October 19, 2018

Adjunct professor would teach for free if he could

Adjunct professors Mac McKinney (left) and Steve Epner discuss plans at an executive meeting for Gateway Venture Mentoring Service on April 24.

Adjunct professors Mac McKinney (left) and Steve Epner discuss plans at an executive meeting for Gateway Venture Mentoring Service on April 24.

Mac McKinney said he has worked in two of the coolest professions a kid could dream of. His career began as a locomotive engineer driving freight trains and now teaches as an adjunct professor at Webster University.

McKinney’s favorite teaching tool is to tell his “old war stories.” He had to wait more than 30 years before he could share those stories about his previous employers. But he uses them to help his students not make same mistakes of others.

One story he told to his Managerial Leadership class at Webster University’s Westport Campus about not misusing technological communication. One of McKinney’s co-worker’s sent him an email with the threat to fire him, but McKinney was not the only one to receive the mass email.

“1,8000 of us are going ‘He is serious, is that for me’,” McKinney said. “This has to be a joke, but still today we don’t really know if he was serious or not.”

McKinney teaches two courses per semester in Webster’s MBA program: Managerial Leadership and Organizational Behaviors. He only teaches graduate students because he doesn’t have to worry about the students falling asleep.

“I look forward to every Tuesday and Thursday night I get to teach,” McKinney said. “The interaction with the students is worth the work, especially the adult students, because they are all working people they bring interesting things to the table.”

He said the class work and long nights teaching have never burdened him after a full day on the job. He is the Vice Chairman of Gateway Venture Mentoring Service. A not-for-profit company that manages small business startups and entrepreneurs in the St. Louis area.

“I never got into teaching as a profession,” McKinney said. “I got into it as a passion. I’ve got benefits and I really don’t even need the pay. It’s fun but that isn’t really why I’m here.”

At Gateway McKinney is able to share a lot of his teaching stories with fellow adjunct professors in the St. Louis area. Some Gateway mentors are also adjuncts at Saint Louis University, Washington University in St. Louis and Maryville. Gateway Chairman Steve Epner is also a Webster adjunct.

McKinney and Epner both said their main jobs provide a healthy salary and benefits, teaching is what they do for fun.

If you are (adjunct teaching) you are not doing it for the money,” Epner said. “If you do you are going to starve. Seeing peoples eyes open as they start to get it and seeing people do something they wouldn’t otherwise try to do. That is where the payback is.”

Webster pay between $1870 and $5000 per three-credit hour course. The average business course is $2625, as cited by The Adjunct Project by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

McKinney only teaches two courses per semester in Webster’s MBA program. Epner teaches an undergraduate course at Webster along with a course in SLU’s MBA program.

SLU, which has about 5000 more undergraduate, but 10000 fewer graduate students than Webster, pays adjunct professors between $3000 and $3600 per three-credit hour course.

Epner said he charges $350 per hour for his time at BSW Consulting.

“Lets just say they don’t come close to paying my normal billing rate,” Epner said.

Epner said the goal of Gateway VMS is to get people “unstuck” from a business situation they may be in. And teaching has provided common ground for conversations between fellow adjuncts.

“We share some of the funny stories about the brain dead students we may get,” Epner said. “But what we get the most from each other is our various lessons and problems we may run into.”

But Epner’s favorite story comes from the success of his students. An assignment to his graduate class at SLU was to come up with an idea that would make your employer your cost of tuition. At SLU that was around $50,000.

He had a student who worked for Missouri American Water and he made a proposal to change the way a water pipe that transports drinking water throughout the city is sanitized. Usually large amounts of toxic chemicals like chlorine are used, but this student designed a way to use light exposure and frequencies to kill the bacteria.

The design was patented and has Missouri American Water has attempted to sell the idea to other water companies.

“It’s like ‘ya cool we got one,’” Epner said. “Its harder for someone to understand that is probably really young, but for me that is worth more than money at that point in your life.”

McKinney sold his maid company in December 2013, but accepted the role of Vice Chairman of Gateway Venturers Mentorship (VMS) Services a few months later.

We reach out and try to find people who want to get into entrepreneurship and then find the resources,” McKinney said. “Whether its more education, financing, technology and we act as that Shepard.”

McKinney said he does not work with specific companies but is an administrator for the nearly 120 mentors and 80 businesses working with Gateway VMS. He said his days are usually based around executive meetings and strategic planning sessions to organize the mentors.

Also in Gateway VMS are a number of local adjunct and some full time professors. The Chairman is Webster and Saint Louis University adjunct Steve Epner. He and McKinney said there are probably 10 to 12 other professors who are Gateway VMS mentors.

McKinney worked for Norfolk Southern Railway for 30 years and rose from a freight train driver to logistics manager. In that time he earned a Masters from Maryville University, then shortly after left the railway to start a maid business. He build the company for 25 years, opened six location with about 50 employees and had a seven figure revenue.

But he said he fell in love with the classroom. From 1995 to 2010 he taught Organizational Behaviors at his alma mater, Maryville. Then when he moved to Webster the next year he added a second four hour night class to his schedule.

“Its not hard, in fact it’s the thing I look forward to,” McKinney said. “I can’t wait for Tuesday and Thursdays to roll around cause that’s my escape I’m having fun.”

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