Alumni Spotlight: Eric O'Leary

Eric O’Leary’s Innovative Ideas for Improving His Montana Hometown


By Cheryl M. Balassone |   October 2010

Eric O'Leary , Alumnus

UMUC - Europe alumnus Eric O'Leary is running for Chief Executive of his hometown, Butte, Montana, a region, long-plagued with environmental and economic concerns. By bringing his military experience and educational background to the role, Eric hopes to make Butte a better place for its residents and visitors.

With a long-term interest in politics, including a proud family history of community service, 27-year-old Eric had considered running for office for some time. But it was after his deployment to Iraq when he realized that he needed to be actively involved in the decision-making process, citing its profound effects on the lives of so many people. He got out of the Army, pursued a degree in political science through UMUC-Europe, and applied for an internship with the State Department, which he completed the fall after his graduation in 2007. As he traveled around the Consulate's district in the former East Germany and talked to student and teacher groups, he was often faced with questions about American foreign and domestic policy—subjects about which he had very strong beliefs but over which he had no control. Eric did not just want to talk about issues and problems, he wanted to help solve them directly. It was then that he decided to run for Chief Executive in his hometown of Butte, Montana. 

Eric also credits his UMUC-Europe education for prompting him to run for the non-partisan office. He says he initially considered UMUC because of the large selection of classes and degree programs for military servicemembers. It turned out to be a great choice. Beyond obtaining an excellent education, he credits the school's small class sizes and the personal attention he received for the long-lasting friendships he gained with students and professors alike. "UMUC also helped me to develop my analytical thinking skills and, as a matter of fact, much of my platform was first written for a communications class," Eric recounts. "We had to submit a proposal as a final project and, instead of doing something simple for an easy grade, I decided to write a serious one that I eventually sent to the current Chief Executive in 2006. Nothing was done about it, so I decided that I would use the same ideas for my own campaign."

Eric seeks to make major improvements to the Butte community. His main policy objectives are to improve the environment and the educational system. In doing so, he hopes to bring more business to the community. In addition, he aspires to assist with health care costs for the elderly and low-income families. "To sum it up, my goals are to improve the quality of life in Butte and attract more business in a smart way, " he says, "We need to change the paradigm of how we think about economic development. Our community leaders constantly think about it in terms of jobs and businesses but they ignore the environment, education, crime, and health care. Those things are not mutually exclusive, they are all inter-related and to think about them as disparate policy areas is false and ultimately devastating."

Undaunted by critics who say he's too young, Eric is quick to point out that, while there is a correlation between age and experience, experience doesn't necessarily equate to good judgment or common sense. Says Eric, "Experience is relative. Not one of my opponents has the same seven years of Army experience as I do, so therefore I could just as easily claim that they are inexperienced in many ways." Eric points to his proven leadership in the military, which required him to professionally and personally guide, counsel, and develop his troops, and care for their well being. "Good ideas don't need experience, they just need to be implemented," he says, "Experience can hinder creative thinking and that can be devastating to a struggling community like Butte."

Eric continues to draw from his military experience and UMUC-Europe education as he actively works to improve life for the citizens of Butte, Montana.