William O’Brien, assistant professor of finance, received this year’s Silver Circle Award for the College of Business Administration. The award, presented since 1966, honors excellence in teaching by UIC faculty, with winners selected by graduating seniors from each college. O’Brien joins the 13 other faculty receiving the 2018 award and will be honored at UIC Business commencement.
O’Brien teaches Introduction to Managerial Finance (FIN 301), the first finance course that students take at the university. With 75-minute-long classes, he has adjusted his teaching style to keep everyone’s interest and attention over the sessions.
“I try to keep my lectures at least somewhat conversational rather than just reading off the slides, when I can, and I attempt to make everyone laugh or change the subject once in a while,” O’Brien says. Scott Reese, a senior finance major, describes O’Brien’s teaching style as a dynamic blend of lecture and interactive engagement.
“He is able to explain lessons in a manner that every student can understand, but allows us the opportunity to reason out the answer first. He was able to ask us questions that pertained to real world experiences and he also was sure to tell us why and where it mattered in real-world situations. This made the lessons much easier to remember and also made them worth learning in the first place,” Reese explains.
Over time, O’Brien has fine-tuned the course to put more focus on the kinds of skills that will be useful in the jobs many students start upon graduation, including financial analysis using Microsoft Excel as a tool.
Says O’Brien, “The CFO probably won’t ask you to design the optimal capital structure for the firm, but your boss, six levels of management below the CFO, might want you to update and check an Excel report and distribute it to the sales department.” Another former student and a junior finance major, Marlena Szymczak, reflects on these real-world applications from a project assigned as part of the class.
“This project required an analysis of Tesla's financial statements and calculating answers to a few questions. This was a hands-on approach to helping students learn, and I was able to use this project as an example when being interviewed for internships,” Szymczak recalls.
O’Brien has a reputation for being responsive to student comments and investing in the success of his students beyond the classroom. He asks for feedback whenever possible and tries to read the room to adjust the pacing of topics based on how quickly students are absorbing the material.
“Ask a lot of questions, inside and outside of class,” O’Brien advises, “the faculty and advisors are here to help, but they can’t help you if they don’t know who you are.”
Szymczak describes O'Brien as willing to take the time to invest in his students. And while it has been a number of semesters since Reese or Szymczak had class with him, both students have stayed in touch with O’Brien throughout their time at UIC.
On behalf of UIC Business, congratulations to Assistant Professor O'Brien and thank you for your dedication to teaching students with authenticity and clarity.