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The Wonder of Wanderlust

March 2014 | by Steven Lillybeck

Wanderlust has taken Patrick O'Leary, PhD, from Europe to the Middle East, from Japan to the American West.

Starting out in his native Ireland, O'Leary left the rural surroundings of his youth to explore exotic Asia, found his way to Manhattan, hitchhiked across the US, and managed to explore Europe and the Middle East as well.

Through all his wandering, O'Leary somehow knew he was destined to settle in the United States.

"I grew up on a farm," he said. "Like most rural families, we had relatives in the States and they would come back to visit. They seemed so exotic. They smoked Camels and seemed so worldly. I suppose that was the seed. They opened my eyes and senses to the idea that there was something more out there, and I knew from an early age that I wanted to see the world."

In the midst of his travels, O'Leary managed to complete work on an undergraduate degree at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., and then earned a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Washington.

He joined the SAU faculty 16 years ago, and, while here, earned a Doctor of Planning, Policy and Leadership Studies degree from the University of Iowa.

Wanderlust is not easily lost, but it has been St. Ambrose's good fortune that O'Leary has channeled his passion for travel to the classroom. O'Leary has a true worldview, and he combines the best of a liberal arts education, a business education and the Catholic Intellectual Tradition. He then molds all of it into a well-rounded teaching philosophy.

"Look," he said. "It's not that we strive to teach accounting better. It's not that we strive to teach finance better. It's not that we strive to teach marketing skills better. That doesn't make us any different than any college down the road. What we try to teach, and what I try to bring to the classroom, is the ability to see what's in front of you in all its complexity and analyze it creatively. Businesses today want creativity in their managers."

For all of his travels, and all the vast and formative experience they have brought him, O'Leary believes a sense of the world can be gained without leaving the confines of a college campus in the middle of America-providing it is a campus that fosters a broader understanding of the world.

"I encourage my students to travel overseas, but I understand their realities," he said. "You can develop an international perspective and then put that perspective to work wherever you are. What an international perspective really means is the ability to really see and really understand the ‘other.'

"St. Ambrose creates an atmosphere that exposes students to the notion that they can be change agents," O'Leary added. "It gets to the issue of question and answer. I think too often educators make the mistake of giving answers to questions that students don't have. What we strive to do at St. Ambrose is nurture the question in the student's mind. And by doing so, we give that student the confidence to go out, invest in themselves and make the world a better place."

Learn more about managerial studies and international business at St. Ambrose at


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