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O’Brien giving back to Monmouth College by teaching course

Barry McNamara

MONMOUTH, Ill. – Monmouth College’s business department recently made a very sound business decision.

Officially called political economy and commerce (PEC), the department added talented instructor Jim O’Brien at the bargain price of ... no charge.

O’Brien said his complimentary role is his way of thanking the college that has treated his granddaughter, Megan O’Brien ’19 of St. Charles, Ill., so well.

“After her freshman year, I asked her how things were going, and she said, ‘I love it,’” said O’Brien. “So I asked her, ‘Do you mind if I say ‘Thank you’ to Monmouth College by teaching there?’”

He next contacted Monmouth College, reaching secretary Lori Ferguson in the academic affairs office. After Ferguson set up meetings with PEC professor Mike Connell and Dean David Timmerman, O’Brien found his niche – teaching entrepreneurial thinking.

“Entrepreneurial thinking is the ability to recognize opportunities and understand how and when to capitalize on them – to be able to see problems as opportunities,” said O’Brien. “It doesn’t have to focus on business. You can benefit from that type of thinking anywhere – churches, government, non-profits, schools, libraries and businesses. The better-equipped students are to think like an entrepreneur, the better prepared they are to serve their organizations.”

O’Brien received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from DePaul University and was satisfied with his education. But after talking with Connell, he realized that Monmouth College went about things differently.

“I went to college with a different set of goals than these students have,” said O’Brien. “DePaul and other schools like that it are very functional-oriented. I assumed that was the right path. You learn how to do specific things within your very narrow major.

“Mike Connell said there’s another path, and he explained the value of it. It’s broader, less functional, but more philosophical. It has value in today’s world.”

O’Brien said the students who take advantage of that value are ahead of the game.

“Life’s full of trade-offs. On my path studying business, you got eight extra business classes. Here, our students have eight more classes of something else. For example, I took no science classes at all in college. Does taking science help our students become better thinkers? I think the answer is, ‘It depends.’ If they can figure out that answer at 19 and 20 years old, they can easily be ahead of the students from universities like Illinois and Western Illinois. I can see that some of them definitely figure it out.”

In addition to helping Monmouth College, O’Brien listed three other objectives he hopes to achieve while teaching, including helping the students in his class, learning more himself and having fun. Also, he said, “I’m here to help the students better understand their goals. I see them as Monmouth’s customer, and as such, I want to deliver value to them.”

One student, Joshua Swetman ’18 of Rochelle, Ill., has certainly benefitted from O’Brien’s presence on campus, as he landed an internship at the company where O’Brien is president.

O’Brien’s connection to Monmouth started with an impromptu campus visit with his granddaughter, but now he’s teaching class every Tuesday and Thursday.

“We drove up, and our first impression was that it’s a hidden secret,” said O’Brien of the College. “We thought, ‘Holy cow, what a beautiful school.’ Even though we were making a spontaneous visit, the admission staff was very accommodating to us. My granddaughter said then, and restates now, ‘This is exactly what I’m looking for.’”