April 21, 2017 8:15AM
About a year ago, George O’Brien was handed the responsibility of directing a large sum of money to an organization or charity of his choice.
“I was involved in an organization that began liquidating its assets, and I was put in charge of figuring out what to do with the money we had left,” O’Brien said. “It was my decision to make, and I had thought about a variety of organizations that I knew could use the support.”
O’Brien, who for most of his life had no personal connection to Pittsburg State, had a conversation with his longtime friend and now girlfriend, Judy Smetana.
“We talked about some different options, and then it hit me that I could donate the money to PSU,” O’Brien said.
Smetana is an assistant professor in Pitt State’s Human Resource Development program.
Earlier this month, O’Brien donated nearly $800,000 to the university’s Human Resource Development (HRD) program, which was recently ranked as the fifth best in the nation.
“It was just a natural fit,” O’Brien said. “The HRD program is a tremendous program, but it’s kind of an orphan in terms of outside support. It doesn’t get the industry support like other programs. I thought that money could do some good for the program, and that’s what we decided to do.”
John Iley, chair of the PSU Technology and Workforce Learning Department, said the funds are a tremendous boost for the HRD program.
“I can’t even begin to express how grateful we are to George for making this contribution to our program,” Iley said. “We don’t receive a lot of outside, private support, so this generous donation means so very much to us.”
Smetana said the funds will help enrich the educational experience for students and faculty. Most of the money will be used to help provide professional development opportunities for faculty and for student scholarships.
“I think where the donation will have its greatest impact, in the end, will be with the students of the program,” Smetana said. “As faculty, we have come from industry and use a theory-to-practice approach in our teaching. By having this money for professional development, we will be able to stay current in our field. This, in turn, will enhance our teaching and create enriching experiences for our students.”
Along with the donation to the HRD program, O’Brien also directed $30,000 to support the PSU Veterans Memorial.
"I have tremendous admiration and respect for our veterans, and I think the veterans memorial at PSU is fantastic," O'Brien said. "It's a true honor and privilege to support the memorial in this way."