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Meet John F. O. Bilson of Illinois Tech Stuart School of Business

Today we’d like to introduce you to John F. O. Bilson.

Thanks for sharing your story with us John. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
The Master of Science in Finance program at the Stuart School of Business was basically a response to the 1987 stock market crash. Jack Wing, who was an executive in Chicago financial markets, decided we needed to create a finance program that taught what people actually did in the markets rather than the more theoretical academic finance that was taught at traditional universities. I used to work for Jack Wing at that stage and I was one of the first people who started teaching in the program as an adjunct. I later came on board as a full-time faculty member and eventually became the director of the M.S. Finance program. During the time when I was Director, the program became internationally recognized, was ranked – and continues to be ranked – in the top 10 finance programs by the Financial Times of London. We now have hundreds of alumni who work in the Chicago financial markets at major financial firms. One year ago, I was appointed Dean of the business school, which gives me responsibility for all of the academic programs that the Stuart School of Business offers.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Enrollment in graduate academic programs is always very dependent on the state of the economy. Whenever we have economic downturns, we tend to see an increase in graduate and professional school enrollment, and when the economy rebounds, there is often a decrease as people return to the workforce. The present situation has created a lot of uncertainty in the market because of political upheaval and recent policy changes – particularly as it relates to the openness to international students at U.S. universities. This has created challenges not only for Illinois Tech but for all universities in the U.S.

Illinois Tech Stuart School of Business – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
We are a university that was founded to create opportunities. We are always attempting to help students from all backgrounds. We are a technical university with very high academic standards. The business school is designed to provide technically-orientated individuals with the business skills they need – not to get a first job, but to achieve long-term success in their career.

We are known for emphasis on income mobility. Mobility measures the income of students relative to the income of their parents. A recent article in the New York Times found that Illinois Tech was ranked the second highest university in the United States in terms of students’ income mobility. We are also interested in diversity. This is a diverse campus – we have students from 100 different countries, we are 35% female, and 15% underrepresented races/ethnicities. That gives us a very distinct character, especially for a high-tech university. The business school’s current key initiatives combine these concepts of mobility and diversity. We have created a new scholarship program – the Launch Scholarship – to provide students from underrepresented races/ethnicities and women with increased career opportunities in the Chicago financial services industry — an industry that recognizes the need for a meaningful commitment to diversity. This scholarship program provides students not only with tuition reductions but also with funds to support their time at the university, a rich array of career and professional development programming, and mentorship.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
I define success in the same terms that we do at Illinois Tech and the Stuart School — by the success of the people with whom I am charged. Our students’ success is my success.

Illinois Tech is a university that is very student oriented. It is important to me that we do a very good job of preparing students, not only for their economic life, but also for their personal life. We work very hard in our academic programs and other activities to prepare students for the job market. The Stuart School of Business currently has an undergraduate job placement rate of 90% and a graduate job placement rate of 92% after graduation. This signifies to me that our programs are succeeding in their objectives and I take pride in that.

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