Worcester State University Alumna Barbara O'Brien

Education Department Named for Longtime Worcester Teacher and Alumna

October 30, 2015
By: Guest Contributor

The Worcester State University Education Department will be named for Barbara (Hickey) O’Brien, a 1957 graduate and a generous benefactor of the college during her life and beyond. A formal announcement was made on Thursday, Oct. 29, at the University’s annual Distinguished Donor Reception at Mechanics Hall.

“A hurdle for aspiring teachers is passing the multiple MTEL tests required for certification. The O’Briens’ generosity will enable Worcester State University’s Education Department to provide no-cost programs to support our teacher candidates as they prepare for these challenging examinations,” says Carol Donnelly, chair of the Education Department.

“We are honored to name our Education Department after Barbara, an alumna who dedicated her life to students. She spent thirty-four years teaching young people in the Worcester Public Schools. And, with endowed scholarships, she and husband Bob are ensuring to this day that Worcester State students have the opportunity to earn their degrees,” says President Barry M. Maloney.

The family of Robert K. O’Brien, a 1958 graduate, has contributed more than a half-million dollars to Worcester State University, supporting dozens of WSU students via six endowed scholarships and sponsoring the annual Robert K. O’Brien Next Big Idea contest, to encourage student entrepreneurship.

Background on Barbara Hickey O’Brien:

Barbara’s vitality, curiosity, love of learning and teaching, and her drive and ambition were all enhanced and shaped by her education at WSU’s predecessor institution, Worcester State Teachers College. She met and fell in love with her husband of 57 years, Robert K. O’Brien ’58, while both were students at the school.

Bob and Barbara not only left Worcester State with knowledge and values that served them all their lives, but with many rewarding, lifelong friendships.

Following graduation, Barbara embarked on a 34-year career in the Worcester Public Schools, first at the elementary level and then as a special education teacher. Barbara shared the benefits of the “excellent”—her word!—education she received at Worcester State with her students, and she credited the institution with preparing her well for the classroom and life.

Bob and Barbara’s life partnership surprised and rewarded them with many blessings, both personal and material, and they have long shared these blessings through a network of scholarships established to reward others who are starting out like them—beginners in life, strivers with little to build upon but character and hard work.

“We want to help students who share our values,” said Barbara. “My mother always talked about reciprocating good will. I hope that today’s students will continue that custom later in their own careers.”

After Barbara passed away on March 12, a further endowment was donated to Worcester State University, with its proceeds earmarked for the use of the Department of Education. University leadership joined the Board of Trustees in support of an initiative to name the department The Barbara (Hickey) O’Brien ’57 Education Department. The University and the O’Brien family together expect that it will serve as a beacon of hope for students whose dreams echo Barbara’s.  It will also memorialize Barbara’s legacy at her beloved alma mater.

The O’Brien family also sponsors the annual Next Big Idea entrepreneurship contest, and is making plans for further scholarship support for working WSU students.

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