The New Retirement
Successful professionals-turned-professors contribute to higher education.
Some retirees are adding another line to their resumes: College professor. Teaching is an option for retirees who seek professional fulfillment and to fill part of their schedule while still enjoying a less-hectic daily routine, compared to the corporate world or running a business.
They pass on their wealth of experience to traditional and non-traditional college students in undergraduate and graduate courses, as well as certificate and diploma programs. Part-time and full-time teaching jobs at Southwest Florida’s colleges and universities also give successful professionals who have left the workforce an outlet for intellectual engagement.
When they transition into the classroom, they also may discover new uses for their skills, and have a role in shaping the next generation and possibly Southwest Florida’s economy.
Over the next 15 years, local counties, just like others across the state, have the ability to shape their own economies by investing in “innovation economy,” says Jerry D. Parrish, chief economist and director of research for the Florida Chamber Foundation.
Innovation economy is a notion that looks at how merging innovation and entrepreneurship can result in economic prosperity. Parrish believes areas like Southwest Florida have the ability to spark more entrepreneurship by linking retirees who offer experience, and often capital, with people who have great ideas.
“The communities that are going to win this game are the ones that engage the recent retirees and have them mentor, and perhaps invest in, these young people with good ideas,” he says.
Retirees who have previously been tied to their work schedules also have time—maybe for the first time in decades. By working with younger generations in college classrooms, these three retirees feel hopeful about the next generation and believe they’re making a lasting impact.
Michael Zahaby: Always Learning
When retired financial professional Michael Zahaby got the OK to teach a class at Florida Gulf Coast University, he felt the same way he did in the early 1970s when he received his acceptance letter to The Ohio State University.
“I was so elated; I felt like a child,” he says.
In spring 2016, Zahaby taught Financial Statements Analysis, a case study-based course he created that uses examples from companies such as CVS, Chico’s, Hertz and Pfizer, as well as team projects.
As he got to know the seven students in his course, he discovered that some were the first generation in their family to attend college and some were paying their own way for classes.
“I was just really impressed with the caliber of students and the level of engagement,” he says. “They want to understand this. They want to learn this. They want to do well.”
They also wanted to spread the word about the class. “By the end of the semester they were bringing their friends over to introduce them to me,” he says with a laugh.
He viewed his students as an audience and wanted to be able to answer any of their questions. Students, for example, questioned the role of businesses and decisions such as layoffs that may be seen as cruel. He explained why businesses made those decisions, based on factors such as performance and cheaper labor in other countries.
“I love business. I want to impart … that business is not bad,” he says. “Business today, especially finance, is really getting a bad rap. The good part of finance is it’s a business that fuels small business. That’s the engine that runs this country.”
Zahaby (who is married to Gulfshore Business Senior Editor Cary Barbor) got his first taste of teaching in the 1990s, when he taught a portion of a credit analyst course while working at Wells Fargo Securities in Philadelphia. Zahaby enjoyed the challenge of boiling big concepts into relevant, easy-to-understand information.
“Since then, it’s been in the back of my mind to do this in retirement,” he says.
He emphasizes that retirees who want to teach should plan ahead by reaching out to deans and department chairs well ahead of leaving the workforce. As his retirement neared, he approached Dean Robert Beatty at FGCU’s Lutgert College of Business about opportunities and was excited to hear that they were seeking professionals with practical experience. Zahaby, who most recently served as managing director for CapitalSpring in New York, also earned his MBA in international business from the Thunderbird School of Global Management.
Beyond the work he spent on the front end planning the syllabus, assignments and a study manual, Zahaby estimates that every hour in the classroom requires at least two hours of preparation and grading.
The class, for juniors, seniors and MBA students, will be repeated at FGCU during winter 2017, and Zahaby received a team teaching slot in the finance department for fall 2016. He plans to make some adjustments to the course, based on what he learned in the spring.
“Having just left the workforce, my engine was still revving. Midway through the semester, I realized I was moving way too fast,“ he says. “There is no reason to move at a breakneck speed. With these concepts, it’s better to spoonfeed than force-feed.”
Gene Landrum: Unlocking Entrepreneurship
In his years of teaching at Hodges University, Gene Landrum has learned that you never know if you’re getting through to students until possibly years later.
Landrum, the founder of businesses including Chuck E. Cheese as well as an author, recently reconnected with a former student over lunch. It had been more than a decade since she took his class and she told him she was finally ready to quit her job and become her own boss. She thanked him for the practical knowledge and inspiration his entrepreneurship and marketing courses offered.
It’s not the first time that Landrum, who became a faculty member of the Kenneth Oscar Johnson School of Business administration program at Hodges in 1995, heard that from a former student. Another student also started her own business and told him a year later that she had made more money than she ever made in her whole life. He remembers her telling him, “You changed my life.”
Others echoed that sentiment at an event at Hodges in 2009, when Landrum, who holds a Ph.D., was named its first professor emeritus. In 2011, he earned the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization and was inducted into its Hall of Fame.
Landrum, who founded Chuck E. Cheese as a place “Where a Kid Can Be a Kid,” desires to give his students information and encouragement so they can be leaders and entrepreneurs. As a professor, he shared stories about how he started Chuck E. Cheese and other business ventures, as well as stories of other company founders, such as Fred Smith of FedEx.
“Stories resonate somehow much better in the mind of people than just facts,” he says.
One student, Matt Vila, a 2004 graduate, provided this quote that Landrum has on his website: “What Dr. Landrum brings to the classroom cannot be learned from a textbook. It is the combination of real-life experience and passion that truly makes him a remarkable professor.”
To be a successful college professor, Landrum says it’s important to learn about the students and have them learn about you.
“Let them understand why you’re there,” he says. “[Tell them], ‘You’re going to walk away with what you need. I’m going to walk away with what I feel good about what’s right for you.’ It’s so, so, so important to be able to do that.”
Morris Gartenberg: Paying it Forward
Morris Gartenberg moved to Southwest Florida in 2008, the same year Rasmussen College opened a campus in Fort Myers. Within six months, he started teaching his first class at Rasmussen.
He brought 30 years of experience working in financial roles for various companies and writing about business issues, and what he describes as “financial fitness” topics. He already had enjoyed being in the classroom and bringing his “pay it forward” attitude to the next generation by teaching part-time at a college in New Jersey.
The adjunct professor opportunity at Rasmussen enabled him to continue using his professional experiences to lead students to their own academic, professional and personal success. In 2015, he received Rasmussen’s Bright Spot Award for excellence in learning, teaching and student success.
When he began teaching at Rasmussen, Gartenberg remembers being advised that not every student would pass the business and accounting courses he taught, a concept he already understood.
“I have two daughters who minored in business that would come to me saying, ‘I don’t understand how you could major in accounting,’” Gartenberg says. “So I knew I needed to try every which way to communicate.”
To teach concepts that students can relate to and enhance their lives, Gartenberg uses real-life experiences.
Even though authors are starting to add more practical case studies into textbooks, most of them are still strictly academic and theory based. Gartenberg believes that students best learn through hearing stories that they can remember, understand and relate back to the information from the textbook.
Gartenberg makes his students’ success his priority. Because many of his students have one or more jobs and a family while taking a full load of 12 credit hours, Gartenberg understands that those responsibilities may have to come first and does whatever he can to help.
He often meets with students, holds phone help sessions and grants deadline extensions, as long as the student has a plan to make up the assignment or get help to complete the work.
“I want students to be successful. If I have to adjust my time, that’s perfectly fine,” Gartenberg says. “The bottom line is helping others.” —Kelsey Green