McKearn Fellows

Northern Illinois University

John and Cassandra McKearn

Both John and Cassandra McKearn earned their bachelor’s degrees in biology at NIU. John is a general partner and managing director of RiverVest Venture Partners, one of the world’s most successful venture capital firms. He has been responsible for upwards of $70 billion in sales. He has twenty-five years of experience as a successful “drug hunter and developer” in biopharmaceuticals, including a decade in small-cap and venture-backed companies. As successful businesswoman, Cassandra McKearn has been instrumental as a business partner as well as an extraordinary homemaker, devoted mother, and volunteer in her community and school system. She is a valued mentor to fellows who actively seek her advice and guidance.

Last spring, students learned from John that “talk is not cheap,” especially when it’s an executive responsible for upwards of $70 billion in sales. As part of the NIU Mortar Board’s Last Lecture Series, John delivered a lecture on “My Story and Why I’m Sticking to It.” He urged students to live a life of continual learning, to be willing to be coached, to use judgment without being judgmental and to remember the value of the spoken word.

“Talk is not cheap,” he said. “It’s our honor and our promise.

The McKearn Foundational Aspects

The Inaugural cohort of the McKearn Fellows Program, which began in the summer of 2013, allowed 10 high-achieving students to have a transformative academic and engaged learning experience that was condensed into an eight-week summer program. The summer research and mentor experience challenged the students to complete a tangible research project while it simultaneously incorporated the programs' three modules, which are: research and artistry design; leadership development; and civic, social and global engagement.