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Meet Daniel L. Goodwin, the man behind the historic contribution
Question: How successful has Daniel L. Goodwin been since he graduated from Northeastern Illinois University?
Answer: So successful that describing his accomplishments as merely “successful” is utterly inadequate.
Goodwin is chairman and CEO of The Inland Real Estate Group of Companies, a multibillion-dollar real estate and financial organization headquartered on a 13-acre campus in Oak Brook, Illinois. He is frequently recognized by his peers for his business acumen and philanthropy. Most recently in October 2015, Goodwin provided an unprecedented commitment to Northeastern with a grant of $1 million, plus up to $1.5 million for an additional matching challenge over the next three years.
“This is the culmination of a lifetime of commitment to Northeastern,” Goodwin said. Northeastern reciprocated with a historic gesture: The University officially dedicated the Daniel L. Goodwin College of Education on January 26, 2016, with a rally on the Main Campus that began as a formal affair and escalated into a pom-pom-waving, foot-stomping celebration attended by students, faculty, staff, friends and family.
“I am greatly honored that Northeastern Illinois University has named its College of Education after me,” Goodwin said. “Northeastern is a special place with unique opportunities. The University makes achieving a college degree affordable and provides multiple opportunities for a diverse student body to adapt their education to individual lifestyles.”
Few people know that better than Goodwin, whose ties to Northeastern run deep. A former Chicago Public Schools science teacher, Goodwin was a member of the first freshman class to attend Northeastern at the St. Louis Avenue campus. He was the first president of the Northeastern student government, and the first alumnus to be awarded an honorary doctorate by Northeastern. He was the first and only alumnus to serve on the Board of Governors of Illinois State Colleges and Universities. He was the first person to commit to a multimillion-dollar gift to the University. Goodwin was also the first chairman of the Northeastern Board of Trustees, serving as chairman from 1996 to 2006.
We checked in with Goodwin to find out more about his memories as a student, his experience as a teacher and his life outside the corporate boardroom.
What was Northeastern like when you attended?
It was a small commuter college of fewer than 2,000 students. The faculty and students worked closely together and we all knew each other. Even though you could major in a variety of fields, virtually all of these students wanted to be professional educators.
What was your most rewarding experience as a Northeastern student?
My most rewarding experiences were serving as president of the student government and forming the student book exchange. However, my day-to-day experiences as a student were the highlights—the classes were challenging, the faculty was motivated, and the attitude of the students made the University feel like a friendly club.
Was there a professor who inspired you?
There were many outstanding faculty members, and it is hard to single anyone out, but Dr. Thomas Farr taught Political Science and made me aware of society’s real issues and the contradictions of political behavior. Dr. Duke Fredrick made history come alive. There were at least a dozen faculty members who increased my horizons. Believe it or not, I looked forward to going to class every day.
Why did you choose to go into teaching?
I became a teacher because I am motivated by helping others comprehend new concepts. Nothing is more rewarding to me than being able to simplify difficult concepts and see that look of understanding in a student’s face.
What were you like as a teacher?
As a teacher, I was not only concerned with conveying facts in their own right, but I was even more concerned with experiencing conceptual breakthroughs with students. I generally used a variation of the Socratic Method in which we would use the facts the students learned to answer a series of questions that I would ask in order to help them reach their own conclusions, especially in social sciences. With regard to the sciences, I would use a similar approach, but the conclusions and answers are less subjective. In the sciences there is such a thing as a right answer. By using the scientific method, I would lead students to use their observations to reach verifiable conclusions.
You have connected with Northeastern on multiple levels. What is your favorite or most rewarding role?
Serving as student government president was an enriching experience, and serving as chairman of the Board of Trustees allowed me to work with the University at a different level. I am grateful to have received an honorary doctorate from Northeastern and the President’s Meritorious Service Award, but most importantly my satisfaction has come from helping the University grow and provide high-quality education for a diverse student body with many first-generation college students.
What was your inspiration for making this gift?
I made this gift to the university and included the matching grant in order to build the NEIU Foundation, and to motivate alumni to provide meaningful endowments that will give the University additional funds to experiment with bold initiatives in education.
What is your advice to today’s students?
My advice to students is to find an endeavor about which you can be passionate. There are few things more important than finding an occupation in life that you enjoy. Having a passion for things is a gift. It doesn’t matter what it is—going on to higher education, climbing the corporate ladder, raising a family, being involved in professional sports, becoming an educator. My advice is, if you are passionate about a lifestyle and a career, pursue your dreams. Success is a byproduct of doing what you love.
How do you motivate others?
I believe motivation is contagious, and someone who demonstrates passion and excitement can inspire others to achieve great things. I find life to be very exciting, and I try to transmit that feeling of excitement and opportunity to others.
How do you define success?
Success means different things to different people. To me, success is not simply accomplishing your goals. To paraphrase George Washington Carver, success is measured not only by the level that you have reached in life, but by the obstacles you had to overcome to get there.
What do you do for fun?
For fun, I serve on the boards of several charities and civic associations, which allows me to work with wonderful people. I also like the out-of-doors, fishing and competitive games. Most importantly, if you are passionate about what you are doing, every day is fun!
During the official dedication ceremony in January, you mentioned a very special New Year’s Eve tradition that you share with other Northeastern alumni. Can you share details?
I am part of a group of 10 alumni that get together for dinner several times a year and on every New Year’s Eve. All five couples, who married each other, are Northeastern graduates who all became teachers in the Chicago area.