Serving to Enhance

For Debra O'Brien, it's all about creating a better experience for SCS faculty & students

January 17, 2011

Debra O’Brien didn’t take a traditional path to teaching.

O’Brien, adjunct associate professor of information systems, earned a B.S. in mathematics from Pennsylvania State University and an M.B.A. from New York University Stern School of Business.

She worked as a system analyst and eventually a consultant specializing in the implementation of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems. After working full time for ten years, O’Brien took some time off to start a family.

When she decided to return to work, the University of Richmond seemed a natural fit.

O’Brien was very familiar with the University. Her husband, Walter J. O’Brien III, R’89, is an alumnus and serves on the Executive Advisory Council in the Robins School of Business. They have endowed a scholarship. And she lives near campus.

After some Internet research, she discovered an adjunct teaching opportunity at the School of Continuing Studies. Although O’Brien had never taught a college-level class, she did have some experience in corporate training.

That experience, coupled with her ten years of working in the information technology field, led Dr. Ellen Walk, SCS information systems program chair, to hire O’Brien to teach Principles of Information Technology.

“Dr. Walk took a chance on me as I had relatively no teaching experience,” says O’Brien. “She has mentored me and given me opportunities to design and teach different courses over the years.”

Since joining SCS in 2002, O'Brien has also developed and taught an online course in e-commerce and a case-study based course focusing on managing information technology.

O’Brien appreciates the breadth and depth of life experiences that SCS students bring to the classroom. Since SCS students tend to be highly engaged in the classroom and willing to participate and share their experiences, O’Brien remarks, “I have the most success in the classroom when I am able to relate the material to the students’ real world experiences.”

O’Brien’s teaching style has evolved considerably over the years. She is much less formal today and takes advantage of the small class sizes at SCS to really connect with her students.

For O’Brien, anything she can do to enhance the classroom experience is worth pursuing. That’s why she volunteered to sit on the Adjunct Faculty Advisory Committee, a group created to provide professional development and social opportunities to SCS adjunct faculty.

The Committee aims to improve teaching effectiveness and continually engage adjunct faculty in the life of the School.

“I serve... and volunteered to chair the committee because I truly believe in enhancing the experience of SCS adjuncts, which ultimately translates into a better experience for SCS students,” says O’Brien.

To read the complete profile of Debra O’Brien, visit the 2009-2010 Annual Progress Report of the School of Continuing Studies.