Dean Keen's Scene

Welcome to Dean Keen's Scene!

Response to Fall 2017 DACA Announcement | Sept. 2017

(Fall 2017 email to Honors College students following presidential announcement concerning the future of DACA)

Dear Honors College Students:

Ours is a community: talented, diverse, and committed. You have created and sustained an environment here in the Honors College where no student feels unwelcome, and where none should ever feel excluded. We are tremendously proud of all of you, the 1800 students who make the Honors College a place that is inclusive and welcoming for all.


Today’s action strikes at our community by putting a number of students’ futures at risk: the risk of not being able to continue their studies, and the risk of not being able to remain in the U.S. I support absolutely the statement from our Chancellor’s office earlier today. All of us in the Honors College take UIC’s mission very seriously, and we stand together with the rest of the campus in support of undocumented students. The administration has resources in place to offer assistance to students impacted by today’s action, and the determination to make sure all students can continue to work and study here.


I will be available to meet with any student tomorrow (Wednesday) morning, and at other times during the week. My door is usually open and you have my email address. Knowing the kind of students you are, I don’t need to mention how important it is for all of us to support each other and show the compassion that comes to you naturally. Your spirit is one of many reasons I’m proud of you.


Ralph Keen


Spring Convocation 2017 Closing Remarks | May 2017

Congratulations, Honors College Class of 2017! What an extraordinary group! Families: we’re as proud of these students as you are. Graduates: thank you for letting us be part of your education. As you prepare to leave the Honors College, I have something to tell you:

It wasn’t about the grades.

When the Honors College admitted you, you’d already demonstrated that you could do the work and that you’d do it well. That you did! The honors that were read out with your names indicate that this is a class that any college in the country would envy. At the Student Research Forum last month you displayed impressive work that you’d been involved in for months, collectively demonstrating what kind of work Honors College students do. Your professors put you to the test every semester, and you performed admirably. Your average GPA is 3.7 and you earned it by taking the hardest courses at UIC. All of us in the Honors College are tremendously proud of you.

The grades served as a scorecard. Home runs, strikeouts, missed free-throws and 3-pointers all get recorded; but champions are known by how they perform over the long haul. All of you, graduating with honors from this university, are champions: and you’ve just completed a winning 4-year season.

What was it about, if not the grades? It was about the kind of people you are: your work ethic, your commitment to the common good, the initiative with which you undertook every task, academic and non-academic. You organized events, produced publications, tutored in CPS, and delivered food to shelters by the thousands of pounds. You made the Honors College a special place for all of us, and you did it without drawing attention to yourselves, which is pretty much the best way to do anything. That’s the kind of people you are.

You have come together from every point of the compass and every culture, and formed a community in which differences of race, language, and belief never worked against the shared desire for inclusiveness. The divisions that the rest of the world uses to separate us one from the other do not exist in Burnham Hall, and that’s because of the kind of people you are.

That character does not change. You are leaving us and going on to advanced degree programs and jobs and things you could hardly have imagined four years ago, but the qualities we saw then, we see now. You will organize events, help others, serve your communities, and do all of this with the focus and drive that characterized your studies. You might run for office or you might volunteer to help the vulnerable. You’ll remember—I hope you’ll remember–what the Honors College was like, and you’ll bring that spirit to your workplace and your community. You won’t do it for a reward: you’ll do it because it’s who you are.

You’ll forget your grades, unless you harbor an enduring resentment over a low grade in a course. You’ll remember your professors and peers a lot longer. Your professors, in turn, will forget what they gave you, but they won’t forget you. Your abilities, your ambitions, your personal stories are now part of the collective memory of the Honors College, reminders of enjoyable and worthwhile work together. Your time here, now coming to an end, translates into a shared history, memories of lectures and events and labs—and people, and insights, and remarkable things that you learned by sharing your stories and insights with each other.

Your transcript no more captures who you are than your bank statement does. You will be tempted, as you advance in your careers, to see money as a measure of your success, in the same way that you’ve seen your grades as an indication of how good you were as a student. Please don’t. We want you to be successful, and there’s every indication, based on your time here, that you will be. (The Development office will get interested in you if you make it really big.) One thing I hope you’ve learned here is that the satisfaction from working hard at something that matters is the best reward, and that external affirmations are nice but ultimately redundant. During your time here you’ve thrown yourselves into demanding tasks, and I hope that at least once you felt so good for doing it that the reward—grade, prize, recognition—didn’t matter.

Hold on to that feeling. Enjoy that feeling, along with the rewards, this week. Then go out from here and do what you’re good at, find that thing that only you can do, give it the best you have, never give up, and always give back. Give your effort, your care, and your commitment to others. Be yourselves—STAY yourselves—and we will always be proud of you.

Congratulations, once again, and thank you for being part of the Honors College.

New Year 2017 Message to Students | Jan. 2017

Dear Honors College Students,

Welcome to the start of a new semester! A warm welcome back to returning students, and a special welcome to new students joining us this semester—I hope you love it here!

