Schwarz grew up in Chicago and became the first member of his family to earn a college degree from the University of Chicago, which he credits as a life-changing influence. He earned his BA in 1963, MBA in 1967 and a Ph.D. in 1971 during the tumultuous era of the Cold War, cultural revolutions, assassinations, Vietnam and the folk music boom that informs his music today.
“Besides my parents, nothing else has had such a profound impact on me as the University of Chicago,” Schwarz says.
Intent on becoming a scientist — in part due to a love of 1950s science fiction movies — the young Schwarz initially pursued studies in chemistry.
“It was not a good fit,” he admits. “I had too many accidents in the lab.”
After his higher education experiment in chemistry, an interest in computers opened the route to a business school assistantship that set the trajectory for his academic focus, including his love of teaching.
Lee Schwarz and his wife, Rona. (Photo provided)
“The personal connections — seeing those light bulbs go off — engaging with students in the classroom, and then in some cases enjoying enduring relationships with them are my greatest accomplishments and best reward,” the operations management professor says.
One of the last courses he taught, as he prepared to enter the next stage of his life and career, was a seven-week MBA course in strategic sourcing and procurement, which included a segment he called “Managing Your Life.”
“I’d always felt confident teaching topics as a knowledgeable expert, but I found students are eager to hear from adults and professionals about the significant crossroads in their personal and professional lives, too,” he says. Ironically, during the teaching of a course that included “life-lessons” that can’t be found in a textbook, Schwarz discovered some lessons of his own. The ideas explored may appear in book form some day, Schwarz says.
“In a way, in teaching this course I realized I finally knew how to do it [teaching] well,” Schwarz says. “I guess that at the very end, I finally got it right.”
Given how important teaching has been to Schwarz professionally, the last two years of scaling back his time in the classroom helped prepare him for life beyond academia. “I will always find a way or another outlet to teach and connect with others,” he says.
Which brings us back to music. Will his folk, story-driven music be a vehicle for teaching?
“No. Music is a fun way of connecting — that’s what it shares with teaching,” he says. “I see a life for myself teaching, volunteering and making music. And staying in shape!” And he adds: “I plan to do more music after leaving Purdue," Schwarz says, and in one way he may have a learning curve to conquer.
"Singing in coffeehouses after almost 40 years of teaching is a challenge to me,” he confesses. “Part of me wants the audience to stop talking, and start taking notes or something."