Former Ad Man honored with Fairfield University Dolan School's teaching excellence award



Image: John O'NealBefore John E. Neal taught at Fairfield University, he worked on Madison Avenue, crafting pitches for Nissan, Nabisco, Minolta Cameras, and Traveler's Insurance.

Now a Dolan School of Business faculty member, the Fairfield, Connecticut resident recently received the school's annual Excellence in Teaching Award. The award is voted on by students who consider a professor's effectiveness in the classroom, interaction with students and embodiment of Jesuit ideals. Students describe Neal as "extremely insightful" and "kind" whose quick to serve as a "mentor figure." They also speak of an educator whose classes are "fun" and "captivating."

Pointing out the impressive company he's keeps at the school, Neal was quite humbled upon learning the news that he had won the award. "So many Dolan School of Business professors are passionate about what they teach," he said. "And students can tell when a teacher loves what they teach."

As for his subject area, Neal allows, "I'm the one who doesn't leave the room when the commercials are on. I have just always loved advertising."

Before coming to Fairfield, Neal was executive vice president and general manager of Campbell Mithun Esty, an advertising agency that during his tenure was the 12th largest in the world with $1 billion in business. Among its famous taglines are "The Incredible, Edible Egg" and "What would you do for a Klondike bar?" His favorite project at the agency was a TV commercial featuring a grandfather and his grandchild bonding over an Oreo cookie and milk. "The Oreo became part of the American tradition. The ad separated Oreos from other cookies," he said.

His interest in the business grew out of working for the Connersville News Examiner, an Indiana newspaper owned by his family for more than 100 years. He wore many hats, filling in for whatever staff member was on vacation. "I've always loved journalism and communication," he said. After serving in the Vietnam War and college, Neal worked at Young & Rubicam, a premier agency, and later moved on to manufacturer Lever Brothers to learn how to speak "client language."

Dr. Walter Ryba, the late dean of the school, brought him to the university. Now in his 14th year as an adjunct, Neal has taught such courses as 'Principles of Marketing' and 'Consumer Behavior.'

Norm Solomon, Ph.D., dean of the Dolan School, calls Neal an "outstanding, gifted and committed instructor whom we are fortunate to have with us at Fairfield."

With marketing vehicles rapidly evolving these days, Neal knows he has his work cut out for himself when it comes to devising curriculum. "The students have an advantage over us, because they have an innate understanding of Facebook to Twitter to whatever the new thing may be. That means professors have to work hard to stay ahead of the students."

Kendal Dirkin '12, a marketing major from Oak Park, IL, calls Neal's enthusiasm "infectious." "He knows how to teach the necessary concepts to students in both an interesting and entertaining way," she said. "Ask any business student here at Fairfield who has had Professor Neal and they will agree with me."

Alexander Livingstone '12, said Neal inspired him to become a marketing major.  "Each day I had his class, I was excited about the new information I was going to learn."

The students' praise comes as no surprise to Mark Ligas, Ph.D., chair of the Marketing Department. He observes Neal embodies the Jesuit ideal of tending to the 'whole person.' "Not only does John bring a wealth of experience into the classroom, but he also embodies what Fairfield University strives for with regard to its faculty," said Dr. Ligas. "Namely, he has a genuine concern for each student, no matter their major, minor, undecided or other."

Neal is already looking forward to his fall course in public relations, scouting guest speakers to add perspective to lessons. "Would you like to come talk to one of my classes?" he inquires of a university publicist. He's also scanning the headlines for teachable moments concerning corporations asleep at the switch when it comes to ethics. "It's a labor of love, teaching," Neal said. "It's truly been the most rewarding experience of my life."            

Photo: John E. Neal, right, recipient of the 2011 teaching excellence award from Fairfield's Dolan School of Business, with Norm Solomon, Ph.D., dean.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on June 21, 2011

Vol. 43, No. 326