When Bob FitzSimmons decided to support the Teaching and Learning Center at the College of Business, he wanted to ensure business students needing assistance received free personalized tutoring services. In addition, the innovative way Nebraska planned to grow and expand the services appealed to his entrepreneurial side.
“The impression of most colleges is that students either sink or swim, and they don’t get a lot of help. At the College of Business though, it wasn’t just ‘we’ll find you a tutor.’ It was much more to help individuals be successful. It was different, and I wanted to be a part of it,” said FitzSimmons.
Established with the opening of Hawks Hall in 2017, the Teaching and Learning Center provided a place for students to study, ask for help and find tutors. FitzSimmons' support helped take the center to the next level.
“The success and expansion of the Teaching and Learning Center is largely credited to the generosity of Bob FitzSimmons. Due to him jumping on board with our vision to help business students in a more personalized way, the tutoring staff has nearly tripled, and they have held more than 9,000 tutoring visits since fall 2018,” said Kasey Linde, associate director of the Teaching and Learning Center and program coordinator for Inclusive Business Leaders. “In addition, the TLC now trains and certifies every tutor using the International Center for Supplemental Instruction’s curriculum. We also pilot and adopt new programs like review sessions and the teaching assistant program.”
Originally from St. Joseph, Missouri, FitzSimmons graduated from the University of Kansas in 1962 as a distinguished ROTC student with a business degree. He turned down a commission because he wanted to earn his MBA at Northwestern University.
“I served three years in the Air Force stationed at Ellsworth Air Force Base. My wife, Jan, was in nursing school nearby, and we met on a blind date. Fortunately, she could see I was a conscientious guy who wanted to succeed,” Bob said.
The couple wed in December 1963. Three years later he earned his MBA and got his big start working as an assistant product manager for Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix (now known as Pearl Milling Company) on Quaker Street in Chicago. He was then promoted to product manager with “a new sweet cereal” called Cap'n Crunch before deciding to go into pharmaceutical product management in Elkhart, Indiana, overseeing the marketing of Flintstones™, Bugs Bunny and One A Day® vitamins.
Seven years later, the FitzSimmons’ family moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, where Bob’s new product was a cough and cold syrup called Triaminic. Until then, it had only been promoted to pharmacists and physicians, but Bob’s job was to get it on grocery and drug store shelves. Jan was also in the first wave of rehabilitation nurses starting at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals.
“After 11 years, I could retire, so I started my own business as a Certified Financial Planner® Professional with no clients and it was hard,” said Bob, who found success using innovative ideas, building relationships in his community and helping others help give back. In his new career, he also found many people did not plan for the cost of college, so students were deciding not to attend or graduating with huge debt.
“I convinced my high school classmates to help spearhead a scholarship in St. Joseph. We raised $50,000 from 1958 graduates, and now we award $2,000 a year. I also am the president of my church foundation and in five years, we provided $300,000 in seminary scholarships to 20 recipients,” he said.
He also established scholarships at his parents’ alma mater and at KU where his sons, Curtis, an infectious disease doctor (deceased), and Clark, a geologist, also earned their degrees.
His first introduction to the University of Nebraska–Lincoln came when clients called about internships for their children. Many of those interns attended Nebraska, so Bob decided to set up scholarships for Nebraska students too, preferably those interested in financial planning. He also provided funding for the business student ambassador program.
“When prospective students visit campus, they are much more likely to come for school. The student ambassadors are key to their experience as they are peers who show them around campus and answer questions. However, it was getting harder to retain student ambassadors as these weren’t paid positions. I learned this from the Dean and wanted to help,” said Bob.
At age 80, he established quite a legacy for his family and college graduates throughout the business world.
“I am incredibly thankful for Bob’s support. It’s amazing how many of our business students benefited from his generosity,” said Linde.
To learn more about the Teaching and Learning Center, visit: https://business.unl.edu/tlc.