I think, therefore I EMPOWER
Meet 2015 A&S Alumni Fellow Joe McSweeny.
Mr. McSweeny's career in international insurance brokerage may have given him a global reach, but his community spirit found a home at his alma mater. Whether he was serving aboard submarines in the U.S. Navy or working as an executive in insurance brokerage and risk management consulting, Mr. McSweeny always found time to give back, and he continues to do so. Wanting to give others the opportunity to learn to think critically — the goal that his father instilled him for his own college education — and aware that not everyone is able to afford this investment, Mr. McSweeny and his wife, Joan, generously fund several areas within the College of Arts & Sciences.
There is no doubt Mr. McSweeny made an impact around the world – with a career that led him to oversee retail operations in 70 countries – but the biggest impact will likely be the one he makes at UofL, and in the lives of UofL students.
The McSweenys have endowed a graduate fellowship program for minority students — a definition which includes women — who are pursuing graduate degrees in biology, chemistry, geosciences, math, physics and astronomy, and psychological and brain sciences. He has also endowed a generous undergraduate scholarship for a students majoring in mathematics, and he has invested in our undergraduate teaching assistant program for STEM majors.
Name: Joe McSweeny
Degree: B.A. in Mathematics (1971)
Tell me about your career and how you got into that line of work.
I joined the United States Navy directly after graduating from UofL. I underwent nuclear power training for a year, and then was deployed in submarines until leaving the service in 1976. I then accepted a position in the nuclear insurance unit of Marsh & McLennan, as an international insurance broker and risk management consultant.
I advanced within Marsh for 18 years and then was recruited for a leadership position at Willis, a London-based broker. I served ten years there, and took early retirement in 2004. I taught as an adjunct professor of business at St. Thomas Aquinas College for three years, and was recruited back to Marsh in 2007, serving there in leadership positions until retirement in January of this year.
How did your undergraduate education in Arts & Sciences inform your work as a professional and in your community?
The STEM education prepared me for the rigorous nuclear power engineering school. Nuclear engineering became a stepping stone for a career in insurance, ultimately leading to leadership positions in the industry with two firms.
What was the best meal you’ve ever had?
Dinner at Jean Georges in New York with my family to celebrate the engagement of my son, the first child to marry. We all ordered different things and everything was tremendous – possibly the excitement for the occasion had something to do with it?
Why is a liberal arts education valuable in the 21st century?
My father told me before leaving for UofL that college does not teach you a trade, it teaches you how to think. The broader the disciplines one is exposed to the more broadly the mind is challenged. I believe this is as true today as it was in 1967.
Advice for current students?
- Raise your hand – be proactive in embarking on career initiatives
- Take risks – you need to move out beyond comfort zones to truly test yourself and discover the breadth of your skills
- Do not doubt your ability – if you get the tap on the shoulder, as has happened to me many times, do not question if you are ready for it. Those tapping you are paid to judge talent and they think you are ready!
- Be yourself – you are a unique talent, there is no one else like you.
Why do you give back to Arts & Sciences?
We have established undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships in the STEM disciplines to broaden the diversity of students at UofL, and hopefully of future faculty.
Education is the way for underprivileged children to advance. Providing diversity scholarships (also at St. Thomas Aquinas) as well as private tuition grants for inner city high school students (Newark, New Jersey) gives them the chance to move beyond. We have had the privilege of meeting many of the students and their progress is so impressive and heartwarming.