New Honors College associate director begins first semester

Emma Collins

On July 5, Christopher Keller, the new associate director for academics in the Honors College, began his new job at WKU, but it was not until the beginning of this semester that Keller was able to fully step into his new role.

Keller, who previously worked at the University of Texas Rio Grande for 12 years, said that despite his brief period of time at WKU, he is already enjoying his new position.

“There’s a lot of paperwork type of things, but really the joy of it is getting to work with all the people and meeting new people across campus,” Keller said.

As associate director for academics, Keller said his job involves a variety of activities. These include ensuring that students who choose to augment a class for Honors College credit and that students who do a capstone year or thesis work are able to access the resources they need to be successful.

Keller said he also works with the deans of WKU’s other colleges to make sure Honors College courses are offered in every college. In the coming semesters, Keller said he will also be teaching one course a semester, most likely Honors 251.

“I’ve been here since July 5 and got to meet a lot of people, and pretty much everywhere I turn is just interesting, fantastic people,” Keller said.

Keller is no stranger to working in an Honors program. Prior to coming to WKU, Keller worked as the associate dean of the Honors College at the University of Texas Rio Grande and as the director of the Honors Program at the University of Texas-Pan America. He has also been the department chair of two academic programs, director of a study abroad program and director of a writing program at the University of Texas Rio Grande.

Craig Cobane, executive director of the Honors College, said Keller’s experience is what set him apart from the other two candidates vying for the job.

“When you look at my priorities in the College: attracting and retaining talented first generation and underrepresented scholars, courses that emphasize writing and research and internationalizing the honors experience, Keller has experience in all of these areas,” Cobane said in an email.

Despite his experience as head of several academic programs, Keller said WKU is slightly different from the universities where he previously worked. The WKU Honors College is larger than the Honors College where Keller previously worked. Keller said the programs also differ because the faculty of the Honors College at WKU work solely for the Honors College. In addition, Keller said the WKU Honors College offers more opportunities such as the Chinese Language Flagship, a self-designed major and the chance to work with faculty and administrators in all academic programs.

“Making those connections and ties, there are more opportunities for that [at WKU], so I’ve gotten to meet with lots of deans and department chairs already which is fantastic,” Keller said.

In addition to working as associate director for academics, Keller is also the department head of the Honors Academy, which is part of University College and houses all of the Honors College faculty who are eligible for tenure.

“Most of our faculty are untenured, and Dr. Keller has great experience working with, and mentoring, junior faculty,” Cobane said. “His background as a department chair is great experience for the position he currently holds.”

Keller said his journey to the Hill began when he saw WKU listed in a publication ranking university honors programs. Keller said he had been impressed with what he had read and how involved the students were in study abroad, undergraduate research and internships. When he saw the job opening at WKU, he decided to apply.

“I was just so excited to see how involved students were, and wanted to be a part of that,” Keller said.

After applying for the job, Keller and two other candidates were individually presented at open sessions hosted by the Honors College this past spring semester. In the end, Keller was selected for the position, and he moved from Texas to Kentucky to begin his new job.

So far, Keller said his transition has gone well. He started his job here on July 5, a little under two months before classes started.

“Being here five or six weeks before the semester started gave me the opportunity to explore everything and figure out where my attention was needed before the beginning of the semester,” Keller said.

Cobane also said Keller’s transition has been successful, and he has seen Keller take the opportunity to meet new people and to listen and learn from the current faculty and staff.

“Moving from one institution where you know everyone, are familiar with the policies and are fluent in the institutional culture to another where you know almost no one, all the policies are new and the culture is completely different is a challenge,” Cobane said. “He has done a great job.”

Sharon Leone, an academic adviser in the Honors College, said Keller has already brought some changes to the program.

“He has lead the team to reexamine the policies and procedures used in Honors advising in the past, revising them so that they serve students in the best way possible,” Leone said.

Keller said he has many more plans for the Honors College. At the day-to-day level, Keller said he wants to make it easier for students to access what they need to augment classes and easier for faculty to understand the augmentation process.

When considering the bigger picture, Keller said he wants to increase the number of students who are involved in a capstone year or a thesis project. In order to do that, Keller said he wants to help students understand that a capstone year and a thesis project are not just long papers; they are projects that students can develop to suit their own interests.

In addition to increasing the number of students involved in those projects, Keller said he also wants to create a list of outcomes for the Honors College.

“Any program on campus has what are called learning outcomes, but since the Honors College doesn’t yet have a degree, we don’t have those,” Keller said. “What I’d like to do is come up with a list of four or five things that every student who graduates from the Honors College [is] able to do.”

While he has yet to create the list of outcomes, Keller said he expects they will be focused on leadership, research, international study and service.

Keller’s vision for the Honors College, however, does not stop with just creating a list of outcomes. He said he would also like to see Honors College students spread throughout the different WKU colleges.

“We have a lot in Ogden College right now which is great, and we have a lot in Potter,” Keller said. “But [I want] a more even balance of students across all of the colleges.”

Keller said he also hopes to increase the number of students who study abroad and to help the faculty in the Honors Academy grow professionally and achieve what they want to in their careers.

Reporter Emma Collins can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @thebest_dilemma.