I writing this column for the following newspaper:
- Daily Chronicle : DeKalb County Life
The Articles started December 2007.
If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates
to catch up.
Home | Columns |
Photos | Books
| Biography | Links
Dennis Barsema talks about classes, young grads, Obama
By Barry Schrader.................................February
Dennis Barsema, the Silicon Valley executive who decided to give
up the rat race and return to teaching and philanthropy at his
alma mater, Northern Illinois University, still has a lot of
irons in the fire.
Sitting down with him in his NIU College of Business office recently,
after writing about him a year ago, I found him still brimming
with enthusiasm for the new courses he has pioneered and other
charitable projects he has on his plate.
He has completed a second round of classes this fall in social
entrepreneurship and microfinancing. Truly, Barsema has his sights
set on creating a Center for Social Entrepreneurship
at the university that will attract bright young students to
become more socially responsible in their careers and want to
make this world a better place.
He said his department chairperson is helping him through the
process of making these new courses part of the core curriculum
in the College of Business.
We are meeting right now for a final reading at the College
of Business level and after that, with their approval, will go
on to the University level, he explained. Then both
classes will become part of the course catalog. It makes me feel
great because before now it was just my experiment, my initiative.
Last fall he took a second group of 10 business majors to a poverty-stricken
section of Guadalajara, Mexico, in conjunction with Opportunity
International, which provides small loans (microfinancing) for
startup businesses that only need a few hundred dollars to get
their home-based (in most cases) project off the ground.
It was a life-changing experience for these students,
he said. They got to actually talk and walk with the poor
who receive these loans. Each student was assigned a client to
interact with and then came back to class here, where they had
to write a paper about the experience. Many of my students had
not been outside the country before and certainly never into
the inner city sections of an urban area of a developing country.
He only teaches, for no pay, during the fall semester each year
so he can spend time on his other projects in the remaining months.
Besides overseeing the construction of their new home in Barrington
Hills, he and his wife, Stacey, are working with his brother,
Allen, on a nonprofit venture called Carpenters Place. With this
project, they take homeless people off the streets, put them
through a 14-step life-changing process which makes them productive
citizens, with a job and a home.
He was pleased to report they have been successful with 300 people
in the Rockford area so far in the first three years of the program.
Now they have developed an electronic database in conjunction
with NIU that will track these people as they go to various agencies
for drug and alcohol rehab, job counseling and skills training.
Before, we sent them to the other agencies but had no way
of monitoring their progress, he said. Now we have
a way to keep track of their progress each step of the way.
He and his brother and their wives have now formed a second nonprofit,
Community Collaboration Inc. in Rockford with Dennis as chairman.
They have hired a CEO, a former classmate of his, and are doing
a lot of fundraising.
This could ideally be installed in every community in the
country because there is a need for it, he explains.
Asked about what the future holds for young college graduates
facing a bleak economy and dwindling job market, Barsema said,
The key word is patience. Its just going to take
them longer to find jobs. Its a very competitive world
today and you need a 3-point-something grade point average plus
a record of community and volunteer service. The companies want
more today than just a good grade point average, but someone
who has done a lot of extra-curricular activities and is well-rounded.
The jobs are there for them.
Getting around to the topic of the new administration, Barsema
was quick to point out he is bullish on Barack Obama.
We (he and Stacey) went to Obamas inauguration,
he said. At the swearing-in ceremony, it is the first time
I can remember it really felt like a United States.
Everybody really felt that it was a new day ... you could just
feel the energy of a new administration. I think that everything
Barack Obama has said resonates well with the American people.
While there, we felt the sense of community, the sense of pride
coming back to the U.S. and the people.
He is not a savior people who expect him to be that
are going to be terribly disappointed. But what he can be and
what I think he will be is a leader who will show us that, working
together, everybody pulling their own weight and pulling the
same rope at the same time, we will right this country.
Things are bleak right now ... but we are going to come
out of this and I think well come out stronger and smarter
... He has assembled a great team of people some really
smart folks and I cant wait to see what they are
going to do.
The columnist can be reached via email at :
or by snailmail at:
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115