Jersey boy Chuck O'Connor grew up dreaming of a career in theater.
"I earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts because I love arts and creativity," he said. "It was more of a hobby type of passion. I lived right across the Hudson River from the theater district. Literally, I could see Manhattan from my parents' house. My plan was always to take Broadway and New York by storm as a producer."
Mickey Mouse helped change his mind. O'Connor met his future wife and Louisiana native, Laura, while working for Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
"At that time, Disney was establishing a presence on Broadway," he said. "My logic was that if I could establish myself with the Disney Company, I could internally transfer to New York. Then, I'm home and doing what I wanted to do.
"It didn't work out quite that way. Love happened in between. She had no interest in going back up north, and I had all of the interest in being with her. The rest is history. I wound up staying at Disney for 10 years."
O'Connor, 43, is now director of administration at the Stockwell Sievert law firm in Lake Charles, Louisiana. He graduated with a 4.0 GPA from the LSUS online Master of Business Administration program in 2016.
"Pursuing the MBA was something that I felt was necessary for about 15 years before I took action on it," he said. "I thought it was something important for me to do to remain competitive in the job market. I also love to learn. I guess I'm a geek."
As an added bonus, O'Connor now proudly sports purple and gold as an alumnus.
"I was the only person in my wife's family who did not have an LSU credential," O'Connor said. "I jokingly felt like this degree gave me a place at the table. Quite honestly, I chose LSUS because of the strength of the LSU brand, the accessibility of the courses, the online accessibility of the program itself, the accreditation and the price point."
O'Connor and his wife relocated to Lake Charles after she helped with Hurricane Rita recovery efforts while working for Target.
"It pulled on her heart strings," he said. "She wanted to come back home. Once the company knew that she had some roots here, they offered her the opportunity to transfer to this region. It was quite a sweet deal, so we said, 'Sure. Let's give it a shot.' Now that I am here, it's going to take a lot to get me out of this area."
Prior to starting at Stockwell Sievert in 2014, O'Connor worked for CHRISTUS Health for more than seven years as a special projects coordinator and Children's Miracle Network director and annual events manager. The couple also had a daughter, Payton, who is now 5 years old.
"It was an interesting challenge trying to balance family time as well as school requirements," he said. "I was usually up in the morning getting the baby ready, helping get everybody out the door, get myself out the door and taking her to daycare. Every now and then, I'd have some opportunities to proofread a paper or read an article.
"For the most part, I'd finish my workday at 5:30, go home and have dinner with the family. Then, it was family time until about 8 o'clock. After my daughter went to bed, my wife and I would be able to visit for half an hour or so. No later than 9 o'clock each night, I started work on whatever deadlines I had coming at me. I kept steady at it."
O'Connor completed the LSUS online MBA program in just over a year. The flexibility of the online format made balancing his many roles manageable.
"There's flexibility with the online program," he said. "You know your deadlines. Typically, those deadlines are close to midnight. You always have an opportunity before and after your workday to get that day's schoolwork done. You plan ahead for it. Knowing there was an opportunity to work on that degree around my schedule was such a major selling point for me."
O'Connor enjoyed all of the courses in the online MBA curriculum, but his favorite was MADM 751: Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Creativity, taught by Dr. Michael Meeks.
"That was an incredible course," he said. "It was everything that I envisioned grad school to be. It was such an inspirational class. I still draw on some of the principles we learned in the class."
Some of the other courses he enjoyed caught him more by surprise.
"I never thought the guy with the BFA would say this, but I was really energized after going through the quantitative analysis course [ISDS 702: Quantitative Methods in Business]," he said. "Crazy, right? Organizational Behavior [MADM 701] was another favorite of mine because it's a passion of mine. Over the course of my career, I evolved into having a very HR-heavy focus. Behavior has always been something that intrigues me."
O'Connor plans to pick up where he left off with the MBA and enroll in a doctoral program within the next year.
"I'd love to focus on organizational behavior," he said. "With analytics, there's so much information out there and so much to be gleaned from it. I'm trying to figure out in my brain, 'How do I take that quantitative analysis, add the organizational behavior piece and sort of marry them?' I see myself heavily involved with people. I enjoy being around and working with people. I enjoy development and really building people up to be the best that they can be."
O'Connor knows he didn't accomplish his goal of earning an MBA without help.
"I had tremendous support from the partners at the firm," he said. "They were very excited for me to take action on this desire that I had and for the benefits that I could bring to the firm. They were very happy to allow me some of the time that I needed to take care of it."
Laura also made sure he knew how important the accomplishment was to her. When O'Connor balked at the idea of walking in his graduation ceremony, she quickly set him straight.
"She said, 'You're going to walk because I've sacrificed a lot of things for you to be able to do this. I want that picture in the cap and the gown because, somewhere down the road, we're going to need to show that to our girl. I got to watch my father graduate from medical school. Not every child gets to see their parent achieve this kind of milestone.
'Payton is getting ready to start school. She's going to see what accomplishment looks like. You're getting up there in a cap and gown. You're going to walk across the stage. You're going to smile for a picture. And you're going to love every second of it.' I said, 'Yes, ma'am.'"
Of course, the trip to Shreveport was well worth it.
"I'm so glad that my wife made me do it, because I got to meet the instructors in person," he said. "We had Skyped a lot. We had some phone calls. But, to actually make that face to face was great. My daughter thought it was so cool that one of daddy's teachers sat down and had breakfast with us. She thought that was the craziest, coolest thing in the world."
O'Connor's friends and classmates marveled at his motivation to earn a master's degree of his own volition.
"Especially for MBAs working to be leaders, you want to talk about a lesson in discipline? There's nobody standing in front of you saying, 'Get this done,'" he said. "There's no one forcing you to do this. You have to have discipline. You have to have good goal-setting and planning to go about getting this done and done well. It took a lot of hard work and planning to get there. It was knowing the information and absorbing it. I love learning, so that was easy for me."
Take a Bow
When O'Connor looks back on his experience in the online MBA program at LSUS, he knows the biggest key to success was planning.
"Get all of the information you can," he said. "Typically, the syllabus is provided days before the actual course starts. Start to come up with a game plan. Realize that life is going to happen. The hardest lessons that l learned were cutting it too close to that deadline. Leave yourself plenty of time."
O'Connor also made sure to stay motivated by focusing on short-term goals within the program.
"Stay on top of your goals and celebrate every single completed task -- every paper that was submitted, every exam completed, every posting on the discussion boards," he said. "I celebrated them as mini victories to keep myself going.
"Seven weeks is a lot of time and a little time. There's a lot to do. When you look at seven weeks and everything that needs to be accomplished, it's a little overwhelming. It moves fast. As long as you stay on top of it, it's completely manageable."
Now that he is a full-fledged citizen of Louisiana, O'Connor is primarily focusing on maintaining a career -- even one off Broadway -- and providing a happy ending for Payton.
"My career plan is to stay healthy and working as long as I can if I plan to walk that girl down the aisle," he said. "If I have to pay for that wedding and her college, her major educational expenses will be at a time that, on a 'normal schedule,' we would be winding down our work. We're going to be going at it hard for a good, long time. I can't tell you I have a specific goal. I'm letting life happen right now. From where I've come, I'm enjoying the journey."
Learn more about the LSUS online MBA program.
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