with swissnex Boston.” Five years later, back in Switzerland, her husband got offered a position at Harvard. Yet again, they decided to move to the East Coast, this time with kit and caboodle.
Jacqueline wasn’t really counting on finding a job any time soon. She had two small kids and not the right visa. Yet, in an enticing interplay of coincidences, she ended up landing her dream job. “The University of St. Gallen, my former employer, asked me to represent the institution at the annual MIT European Career Fair. That’s where I met the parting Advisor for Education and Academic Affairs at swissnex Boston. In no time and without even looking, I had a job.”
Jacqueline was the perfect fit: a great command of English, a profound knowledge of the Swiss academic ecosystem and conveniently based in Cambridge, a stone’s throw away from the swissnex Boston office. “From the first to the last minute, I loved my job; An exhilarating, fast-paced environment with a startup mindset,” she reminisces.
“It was difficult to separate the personal from the professional life and I needed to hire a student from Berklee School of Music to help out with the children when I had to work late for evening events,” Jacqueline admits, “but we had so much fun. Sometimes we were sitting around the kitchen table late at night, coming up with new projects, bubbling with laughter. The people who work at swissnex get selected because they have a certain mindset. You have to be creative, inventive and open-minded. It’s incredible to see what you can achieve with limited resources, because everyone is so ambitious and passionate.”
At one of the events Jacqueline organized, she reconnected with a Swiss professor from the University of St. Gallen. He was impressed with her work and offered her a job, shortly upon his return to Switzerland. “I was installed as the new Executive Director of the Institute of Law and Legal Studies at the university.” Once again, everything seemed so easy. Yet this time, something felt different. “My experience at swissnex changed me. Although I was a lawyer by training, I realized that I needed to do something more personal, something more vivid.”
A few years into her new job at the university, Jacqueline found her calling. Like every other educational institution, the University of St. Gallen was constantly on the lookout for new, disruptive teaching methods. It started out as a small initiative, mainly focused on teaching innovation for law courses, but soon, the project spiraled into dimensions of previously unimagined proportions. Jacqueline gathered a team and switched from the institute of law to the general university. Today, she leads the “Teaching Innovation Lab” unit at the University of St. Gallen. “Suddenly, this tingling sensation I had when I was working at swissnex resurfaced. I simply love my current job.”
During our interview for this story, time seemed to fly. It was so easy to talk to Jacqueline, even though we did not know each other previously. But we shared a common experience. I was particularly curious about the teaching methods and tools that Jacqueline’s unit is developing – and how it all came to be. “It started out with a solution for law students. How could we make studying jurisprudence more appealing? We came up with an animated short videos that illustrate the legal challenges with storytelling. It was extremely well-received. In another case we helped developing a ‘Who wants to be a millionaire’ game on how to choose your insurance.”
Before working at swissnex, Jacqueline wasn’t overly digital-savvy, she claims. Today, she and her team develop new programs and projects every year, often entirely digital. “We experiment a lot, often with small budgets. It doesn’t have to be perfect or state-of-the-art technology. It’s impressive how many things you’re able to create by yourself, with a few simple tools.”
Despite being back in Europe for a couple of years now, the time in Cambridge has left a lasting impression on Jacqueline and her family. Both of her children were educated in English and still have friends in the Boston area. They celebrate Thanksgiving and Halloween and love all things American. Jacqueline can only speak fondly of her memories in Cambridge: “I’m still in touch with so many people I met during my time at swissnex. I was able to broaden my horizons and learned how to speak to experts on a topic I have no clue about. I met the president of every big Swiss university, the majority of federal councilors in office at the time and even a NASA astronaut who’s been on the moon. I mean, c’mon, where else would you meet all these people in one room?”
Time in Boston: March 2009 – August 2011
Position: Advisor Education and Academic Affairs
Interview conducted & story written by Daniela Chiani (Content Manager, October 2018 – June 2019)
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