David Abell with his business class

In the Classroom with David Abell

Continuing education.

Here at AM Transport, we understand the importance of education. It’s why we invest in continuous training. It’s why we work with our local high school’s CEO program. It’s why we have a robust intern program and work with the middle school in their fifth block program. We believe that a solid education is important, but that also it’s fun. And we’re nothing if not a fun loving bunch. 

Here’s another thing we know about learning. Teaching someone how to do something is often the best way to educate yourself. Roman philosopher Seneca said, “while we teach, we learn.” And science bears this out. It’s called the protégé effect and what researchers have found is that learning material in order to teach it to others improves one’s understanding of and mastery of the material.

The AM Transport office here in Olney, Illinois is filled with teachers. We have basketball, football, softball, and baseball coaches. We have tutors, substitute teachers, and mentors. And onsite learning is part of the culture with ongoing training and our intern program.

Our CEO David Abell has incorporated this teaching mentality and turned it into a part-time gig at the community college. I thought it would be interesting to talk to him about this evolution. I mean, why does a guy with a full-time job want to teach sales, marketing, and business classes in his spare time?

Let’s start at the beginning . . .

David joined the Illinois National Guard in November 2001 and was sworn in four days after his 17th birthday. “I actually went to basic training the summer between my junior and senior year in high school,” he told me.

Why so early? “I joined up young because you have to serve for a certain length of time before the Army will pay for your college education, and I didn’t want a gap year.” David took classes at Olney Central College while he was in high school and then began college at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson with the intention to transfer to Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, but as often happens, life got in the way.

“I was a semester from graduating with my Associate’s degree when my National Guard Unit was activated to support Operation Iraqi Freedom.” 18 months later, he was home, finishing up that Associate’s degree and was on to Southern where he graduated with a Bachelor’s in IT in 2008. Shortly thereafter, he applied to and was accepted into SIU’s online MBA program and graduated with an MBA in 2013. So lifelong learning is in his blood.

So where did teaching come in?

David’s been dabbling in teaching since 2009. After graduating in December 2008, he was having a difficult time finding a job (unemployment was sitting at nearly 8%) when a friend suggested he substitute teach. He taught everything from kindergarten to high school, and while it was fun, he knew it wasn’t going to be his passion. He also did a little teaching in the military. 

“We were on a mission in Botswana, Africa and I was asked to give a bridge classification class to the Botswana Army. Little did I know that a General was actually in the class. Later, he took me to one of their real bridges and wanted me to help classify it so they could determine what vehicles were safe to drive over it. It was a little stressful with the language barrier,” David remembered.

Teaching in Botswana

As for community college, David got into the business of teaching after a conversation with OCC’s Dean Conn in 2020. “I was actually complaining to Dean Conn that some recent applicants at AMT had degrees but didn’t have the knowledge those degrees should have conferred. He explained to me how hard it was to get instructors with actual real-life experience and challenged me to put up or shut up.”

After a little negotiation, David agreed that teaching a business class during his lunch hour might just work. However, that first class didn’t go–not enough students. But David agreed to teach an online marketing class for Lincoln Trail. He didn’t love teaching online or working with a pre-built class. He wanted to use his own expertise to teach students in person. And since then, that’s what’s been happening.

He’s taught marketing, Business 101, and Sales 101. “I teach them as back-to-back, mid-semester classes. This prevents me from taking on more than I can handle, and 8 week classes go by very quickly.”

Does  he have any favorites? “I love the classes in different ways,” David explained. “The sales class forces me to get back to the basics and it’s super fun to dispel common stereotypes about sales. My goal is that students finish the class with an appreciation for a professional salesperson while understanding that anyone can do sales if they are determined enough and follow a system.” 

And what about business? “The business class is fun because we get to talk about so many different aspects of business, and I get to introduce non-business majors to that world. I probably spend more time on that class because it is constantly changing in order to stay up with the current economy. I want the class to be relevant.”

Teaching is good for our business.

David is a firm believer in life-long learning and regularly takes classes on his own. Just this summer, he took an automotive class at Olney Central College. But how does teaching complement his day job? 

“Everyone knows that AM Transport has a special culture, and that is our secret sauce.” David said. “Part of that culture involves constantly learning from each other. Having knowledge is one thing, but being able to communicate it to others is something better. Teaching at OCC keeps me grounded and humble. I’m having a lot of fun interweaving AM Transport with my classes.”

It sounds like a win-win for everyone involved!