By: Jim Casey ’70
Gary Stubits ’82 invited John McKinney ’82 to a BRAIN for Business meeting last winter at O’Rourke’s in Beverly. John was in the neighborhood with his brother-in-law Mark Donahue ’74, so they were glad to “show up.” Under the category of YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT COULD HAPPEN IF YOU SHOW UP, a one-of-a-kind business class was conceived that night, because Business Department Chair Bob Peters also showed up.
By that time Bob Peters had already been working with Associate Principal Bob Alberts ’85 and Curriculum Director Mike Dolan, exploring options for developing an elective class in entrepreneurship, after meetings with Stubits and other alumni including Jim Walsh ’86, Brian Barkowski ’95, Jim Casey ’70, Jim Wills ’94, Shaun Jacob ’93 and Mike McAlinden ’97, along with heads of school, President Dr. Kevin Burns and Principal Jim Antos. All were on board for the development of a unique business class that focused on engaging our students in solving problems with business solutions.
The class was the main topic at the O’Rourke’s BRAIN (Brother Rice Alumni Interactive Network) meeting, so when John McKinney showed up, the timing was perfect. McKinney and Peters have been joined at the hip ever since, and today they are inspiring 23 juniors and 2 seniors to think like business leaders who solve problems and build innovative solutions.
The class itself, called First StartUP, is an innovation conceived and developed by McKinney, a faculty member at the University of Chicago Booth Graduate School of Business and a mentor at the Polsky Exchange, the University of Chicago’s business incubator. A team of University of Chicago students, teaching assistants, and business process experts supported John in developing the innovative course material now exclusively available for Brother Rice students.
Brother Rice could have decided to emphasize small business development and management or focus on startup development. According to McKinney, a startup class goes beyond small business, applying concepts for “innovating, testing those innovations, and scaling the business,” solving problems on a large or small scale. The class is designed to expand more opportunities for students in college and in business, large or small, directly involving students in experiential learning from a broad scope of business models.
“Even if the students don’t decide to become entrepreneurs, they can have some understanding how they experiment around business, and take that to building whatever they want.” It’s personal for McKinney, who still appreciates the people from Brother Rice who were there for him. He wants to be one of the people students can look back on as “the right person at the right time.” He plans to measure the success of the class, “not by how many people start their own businesses in 10 years, but by how it changes their perspective.”
To get things going, McKinney and his team at University of Chicago wrote 50 business experiences, along with a long list of questions and problems with examples of how to solve them. He believes that Peters’ business experience is an added plus, providing timely personal vignettes that shed more experiential light on the problems-solving process.
Mr. Peters echoes Mr. McKinney’s excitement about the opportunity to challenge students to look at things differently. He is already seeing results in how positively students are responding, including their performance on challenging homework assignments. Sometimes Mr. Peters receives good homework late at night, sent by students through the class portal.
Brian Barkowski’s observation of the class was he “saw more hands up than a kindergarten class”; the interaction with each other was that palpable. Peters believes that the excitement and critical thinking skills will help them in other classes as well.
Alumni networking to help each other and to help today’s Crusaders is exactly why Gary started BRAIN in the first place. With McKinney’s creation, supported by his team from the University of Chicago Booth and Polsky Exchange, Brother Rice’s First StartUP students will develop skills “needed in the business world today and tomorrow.” Add to that a fired-up teacher with extensive business experience and 25 fired-up students, and tomorrow looks very promising for today’s Crusaders.