Jerry Conrey and Mihaylo College entrepreneurship student Tristan Starkweather pose in the Tustin office of Conrey Insurance Brokers.

Tristan Starkweather (left), recipient of the 2018 Conrey Scholarship, poses with scholarship founder Jerry Conrey. The annual $3,500 award funds the entrepreneurship education and development of a Cal State Fullerton student.

Jerry Conrey, agency principal of Tustin-based Conrey Insurance Brokers & Risk Managers, established the Conrey Scholarship, helping to fund the education of 14 Cal State Fullerton entrepreneurship students over the years. He discusses his passion for giving back and supporting the dreams of young professionals.

When Jerry Conrey and his wife, Victoria Conrey, an Orange County physician, look for potential recipients of their $3,500 scholarship, academic excellence is one of the factors, but it isn’t the only criteria for the Orange County couple.

Recalling his days as a Cal State Fullerton finance and political science student balancing education, employment and campus involvement, Jerry seeks to support students who have demonstrated acumen in both the philosophical and practical side of learning and personal development.

The Conrey Scholarship is awarded to entrepreneurial students who are in good academic standing; plan to graduate the following May; and are working, interning or significantly involved in the campus or community.

“There are many scholarships for those with the highest GPAs, but there isn’t enough support for good students who must balance their academic life with work and involvement,” says Jerry. “My wife and I established this award so that academics are equal with involvement. We value investing in the practical side of learning as well. We look to find students who are showing their ability to study and manage time, who recognize that it’s not all about them, and who take what they learn and apply it to a work or practical environment.”

Most recently, the Conrey Scholarship benefited Tristan Starkweather ’19 (entrepreneurship), who was selected for his continuous involvement in Cal State Fullerton since his freshman days, as well as his commitment to work-school balance and supporting others.

Jerry says among the most personally rewarding aspects of his scholarship are the connections he has forged with the students, who have all stayed in touch with him years after receiving their awards.

“Nothing makes me feel prouder than to take some of the profit of Conrey Insurance Brokers and reinvest it in the future,” he says. “Every recipient of this scholarship has gone on to graduate, half with honors, and several of them have been graduation speakers. They go beyond their education and make a success of themselves in the business world. Every one of them has stayed in contact with us.”

Developing Future Employers through Cal State Fullerton’s Entrepreneurship Program

In 2002, Jerry purchased the agency now known as Conrey Insurance Brokers, which serves some 3,500 clients. Cal State Fullerton business students have been involved from the inception. Since 2003, Jerry has been a resident mentor of Cal State Fullerton’s entrepreneurship program, which now sponsors the CSUF Startup Incubator in Placentia and Irvine.

For the 55-year-old, the university’s program for entrepreneurial students is particularly impactful because it combines practicality with academic scholarship and visionary innovation.

“Students will do at least four projects in which they connect with businesses to solve a problem in such areas as marketing, leadership, operations or financial control,” he says. “In the DNA of the program are business leaders coming back into the classroom, bringing relevant information, and helping the students understand the balance between practicality and philosophy; that is why I believe that Cal State Fullerton has dominated amongst its peer programs.”

Jerry says the education imparted through the Small Business Institute (SBI) – the applied academic component of Cal State Fullerton’s Center for Entrepreneurship – has been invaluable to students and his insurance business, noting that working with millennials adept at the latest technological platforms has resulted in his brokerage using tools such as Doodle and Google Docs to create better efficiencies.

Since 1991, the CSUF SBI has achieved 11 national championship titles in the nationwide Consulting Project of the Year Competition and has ranked among the top 10 teams on more than 30 occasions. Noting that students are competing against such venerable public and private institutions as USC and UCLA, Jerry sees these accolades as emblematic of the applied education offered by the program.

“Universities are turning out future employees. Alternatively, this program is turning out future employers,” he says. “These students are more likely to be signing the front of the check rather than endorsing the back of the check.”

Jerry Conrey, founder of the Conrey Scholarship, which supports the academic endeavors of Cal State Fullerton entrepreneurship students.

An Alumnus at Heart on the Cal State Fullerton Business Program Impact

Though Jerry did not complete his undergraduate degree at Cal State Fullerton because he was recruited for a career position at Farmers Insurance Group, he considers himself an alumnus at heart and believes his student experience has been pivotal to his professional development.

In the 1980s, he was active in Associated Students Inc. (ASI), the university’s official student government, as a four-term member of the board of directors and served as its vice chair twice and chaired ASI’s Finance Committee.

“Today I am successful in business because I took philosophical tools learned in books and from professors and applied them in a practical way,” he says. “For me to help others finish their education and utilize it in a practical way is a really good fit.”

Staying focused on a predetermined goal or vision is his advice to students for staying focused on a timely graduation and optimal entrance into the professional world.

“Students need to understand their ‘why.’ I struggled for my first few years in college because my ‘why’ wasn’t clear to me,” he says. “Why am I in school? Does it meet my core principles, beliefs and focus? Understanding your ‘why’ helps you become much more laser-focused and puts an emphasis, when learning, on the things that will help accomplish your goal.”

Tristan Starkweather on His Scholarship Award

Reflecting on his recognition with the Conrey Scholarship, Starkweather says the award will pay both personal and professional dividends.

“I was ecstatic about receiving this scholarship. I’ve always had to work for what I had, so it was really nice monetarily that I will be getting some help there. I won’t have to worry as much about working this coming year, knowing that I will have this money during the next semester. That was very refreshing and relieving,” he says.

Starkweather says earning the scholarship has awakened him to the many opportunities offered through the Center for Entrepreneurship, such as the CSUF Startup Competition.

With a strong desire to finish his undergraduate degree next year, fulfilling a personal goal to finish in four, Starkweather hopes that a strong connection with his mentor will be impactful to his professional development during the upcoming academic year.

“The relationship that I will hopefully form with Mr. Conrey from receiving this scholarship will benefit me greatly. He has been a strong inspiration to me so far and I only hope that I can further that relationship with him.”

For More Information

For more on the Mihaylo College Center for Entrepreneurship, which supports business startup education for students and the broader Orange County community, visit them online or at SGMH 3280.

More information on the Conrey Scholarship and other scholarships for aspiring entrepreneurs can be found on the center’s scholarship page.