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Last Lecture’ draws crowd

Madeline Buckley | Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Pursuing a career without considering financial gain may seem counterintuitive in an economic downturn, but finance professor Carl Ackermann said students embarking on a career path must do what makes them happy.

“If you do what you really enjoy, you will be a happier and more productive person,” he said. “Financial awards will follow.”

Ackermann spoke to a packed room Tuesday night in the Coleman-Morse Lounge for the second installment of the “Last Lecture” series hosted by student government.

The series invites professors to impart wisdom in a lecture as if it were their last chance to do so, modeled off of the story of Carnegie Melon professor Randy Pausch.

Ackermann said he was once offered the job of putting together the American League baseball schedule. The job combined his interest in baseball, logic and math, but he declined the job offer.

“My good friends and I thought there was no money and no future in sports,” he said, generating laughter from the crowd.

Ackermann said he missed out on a great opportunity because he was searching for financial reward, so he encouraged students to take a chance in their job search.

Learning from this mistake later in life, Ackermann said he came to Notre Dame to focus on research, but instead concentrated on teaching, despite warnings that he was making a poor career decision.

“I deemphasized my research and moved in the direction of trying to help students,” he said. “It was maybe one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

Although he encouraged putting happiness over money in a career, Ackermann acknowledged the tough job market seniors currently face.

“Many in the room are facing limited job prospects because of the state of the economy now,” he said. “But be effusively positive and look on the bright side of every situation.”

He said he is more worried about those college graduates that have been in the workforce for 10 years and are accustomed to a certain lifestyle.

“When they are laid off from their jobs, they will face major changes,” Ackermann said.

The knowledge to be gained from current economic struggles will benefit students later in life, he said.

“You should be much more optimistic,” Ackermann said. “Your path may be more circuitous now, but where there’s a will there’s a way.”

One significant lesson to be gained from the lack of job opportunities is the importance of hard work, he said.

“This economic climate should be a humbling reminder to you to never, ever be mediocre in your work,” he said. “Be indispensable at work.”

But Ackermann said he does not doubt that every student in the room has the ability to succeed.

“You’re all so smart,” he said. “I’m still sure you can accomplish anything you wish to.”

Ackermann said he believes another key factor in achieving personal success is seeking out unfamiliar situations.

“The times I’ve grown most in my life are when I have placed myself in uncomfortable situations,” he said. “I encourage you to make a habit of that.”

Ackermann said the previous night he “received a pounding” from several Notre Dame basketball players when competing against them in the Bookstore Basketball tip-off, but the experience was worth it.

While career advancement is important, Ackermann said it is more important to use one’s area of expertise for service work or to simply connect with others.

“If you volunteer in the area of your specialty, you will amplify your impact,” he said.

Jobs are exhausting, and keep people busy, but it is worth the extra effort to dedicate time to a service endeavor, or even just interact in a positive way with others, Ackermann said.

“No matter how tired you are, make the extra effort to make at least one extra person smile every day and you will feel terrific about yourself,” he said.

Ackermann said he uses the finance textbook he teaches with to connect with students – but not in the traditional way.

Ackermann said he encourages students to take pictures in unusual places and situations with the textbook. He displayed pictures of students skiing with the book and reading the textbook while sliding down a waterslide.

However, he showed the best picture he has ever received: a student reading the finance textbook while airborne and upside down on a snowboard.

“When people are risking their lives to top other people in these photos, you know you have an enduring activity that people enjoy,” he said.