Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Like many college and university administrators, David Keenan welcomes a new group of students and their parents to campus every fall. As Rider’s director of Campus Life, however, Keenan finds himself in a position to personally meet more of them than most. Understandably, they are curious about their new environment, but Keenan has learned how to put them at ease.
“Every year at new-student orientation, someone will ask me, ‘What kind of place is Rider?’ I started working here in 1995, and my plan was to stick around for about two years and move on,” explained Keenan, who had recently graduated from Lock Haven University. “Obviously, it’s now 14 years later, and here I am. That’s the kind of place it is. The grass is green here.”
While Keenan may have been looking ahead, his original career plans involved a study of the past. “I was going to be a history teacher,” said Keenan, who student-taught during his senior year at Lock Haven and spent a year studying abroad in England at the University of Liverpool. “But during that time, I realized I didn’t want to teach. It just wasn’t for me.
Fortunately, a more appealing option had already worked its way into Keenan’s heart. “In college, I was very involved in student government, serving as the vice president and president my junior and senior years,” he recalled. “I also worked with the director of Student Activities, and began to realize that there was a career out there in this.”
Upon his return to the United States from Liverpool, Keenan began working at Rider as the assistant director for Campus Activities before becoming the director of the Student Center. Before long, he was named Rider’s director of Campus Activities, overseeing campus programming and the Student Entertainment Council.
“Right from the start, I was happy to be working in such an exciting, fun atmosphere,” he recalled. “I could see the development of the students, and that’s when I really got into it.”
Keenan says he finds his work around this time of year especially gratifying, having the opportunity to coordinate Rider’s annual Thanksgiving Food Basket Drive. Last year, Rider donated more than 150 baskets to hungry families in Mercer County, but, as Keenan says, the sagging economy only increased the demand this season.
“We got some really nice early commitments from people throughout the Rider community, but the level of need is really different this year,” he explained. “In years past, we were asked to provide approximately 300 baskets, but this year, we were asked to meet a goal of 450. People have really stepped up, though.”
Keenan added that for the first time, he asked for the Westminster Choir College campus community to get involved in the Basket Drive, too. “Hunger and increased need isn’t a city problem. It’s not something that’s confined to areas of Trenton,” he said. “I was just talking to someone from the Lawrence Intermediate School, where we’re involved with a mentoring program. She said that her school has a number of students from families who are really struggling right now, and people don’t realize the need right here in the Lawrence Township community, a town that’s always been regarded as rather affluent. Hunger is right outside the gates of Rider University.”
Not every Campus Life activity addresses issues as grave as local hunger, however. “I really enjoy the big community days, like Cranberry Fest and Family Weekend,” Keenan said. “When we bring the faculty, staff, students and their families together, you really get a great feeling about what it’s like to be at Rider. And personally, I feel very proud that it’s my office putting together something like that. We pay careful attention to assessments, outcomes and objectives, but these are the kind of links and connections that don’t show up on paper.”
Just as Keenan’s interest in student life and activities arose from his own undergraduate experience, he has seen a number of former Rider students begin professions on the Lawrenceville campus. Pointing to people like Nick Barbati, coordinator of Campus Activities; Karson Langenfelder, coordinator for Auxiliary Services; and Frank Zuccarini, undergraduate admissions counselor, who have established themselves at their alma mater, Keenan says he’s proud of the transition made by former Rider students who have become valued employees of the University.
“No matter how much they accomplished as students, it’s still a big leap to go from student leader to colleague,” he said. “But, I’m very impressed by how well-prepared so many of our graduates are. I think that says a lot, because even when we interview them for jobs here, I find myself asking, ‘How good a job did we do? It says something about us, too.’”