Center for Excellence Honoree: Matthew O'ConnorProfessor Matthew O'Connor can't help but chuckle when told that his finance students believe he knows them on a very personal level.
"That's because I give assignments where they need a lot of help," he said. "I like assignments that stretch them, challenge them, and let them struggle for a while. Eventually they're all going to have to come to my office during office hours."
With a little coaxing he adds: "I guess it is just my nature to meet people and find out what they're doing with their lives and what's important to them."
O'Connor, who is chairman of the Finance Department in the School of Business, is one of six recipients of the university's Center for Excellence in Teaching and Service to Students Award. He will be honored at the center's annual recognition event in the Recreation Center on Thursday, Oct. 20.
Although he said he is "proud and honored" to have received the award, O'Connor credits many others for making him the professor he is today.
"No one is born a good teacher," O'Connor said. "You become a good teacher because of feedback from your colleagues, students, friends and family. A good teacher adopts ideas that have worked for other people. You need to talk with your experienced colleagues and ask them how they run their class. Teaching is a craft."
In a letter nominating O'Connor for the honor, Kevin Haney '04 of East Sandwich, Mass., a student in the MBA program, described the professor as an "outstanding teacher" who is dedicated to his students.
"I have stopped looking at Professor O'Connor as a teacher a long time ago...I consider him a friend," wrote Haney, who credits O'Connor's training for helping him get multiple job offers.
In O'Connor's classroom, "everyone has to participate, everyone has to have a say, and everyone has to be involved," Haney continued. "If a student does not know what is going on, Professor O'Connor will make it a point to speak with that student after class and get him/her up to speed, no matter how long it takes."
Jeremy Hyatt '05 of Bellrose, N.Y., a finance major, said O'Connor is "outstanding" and "he takes the time to get to know students outside of the classroom...on a more personal level." He said O'Connor is willing to go through mock job interviews with students to build their confidence and success.
"Professor O'Connor's classes are the ones that will help me succeed on Wall Street," said Mike Barron '04 of Lakeville, Mass. "Each of his classes is dynamically different and exciting. O'Connor is an incredible teacher."
O'Connor earned his bachelor's degree in philosophy from the University of Connecticut in 1983. He then worked at Mass Mutual for six years, developing financial software and working on statistical analysis.
In 1991, he completed his MBA at the University of Massachusetts. His next job was in the treasury department of Rogers Corporation, a global manufacturing company based in Connecticut, where he spent almost two years in cash management and bank relations.
He continued his education at Syracuse University, where he earned a doctorate in finance in 1998. He taught at the University of New Haven for two years before accepting a teaching position at Quinnipiac.
"I came to Quinnipiac because I loved the school and the atmosphere in the finance department, and it seemed like the school had good leadership. It was a place that was moving forward, moving up, not resting on its laurels," he said of the university, where he is now beginning his seventh year.
O'Connor said he was drawn to teaching because of the opportunity to constantly learn new things.
"In the corporate world, once you become good at something you do it over and over again," he said. "I didn't want to be anchored to one task or one approach."
He believes that faculty research and great teaching go hand-in-hand.
O'Connor guides his students through the semester with the help of a carefully prepared set of lecture notes. They contain a specific problem and perhaps a graph or table that will aid in solving it.
"But they need to be in class to fill in the blanks," he said. "We're figuring out answers on the blackboard and they must fill in their notes as they go along. It keeps students organized and on track, but forces them to attend class."
Kelly McKinnon '04 of Marblehead, Mass., a student in the MBA program who has taken five classes led by O'Connor, describes him as having a "challenging and motivational teaching style."
"I respect him, his teaching style, his projects and assignments," she wrote, "and I know that he wouldn't be giving his students things to do if he didn't believe that they would be useful to us in the future."
O'Connor said it is important that his students see the relevance of what they're doing, while at the same time learning in a relaxed environment.
"I try to keep it light in class," he said. "Finance has a lot of mathematics. I try to get the tone easy-going because material is difficult. I also like to relate what they're learning to what they'll be doing in their jobs in a couple years or apply it to an article in today's Wall Street Journal."
He also requires a semester-ending project that incorporates most of what the students learned. The project is tough, he acknowledges, but so is 'the real world.'
O'Connor believes in bringing in experts from the financial world and in field trips to New York's financial district. He tells students about his friend who worked for 18 months without one day off, because he had a big consulting project to finish.
"Our students must always be ready to compete," he said. "Wall Street is extremely cut-throat. But today students are not only competing with other graduates from the Northeast; they're competing for a job with people from around the world. If they can't do it, a company will hire someone in India or China who can. I tell them to be on top of their game and don't underestimate how competitive the work environment will be."
O'Connor and his wife Jude Epstein live in Hamden. In addition to his professional interests, O'Connor enjoys skiing, golfing and playing guitar.