Stephen A. O’Brien – Senior Assistant Dean, External Relations

Stephen O'BrienStephen A. O’Brien is in his first year with Santa Clara University’s School of Law, where he serves as the Sr. Assistant Dean for External Relations. In that capacity, O’Brien oversees Santa Clara Law’s development, alumni relations and marketing & communications activities. Working closely with law school’s Interim Dean, other senior deans and center/clinic/program directors, O’Brien focuses on expanding alumni engagement, increasing philanthropic giving, generating external revenue, strengthening the school’s alignment with the Silicon Valley business community and improving employment outcomes for the law school’s graduates. O’Brien comes to Santa Clara Law with nearly 15 years of external relations experience in higher education, following a brief career as a transactional finance and real estate attorney.

Prior to Santa Clara Law, O’Brien served as the Deputy Director of Athletics at San Jose State University where he oversaw the day-to-day operations of the department and directly supervised external affairs, athletic development, NCAA compliance and several varsity sports. He was credited with playing an instrumental role in securing and retaining the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic, a professional women’s tennis tournament, formerly associated with Stanford University for over 40 years. As the department’s top deputy, and as a member of the President’s Leadership Council, he worked closely with the campus’ University Advancement, Administration & Finance and Information Technology Divisions, as well as with the California State University’s system’s Office of the General Counsel and Government Affairs divisions.

Before returning to the West Coast, O’Brien spent six years with the Naval Academy Athletic Association at the United States Naval Academy, as the Senior Associate Athletics Director for Development. In that capacity, O’Brien worked closely with the Naval Academy Foundation and their Athletic & Scholarship Programs Division, developing, implementing, and ultimately leading a multi-faceted athletic development program. During his tenure, O’Brien introduced a new hybrid athletics annual fund/major gifts program, The Fund for Athletic Excellence, created a quasi-endowment to provide long-term unrestricted support for Navy Athletics, and established a strong foundation for the athletics portion of a comprehensive $450M+ institution-wide campaign. These well-coordinated efforts dramatically enhanced the nature and bearing of the department’s development activities on its overall external affairs strategy. Additionally, they yielded a dramatic increase in major gift support (both sport-specific and unrestricted), nearly $80M in gifts, pledges and other revenues, including the two largest gifts in Naval Academy history.

Prior to the Naval Academy, O’Brien spent nearly three years at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). As the Associate Athletic Director of Development, he was instrumental in the creation of their athletic department’s first annual giving program, The Gaucho Fund, their major gifts initiative, the Living Scholar program and a multimillion dollar capital campaign, The Walk of Champions.

Before heading South to UCSB, O’Brien spent three years leading the development efforts of the Bronco Bench Foundation for Santa Clara University, where he initially served as the department’s Academic Support Manager. During his tenure, the department experienced a significant increase in student-athlete GPAs and contributions in support of student-athlete scholarships.

O’Brien began his professional career as a transactional finance and real estate attorney, working for the law firms of Latham & Watkins LLP and Greenberg Traurig LLP. He has maintained his license to practice law in the state of California where his service as a director on the San Jose Arena Authority board and a privately held corporation have furthered his understanding of corporate governance and organizational leadership.

O’Brien earned his Juris Doctorate from the University of Southern California Gould School of Law in 2001 where he was a member of the Southern California Law Review and graduated with Order of the Coif honors. He earned his bachelor’s degree in History and Economics from Santa Clara University in 1998, where he graduated magna cum laude, won the university’s top prize for an economics major (Hazel Award) and earned a varsity letter as a member of the men’s cross-country team.

O’Brien currently lives in San Jose with his wife, Julianne (Visbal) O’Brien ’04, and their two young sons, John and James.


Phone: (408) 554-2706

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