Spring semester has always felt like a time of optimism. There’s the sense of progress that comes from the academic year being half over, then the expectation of spring, and the sense of satisfaction that comes from completing projects and making plans for the future. I wish you an abundance of the energy and optimism that comes from the combination of progress and newness that the start of spring semester represents.

It’s a great pleasure to welcome the newest member of the Honors College here in Burnham Hall. José Melendez (in 110 BH) joins us as the newest postdoctoral fellow in teaching and mentoring, who will help coordinate the Chicago Signature Honors Program as well as teaching and advising. Dr. Melendez is a new PhD in the learning sciences with a concentration in urban planning and policy, who brings a wealth of experience and new ideas, and we are very glad to have him on our team.

The Honors College is a special place. Friendly and filled with energy and talent, it’s people discovering new things to explore and doing worthwhile (and fun!) things together. It’s a place where people are mutually supportive, whether that’s forming study groups so that everyone does well in a course or coming together in solidarity after a disturbing event.

These terms obviously don’t describe courses and facilities: they’re about you, because you, the students, ARE the Honors College. The courses and facilities are UIC’s way of making sure you get the best education possible, with us on the staff as your guides and mentors. Representing the Honors College, you display UIC at its best. And you make all of us proud to work here.

As your dean, I have the easiest job on campus because there are just two parts to it. The first is recognizing how incredibly talented you all are—and you keep me aware of that every single day. The second is making sure you get the full benefit of being at UIC: and our dedicated faculty and staff work together to carry that out. Being able to see what you accomplish as Honors College students makes this also the most satisfying job on campus.

I hope you had an enjoyable break and are glad to be back. All of us here in Burnham Hall wish you a fantastic start to 2017 and to the new semester!


Ralph Keen

Fall Convocation 2016 Closing Remarks | Dec. 2016

Honors College graduates: Congratulations! Your hard work has paid off, and you are ready to embark on the next stage of your lives fully prepared for what lies ahead and ready, I hope, for any challenge. Everyone on this platform shares my admiration for everything each of you has accomplished.

At this point, however, I want to thank you, thank you for being part of what we do here at UIC. This university, and the Honors College in particular, represent a radically bold project in American higher education, matching the most talented students with our most active researchers and converting you from recipients to producers of knowledge that benefits others. At some point, whether you were aware of it or not, at some point you began to do something that only you could do, and in doing it learned something that no one else in the world knew. Whether in lab, library or studio, you created something uniquely your own to add to the cumulative deposit of work that we call civilization.

Universities like ours, research universities, have a dual role in society. Like libraries and museums, we are custodians of all that has gone before; and, like curators, we preserve and interpret for this era what was produced in earlier ones. Nothing is excluded; and our job as custodians is to treat it fairly, whether our subject provides examples of the best that humanity has accomplished or includes episodes that serve as warnings to later generations. But in addition to the work of preserving and transmitting, which is the common task of all educational institutions, universities like UIC are involved in the production of new information, in the hope that it will help solve some of the world’s problems, whether that is disease, social injustice, or ignorance; and locally, nationally, or globally. The point at which you began to do your own original work was the point when you joined our enterprise as partners in the work that makes UIC a research university.

American public higher education is an audacious experiment in the long project that is our common democratic history. In the waves of Westward migration and European immigration, visionary educators recognized that our national ideals of equality and freedom would be endangered without the opportunities for talented men and women, whatever their background, to receive a college education. At public expense, because this education was a public good, the great state universities came into being at the same time that the American university generally became a place of advanced research for the benefit of humanity. We may be wearing garb that imitates that of medieval churchmen, but we practice the work ethic of the 19th century Age of Industry.

It was during this period that the great city universities came into being. Built to accommodate the growing urban populations of the Northeast, these institutions raised the bold experiment to a higher level by educating Americans of every background, language, and culture: in the process providing the 20th century with intellectuals and scientists whose mark on our history is incalculable. As a successor of these universities, UIC is an active participant in the audacious project of putting today’s best scientific and scholarly minds in contact with those who will be leaders in their fields in the coming decades.

When thinking of the principles that shape this ideal for higher education, and of UIC, I often think of my grandfather, the son of a village blacksmith in rural Pennsylvania. He wanted to be a doctor at a time when most medical schools thought that a Pennsylvania Dutch blacksmith’s son should be, well, a blacksmith. But he persevered at a school that, like UIC, considered academic merit the only thing that counted, and went on to have a long and satisfying professional life in a humble role as an attending physician at a charity hospital in Philadelphia: a life of service to others.

The Honors College is a bold experiment within this national project of making sure that the ablest students receive the best educations. What we do can be described in terms similar to those you’re familiar with from the research projects you’ve recently completed. First, the question: What happens when you weave cutting-edge research into the undergraduate program? Then, the plan: recruit students carefully, prepare thoroughly, advise diligently, (feed occasionally!), and tell them to do the best they can do. (That part’s not necessary because it’s in your nature.) Remind the mentors from time to time that they’re teaching some of the best students in the country, as evidenced by their significant national awards. Monitor carefully for four years. The result: you. I can’t imagine a more successful experiment, or one that is more beneficial for our country.

