Drea recognized with named professorship
John Drea ’80 was recently honored with a named professorship during the spring meeting of the Illinois College faculty.
The longtime business and marketing professor will now hold the title of Ruth Badger Pixley Professor of Social Sciences.
A named professorship is the highest honor the College can bestow on a member of the faculty. Drea said the honor “means more than people can ever know.”
“I've been connected to IC for a long time,” he said. “And many of the names that people know from awards or honors are professors that I learned from and cherished — some of whom held these same types of professorships.”
Taking on a leadership role in social sciences may seem like an unusual choice for a marketing professor, but Drea says it is actually a great fit. He describes marketing as a combination of “psychology, economics and social psychology — all traditionally viewed as social sciences — combined with technology and strategy and then applied to interactions between buyers and sellers.”
Drea joined the Illinois College faculty in 2014, bringing over 30 years of experience in higher education which includes nearly two decades at Western Illinois University. He has spent many of those years in administrative roles such as associate dean, assistant to the president and interim chief academic officer -- a role he held twice. Drea notably helped to increase enrollments for the College of Business and Technology at WIU and improve the quality of its MBA program.
Drea believes he has succeeded in leadership roles in higher education because he is “a problem solver at heart,” but that the stress of those positions could also be difficult. When the opportunity to teach at his alma mater presented itself, Drea chose to return to IC over being promoted to a dean role at WIU.
His initial desire to come back to IC was tied to a hope that he could “make a difference and repay a debt” to the college that helped him become who he is today. He says he began at Illinois College as an introverted 17-year-old student who “wasn’t as smart as he thought he was,” and encountered many life-changing people on the Hilltop.
“I was blessed to have some very good friends on the second floor of Gardner Hall,” he recalls. “As well as some faculty who challenged me, like Charles Frank, Charles Trainor, Ruth Bump, Jim Davis, Don Eldred, David Koss and Edgar Franz, to name a few.”
IC prepared him to earn his MBA at Notre Dame, one of the top programs in the country. He later earned his DBA in marketing from Southern Illinois University.
In the years that Drea has taught at Illinois College, he has made an impact on the lives of countless students. He played an instrumental role in reorganizing the College’s business administration program — formerly called management and organizational leadership — and transforming the sports and recreation concentration into a sports management degree. Graduates of the program are prepared to launch their careers on the business side of professional sports, in athletic administration or in recreation management.
Drea has also helped bring the program to life, tying classroom concepts and theories to real-world practice. He has leveraged his ties in the sports world to give students hands-on experience working with some big names in professional sports such as the St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers and the Indiana Pacers.
Drea has helped IC alumni launch their careers since returning to the hilltop campus. He has also worked to increase alumni engagement after graduation, often inviting alumni back to his classroom to mentor current students or serve as guest speakers. He has been the recipient of numerous teaching awards, including the Society of Marketing Advancement's Distinguished Teaching Award, the American Marketing Association's Instructional Innovation Award, and the Marketing Management Association's Teaching Excellence Award.
Drea is the author of more than 40 refereed publications, and his work has appeared in Transportation Journal, Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management, the Journal of Applied Sports Management and many other outlets. He recently penned an article for Harvard Business Publishing’s Inspiring Minds about how higher education should evolve in the wake of the pandemic.
Not only is Drea celebrated for his innovative approach and academic accomplishments, he’s also well liked. Talk to the students who take his classes and you will hear stories of how he makes the material interesting and goes out of his way to help those who are willing to work hard. Last year he participated in a “rap battle” as part of a creative project conceptualized by a student in one of his classes tasked with creating a video that had the potential to go viral.
Drea says that earning the professorship at IC has allowed his career to come full circle. While he says he would never equate himself to “the lions of IC,” — a group that includes his greatest influences from IC history including Iver Yeager, Carole Ryan, Charles Frank, Edgar Franz and Jim Davis — he is honored to be in the same general group as these people who he has respected and revered his entire adult life. Past recipients of the Ruth Badger Pixley Professor of Social Sciences title include Karen Dean and the late William Cross.
When Drea reflects on his humble beginnings as that 17-year-old student at IC to where he is today, he sees his journey as a testament to the power of education.
“It's just a reminder that every student, no matter how unassuming, can go on to great things with the right environment. IC provided the perfect opportunity for me, both academically and socially, and I hope I have repaid that to our students of today over the past seven years.”
To learn more about the business administration program at Illinois College, visit www.ic.edu/business-administration.