Economics alumnus Brooks McBurney ’69 endowed a scholarship to recognize and honor the people who most helped him through college — his parents, and emeritus Professor Robert Ozaki.
BY SARAH STANEK
Creating a scholarship is something Brooks McBurney ’69 has wanted to do for a long time.
It’s not just because he thinks a college education is key to success — which he does — or because he wants to give back to his alma mater — which he is glad to do. And while he did want to recognize and honor his parents, who helped him through college and who nurtured in him qualities of tenacity and perseverance, they weren’t the only ones he had in mind when it came time to name the scholarship.
Since graduating from then-Cal State Hayward with a degree in economics, McBurney’s memories of his undergraduate years have prominently featured one particularly influential professor — Robert Ozaki.
“I sort of fell into my major,” McBurney recalls. “My first economics class was a disaster. My second class was with Dr. Ozaki.”
Ozaki demystified the subject matter, breaking down complex concepts without advanced math or arcane formulas. His personality and perspective also made him a commanding presence in the classroom, and McBurney looked to Ozaki for academic and professional guidance.
To honor Ozaki, as well as his parents, McBurney and wife Margaret in 2010 created the John T. and Patricia McBurney/Robert S. Ozaki Endowed Scholarship Fund to benefit undergraduate students majoring in economics at Cal State East Bay.
When Ozaki was notified about the endowment, he expressed delight that this former student was one he remembered fondly from his early teaching years. He calls the scholarship “the best gift I’ve ever received in my life. I’m honored and touched by his consideration.”
McBurney and his classmates were among the first to take classes at the new Hayward hills campus, which was characterized by the “stellar view, of course,” he says — but also by constant construction and unpaved parking lots.
“We called it ‘mud with purpose,” he jokes.
That purpose was in fact an urgent one. By the time McBurney graduated, the student body had doubled, jumping from 5,000 to 10,000 students in four years. Parallelling the speedy academic expansion was a building boom that included Meiklejohn Hall, the gymnasium and pool complex, a cafeteria, and a bookstore–student union.
That pressing need and sense of energy were part of what brought Ozaki to the fledgling University in 1960, after earning his doctorate from Harvard. The rapidly expanding CSU system was a natural attraction for a young academic, he says.
“The classes were small and there was much interaction between students and faculty in and out of classrooms,” Ozaki explains. “You could easily get to know colleagues in other disciplines. Among us was esprit de corps that we were building a new university together.”
Students weren’t alone in being impressed by the dynamic economics professor. In 1972, Ozaki was the third faculty member to be named the George and Miriam Phillips Outstanding Professor (see page 24 to read about Stephen Gutierrez, the most recent recipient).
Ozaki retired in 1999, becoming an emeritus professor. He works with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at CSUEB’s Concord campus, serving on the advisory board and curriculum committee and teaching courses for members.
McBurney went on to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, earning a master’s degree in business with a focus on personnel, or what’s now called human resources. As an HR professional, he worked in a range of industries, spending the majority of his career in health care, including 20 years as vice president of human resources at Meritus Health, part of a not-for-profit health system serving western Maryland, southern Pennsylvania, and the panhandle of West Virginia.
Now retired, McBurney and his wife live in Hagerstown, Maryland, where they spend time taking care of their two grandchildren and are frequent visitors to nearby national parks and monuments. Growing up in California, he says, the Civil War seemed “pretty far away,” but living 20 miles north of Antietam and close to other battle sites feeds his lifelong interest in history.
Over the course of his career, McBurney observed just how critical a college education was, and watched as it slowly crept out of reach of more students like he had been. “The student loan burden is incredible today,” he says. “No one I knew took loans like that. Everyone worked, and that was enough.”
Endowing a scholarship continues CSUEB’s longstanding commitment to providing access to higher education. As the first in his family to graduate from college, McBurney says he has realized how important it is to the region to have an affordable public university in the East Bay — then as now.
Supporting this generation of students through a scholarship also serves as a way to recognize how Ozaki helped shape CSUEB’s unique academic environment. McBurney says, “I wanted to memorialize his contributions to me, and to hundreds and hundreds of other students. Dr. Ozaki and CSUEB provided me a firstrate college education. This endowment is a small repayment.”
Thanks to the scholarship, those contributions will continue into the next generation of economics students as they face 21st century challenges. Reflecting on current events, Ozaki points out that “mainstream neoclassical economics failed to predict or prevent the Great Recession.”
“I encourage today’s students to think beyond the conventional paradigm and work toward building a better, more caring society,” he advises.
And McBurney would strongly suggest that they follow his own example, and heed Ozaki’s wisdom.