Major General John Bartrum '90 Shares Wisdom, Inspires McKendree Community

Major General John Bartrum '90

It was a rainy autumn day when Major General John J. Bartrum set foot on McKendree’s campus, ready for a full day of interacting with the campus community, forging friendships, and imparting invaluable advice. The 1990 alum savored coffee with students and faculty in 1828 Café, spoke with students in Business Ethics and Management & Communication courses in the Marion K. Piper Academic Center, and shared snacks and a meal with MBA students, faculty, staff, and others on campus.

His inspiring messages didn’t stop there. Major General Bartrum then took to the stage to speak as part of the university’s annual Wayne E. Lanter Lecture Series. Flanked by two moderators – Sara (Trask) Frank ’05, associate professor of communication, and Elma Oijens, a sophomore from Sweden and member of McKendree’s soccer team and Honors Program – the general looked out on the audience and relayed messages of strength, integrity, and perseverance during the hour-long program.

If you haven’t heard of Major General Bartrum before, he is a combat veteran, the CEO of Brightstar Innovation Group, LLC, and the mobilization assistant to the surgeon general of the Air Force and Space Force. He is a true visionary and accomplished leader in the world of strategic advising and consulting solutions. With expertise spanning federal government policy, problem solving, government strategic growth, and executive leadership, it’s clear that his insights are priceless and applicable for students, aspiring or established entrepreneurs, and lifelong learners looking for greater self-improvement.

Yet with all of these titles and duties, Major General Bartrum remains humble. His gift of storytelling not only captivated the audience at the Hettenhausen Center of the Arts, but also served as a powerful tool to make very complex topics relatable to everyone. He began by sharing the primary reason why he chose to join the military at the young age of 17 - to eat and have a roof over his head. Now, however, he serves with a greater purpose in mind.

“I serve so you can continue to be and thrive in your safe spaces, and I’m proud to continue to keep watch,” he said. “This mission has become part of who I am.”

As a member of the Air Force, Major General Bartrum attended McKendree at its Scott Air Force Base location. “McKendree offers small class sizes; you can’t hide in the back. You have to answer questions, and that builds your critical thinking skills. All of this is what contributed to my ability to be successful,” he said.

The major general was able to build upon the solid foundation McKendree provided him as he learned forward-thinking strategy in the military. This allowed him to look at an issue from an array of angles and to “think around the corner.” “When you’re doing a mission, you have to prepare for several possibilities to happen,” he said. “The most important thing is to learn to respond, not react – even when things don’t go right or as you hoped they would.”

Of course, this way of forward-thinking helped Major General Bartrum to not only become an effective communicator but also an exceptional problem solver, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, when he constantly worked to determine how to help the states who were in the direst situations. “I was asked to deploy 500 nurses; however, we do not have an Amazon warehouse of nurses in the military,” he recalled. “I had to think about what to do when states would run out of resources. When problems arose, I had to ask, ‘What is the root problem?’ From there, I would take a look at the data, validate and analyze it, and begin thinking through not just my first course of action, but also my second and third.”

Throughout the evening, Major General Bartrum gave plenty of accessible and relatable nuggets of wisdom to current Bearcats, no matter where they were in their educational journey:

    • Everything you do every day has a part in changing something. With integrity, professionalism, and hard work, there’s nothing that you can’t do.
    • Always seek out new opportunities and challenges. You don’t know what door will open or where it will lead.
    • Learn to think strategically and critically so that you’re responding to a situation, not reacting to it.
    • Be willing to take risks and fail fast. Once you fail, pick yourself up and try again.
    • Take risks and trust yourself.
    • If you aren’t leaning over the edge, you’re taking up too much space. Be brave and push yourself outside of your comfort zone.

We extend our heartfelt thanks to Major General Bartrum for investing his time in our students and leaving us with valuable lessons that will undoubtedly guide us toward success.

To learn more, please visit the Hett’s website or call (618) 537-6863.