Graduates, all of us in the Honors College are so proud of you! In all you do you go above and beyond, and we know that you will continue to do exactly that in the years ahead, no matter what career path lies ahead of you. You are joining an extended network of alumni, who now welcome you as friends. But I hope that, wherever you are, you’ll think of Burnham Hall as home. Once again, Congratulations!

Fall New Student Welcome Reception 2016 | Aug. 2016

What an extraordinary group! You are a credit to your families, your schools, your communities; and now you are part of what makes UIC the university that it is. As the newest members of the Honors College, you represent UIC at its best: academically serious, engaged, and committed. There is no question that you are up to the challenge of working at the high level for which Honors College students are known: you have been chosen because of your record, your involvement, and the honors you’ve received. All of us in the Honors College are proud of the fact that you, in turn, have chosen us. Making sure you get the best education possible is a responsibility we take seriously, because it’s a privilege to serve Honors College students.

As you reflect on your accomplishments and enjoy the good wishes of your families, realize that tomorrow it all re-sets to zero, and you begin to build your record of achievements as Honors College students at UIC. The habits you brought with you will help you to succeed, and your interests in activities will translate into involvement here. But your courses, classmates, instructors, buildings, and where you eat will all be new. As well-prepared as you are, you’re starting afresh here. Until the middle of December your official GPA is 0.0.

What doesn’t re-set is the drive you bring with you. There is something within each of you that pushes you to achieve—beyond the average, beyond the requirements, beyond expectations. You’re the students who visit faculty during office hours, who consider extra work a fun challenge rather than something to be avoided, who find out what your classmates are working on and think up projects to do together—like the electricity-free refrigerator that three Honors College students invented last year. Now medicine can be stored in regions where it previously couldn’t. And some Honors College students did something that others thought couldn’t be done.

This drive is your strongest asset, and during your four years here you will find ways to channel it, both for your own success and for the benefit of others. During this time you’ll find subjects that interest you, research that energizes you, and things that you’ll feel you were meant to do. During this time you’ll have opportunities to compete, not just against your peers here, but nationally, for some of the most distinguished awards and scholarships available. Honors College students receive 90% of UIC’s awards in these competitions, and we do so in numbers that match the total enrollments of larger universities. Fulbright, Truman, Goldwater and Gilman may just be names now, but over time you’ll become familiar with requirements and deadlines, and comfortable asking for recommendations, and able to put rejection, when it happens, in context.

In the Honors College, your success is the product of a partnership with our staff and faculty, with all the support necessary to help you stand out as a leader among your peers. This support takes the form of your advisors, your Honors Faculty Fellows, your research supervisors who’ll guide you and write recommendations, and an office on campus entirely dedicated to making sure you have strong applications for those Fulbright and Truman and Goldwater and Gilman scholarships I just mentioned. Some of this support will also come from your peers, who rejoice in each other’s success instead of grumbling over their own misses. The unquantifiable spirit that defines the Honors College is a sense of camaraderie, of being part of a team in which each member plays a special role for the sake of the common good. The only measure of the success of the Honors College is the record of its students’ achievements. Being part of a group of peers who want the best for each other brings out the best in each one.

UIC is special for a lot of reasons, but let me mention the sense of community. As a university we are inclusive by nature and dedicated to the greater good. You’ll see this in faculty serving in public agencies, researchers investigating social problems, students giving back. Last year an Honors College student started a bicycle club that wasn’t your typical cycling club: they delivered 500 pounds of food to shelters every semester. And then there was the group of Honors College biology majors who wanted to do after-school tutoring in math and science in CPS schools. This year, working out of the College of Education, there are going to be hundreds doing that. This is all evidence of a spirit of community in which people get together and plan something fun that also benefits others.

I hope you feel that you’re part of a remarkable institution, one of only a handful of urban-serving public research universities. UIC continues a tradition that goes back 150 years with the great city colleges and universities in New York, Philadelphia, and elsewhere, educating generations of Americans and making good on the promise that brought our families to these shores in the first place. It’s universities like UIC and its peers in the other great cities that keep that promise alive and preserve one of the values that have shaped this country: equality of access to the best education available. As an inclusive meritocracy, UIC embodies the values that define us and hold us together.

Be quietly proud of your abilities and accomplishments, but be aware also that you’re now part of an institution that stands out as a model university for the 21st century. This is a world that needs dedicated leaders, and professionals, and citizens. It’s a world that’s going to need you. Thank you for entrusting us with the task of preparing you for it. Families, thank you for supporting these students and sharing them with us. Colleagues, thank you for honoring our profession with your efforts. Honors College 2020: Welcome! Best wishes to all!