Keith Lovin ’71 knows what it takes to provide students with a stellar education. Lovin earned his Master of Arts and Ph.D. in philosophy from Rice and later served as president of Maryville University in St. Louis from 1992 to 2005. Among his accomplishments as president, Lovin created a leadership development program to help students gain skills necessary for their future careers. Now, he is a member of the Initiative for Students Commission, where he is investing his expertise and support in the Initiative for Students through the School of Humanities and the Humanities Research Center’s Undergraduate Research Fellowships.
We spoke with Lovin about why he feels it is critical for students to develop meaningful, synergistic relationships with Rice’s exceptional faculty.
What compelled you to get involved with the Initiative for Students?
Well, given my background, I care about higher education, I care about students, and I care about the educational experience. When you think about it, there are all kinds of things that happen at a university, but what underlies and animates it all — the thing that makes the whole enterprise worthwhile and invaluable — is student learning. So I believe that it’s possible for some really extraordinary things to happen at Rice in terms of that student experience that will continue to set Rice apart. I didn’t have to think twice about saying, “Sure, I’d love to try to be a part of something that important.”
How did you decide to support the Humanities Research Center and the Undergraduate Research Fellowships?
When I was trying to think about some small way that I might pay back what I feel is a huge debt to the School of Humanities at Rice, the Undergraduate Research Fellowships for students in the Humanities Research Center had great drawing power. Because, for a long time, students in the sciences have been able to work with senior faculty and engage in research of various kinds, but that hasn’t necessarily been the case in the humanities.
The faculty who take part in the Undergraduate Research Fellowships serve as mentors, they inspire these students, they broaden their horizons, they challenge them, they test them, they expand their knowledge, and I’m certain it will be a two-way street. It’s a wonderful synergy, and the opportunity to work with people like that, in the pursuit of serious scholarship and research, is something that, I think, will stay with students for the rest of their lives, whatever they decide to do. I think it will leave a mark on their personality, it will help form them into the kind of responsible, productive people that Rice wants to recruit and produce.
What is it about Rice that makes you want to stay involved?
Rice is an exceptional place — its small student body, its world class faculty, its gorgeous campus, its residential college system, its stature in the world of research and its unwavering commitment to superior undergraduate education. All these things tend to set it apart. I am not aware of other universities that are doing or trying to do what Rice is doing in the Humanities Research Center and through the Initiative for Students, both imaginative undertakings perfectly suited to Rice’s mission and values. And because of Rice’s outstanding student body and amazingly talented faculty, both programs stand to benefit and render more distinctive the entire student learning experience in multiple ways.
How can others help?
Opportunities and experiences for students outside of the classroom, in nontraditional settings where they get exposed to creative and successful people in a variety ways, will be very influential and long-treasured by students fortunate enough to be the beneficiaries of them.
When I look back at those situations where I was lucky enough to be in the role of a mentor, I can tell you that I benefitted from it as much as the students. It’s deeply satisfying and enriching to watch people begin to realize their potential, to watch them grow, to mature, to overcome challenges. What could be more rewarding than that? I know that because Dr. Konstantin Kolenda and Dr. James Street Fulton were willing to open themselves to me as mentors while I was at Rice, and by so doing gave me insight into a career in academia. Everything about the rest of my life was influenced by those experiences.
Lovin is also a member of the Rice Annual Fund Steering Committee. He is enjoying his retirement by traveling, spending time with his grandchildren and supporting Rice.