Not all students take the traditional four-year route to an undergraduate degree. Some, like Liam O'Brien, a junior dual-majoring in International Business and Finance, do it their way.
It seems only natural for O'Brien to be carving his own path. He became intrigued by entrepreneurship in high school after reading books by Tim Ferriss, a U.S. entrepreneur, investor, author, and podcaster.
"Ferriss' approaches on business and productivity are sometimes unorthodox but can be really effective if used appropriately," O'Brien said.
"Life Is Too Short to Be Small." —Tim Ferriss
O'Brien and two former high school classmates— Danny Pakulski, now a Digital Media, Arts, and Technology graduate, and Simon Yahn, a film student at Rochester Institute of Technology— formed Oddity Productions, a video-production company.
The company is set to hit the indie film circuit this year with Alexander the Brain, a short film about bare-knuckles boxing set in the post-Civil War United States.
O'Brien is the business manager for the company, which also does commercial work, implementing a creative film-focused approach to creating high-value video advertisements. That keeps him rather busy between—and sometimes during—classes.
"Sometimes, I'm sitting in a business class and my phone will be buzzing with messages from clients," he said.
He has learned that communication is key to doing good business.
"You have to be precise with your language and super-specific about everything, especially any sort of schedule changes," he said.
O'Brien isn't rattled by a change of plans. Delays don't mean derailment.
"Go Out On a Limb. That's Where The Fruit Is." —Jimmy Carter
In the summer before his sophomore year, O'Brien secured an internship in São Paulo, Brazil. Having dual citizenship (O'Brien's mother is Brazilian) and family he could live with in São Paulo provided the perfect opportunity for hands-on international learning.
"Offering to work for free will help you get a foot in the door," he said. "That's how I started working at my first position in São Paulo," he said.
He was offered a three-month gig as an intern/office assistant at an asset management company. At the end of the summer, they offered him a full-time job. He accepted and had been working for the company for about a year when he met an entrepreneur who inspired another turn of events.
The entrepreneur was starting a consulting business to help tech companies scale their operations for Latin America.
"He invited another person and me to help launch the company—Ocidente Tech—and I had to learn fast," O'Brien said. "This experience taught me tough lessons about how to manage myself and a small team, how to build professional relationships, and how to fail and recover fast. I couldn't have asked for a better' gap year' experience."
When he returned to the United States, O'Brien jumped right back into college and his work at Oddity.
"I spend a lot of time working on business development, building our professional network, and maintaining our' back office' operations such as the website, social media, and client contracts," he said.
The company is in the black and has a growing list of happy clients. But Oddity Productions' founders have aspirations beyond making money.
"We Rise by Lifting Others." —Robert Ingersoll
"We really want to build the film industry in Erie," O'Brien said. "We have nearly every setting you could want here—forests, downtown, beaches, farms—and we have every season. Erie can and should be a destination for filmmakers."
Not only do they want to attract filmmakers to Erie, they want to help build them. O'Brien is a driving force behind BOLD Media Group—a Behrend club that will teach students how to use high-end video equipment available through Behrend's Open Laboratory for Digital Creations (BOLD-C), an outreach program of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences.
"Through the club, we hope to facilitate cross-disciplinary collaboration between Digital Media, Arts, and Technology and Marketing majors to create speculative and real-world digital assets and advertisements for companies, with the goal of eventually taking on commercial work, contributing to Behrend's Open Lab style of learning," he said.