Jay Cromarty graduated from the University of Maine nearly 30 years ago. But the Boston financial services executive still remembers his finance professor for his intellect, good humor and expertise.
Now Jay is spearheading an effort to raise $1 million to create the Dennis McConnell Professorship and has helped to get the ball rolling by making a generous pledge of $100,000 through the Office of University Development.
“Mac was someone who made a lasting impression,” says Jay, Class of ‘78, and president of the Eastern Region, Boston Private Financial Holdings. “He was a dynamic speaker and he had a great sense of humor. He clearly was having so much fun teaching and this came through. Finance can be a very dry subject, but he brought it to life. He helped propel a number of us into the field of finance.”
Other alums also like the idea of honoring Professor McConnell who retired in 1995 after nearly 20 years at UMaine. He now lives in Surry with his wife, UMaine business Professor Virginia Gibson. Although business majors Ed Keefe ’86 and Scott Duggan ’87 didn’t have him as a teacher, they contributed generously toward the professorship — which will be held at the University of Maine Foundation — and have become members of the Stillwater Society.
As supporters of Campaign Maine – UMaine’s largest-ever private fundraising campaign — all three loyal Black Bears are helping to achieve one of President Robert Kennedy’s goals of increasing the number of endowed professorships to draw national and international visibility and attract and retain quality faculty.
Noting that the UMaine Business School has been ranked among the top 150 business programs in the country, Ed, a chief financial officer with a venture capital firm in Boston, says more endowed professorships “will only help us move up in the national rankings.”
Endowed professorships are the hallmark of a great University, lending prestige, attracting top notch students and helping “weather the storm a little bit during down times with the state budget,” he adds.
A partner with the Boston law firm of Goodwin & Proctor, Scott says his support is “in appreciation of the quality of undergraduate education I received at UMaine.” After visiting the campus last summer, he was impressed with both the students and the facilities and says he is determined to give back to the UMaine Business School.
For his part, Professor McConnell says he was “stunned” when he learned of the plans to honor him.
“It’s such a magnificent act of kindness.”
Although he and Jay had not been in touch over the years, Professor McConnell says he immediately recalled his former student and says he always was confident of the young man’s success.
“It’s a special mark of respect and a unique honor that a group of students decided to get together and name an endowment after a faculty member,” says Dean John Mahon.
As UMaine Business School’s third endowed position, the McConnell professorship “will help it continue to survive and prosper. It’s an enticement to bring in new faculty and reward the wonderful existing faculty. It’s great because it allows the chair to move around. For several years it could be in finance, then in marketing, then in management. It allows the school some flexibility in its use.”
Another UMaine graduate who credits Professor McConnell with helping her launch a successful career is Elizabeth Maker Michaud ’88, who says creating a professorship in his name is a fitting way to honor his “passion to inspire his students to achieve anything.”
Elizabeth, who works for Lockheed Martin and is responsible for helping the corporation modernize its business systems, says her former professor had a “magical” effect on her life.
“Denny was very inspirational, supportive and encouraging,” she recalls. “Whenever I felt down I’d go and sit in his office. He’d make me feel like I could do anything.”
Although he originally planned to major in history and English literature in college, Professor McConnell says he was hooked on finance as soon as he was introduced to the topic.
“It’s just so ordered. All the questions have answers and all the processes have sequences and solutions. After all these years I still enjoy the structure of it.”
Professor McConnell is more than an academician. Before joining the UMaine business faculty, he served as a consultant with Arthur Andersen and Company in Chicago and as a retail banker with the international banking division of American Express in Germany. While a member of the faculty, he founded and served as chairman of the board and chief financial officer of Butterfield Bottling Company in Bangor, and he co-founded and served as vice president of finance of Field Technologies, a manufacturer of hydraulic fluid-control valves, also in Bangor.
It was this real-world experience coupled with love of his subject that helped make Professor McConnell a gifted teacher, according to Jay Cromarty.
“It was a winning combination.”
Associate Dean Gloria Vollmers says she and other colleagues also enjoyed Professor McConnell’s quick wit and easy going personality.
“He was very good natured and outgoing. He loved the students.”
Drawn to UMaine because of its nationally known business faculty including then Dean Stan Devino and then Professor Neil Murphy, Professor McConnell says he enjoyed teaching here from day one.
“It was so much fun I couldn’t believe they paid me. The students made the whole process interesting. They paid attention, were always tuned in and had a great work ethic.”
Professor McConnell himself may have been instrumental in inducing several hundred high achieving students to come to the UMaine Business School after he wrote letters to applicants with stellar SAT scores and grades and invited them to attend the flagship University.
“I thought it would be a way to get students who really cared about school and the subject matter. It seemed to work. We had a lot of top students in the finance department. I enjoyed the personal contact and they were pleased and proud that they had been personally asked to come to the UMaine Business School.”
Determined to help all students get the most out of their education, Professor McConnell served for a number of years as advisor to the Maine Chapter of the Financial Management Association, a national organization that seeks to provide opportunities for students to interact with practitioners and to enhance the quality of finance education.
“My role was to act as cheerleader and get students enthusiastic about their studies and about doing well in the world of business,” says Professor McConnell who brought in speakers to discuss a myriad of topics involving finance.
“It was a way of establishing contact with people outside the University and showing students there was indeed life after school.”
His work with the Maine chapter of the FMA was one of his proudest career accomplishments. “It made students’ time at UMaine meaningful,” he says. “The University has an obligation to pay attention to students and tell them ‘we’re glad you’re here.’”
Retirement hasn’t slowed Professor McConnell down. He has been working with the U.S. Agency for International Development helping universities in eastern Europe and central Asia develop business programs. Traveling to these far-flung places has been “an interesting experience,” he says.
But he still manages to squeeze his favorite pastime into his busy schedule.
“There’s always time to sail,” he says.
Image Description: Finance Professor Dennis McConnell