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Last modified: Friday, April 13, 2012

Mike Keen

The W. George Pinnell Award for Outstanding Service

Professor of Sociology
Department of Sociology
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
University Graduate School
Indiana University South Bend
Appointed to IU faculty, 1987
B.A., Heidelberg College, 1979
M.A., University of Notre Dame, 1983
Ph.D., University of Notre Dame, 1985

A campaign for additional campus bike racks. A proposal for a Shakespeare-themed campus garden. An annual event that disposes of a quarter million pounds of computers and electronics without harming the environment. These are just a few of the effects of Mike Keen's contributions to IU South Bend, where he is not only a professor of sociology but also director of the Center for a Sustainable Future.

Keen, who received both his master's and doctorate degrees from the University of Notre Dame, is no stranger to Indiana, and perhaps this familiarity has played a role in his strong sense of community and subsequent desire to invest in the environment by contributing to its efficiency and sustainability. He has been the recipient of numerous distinctions, the most recent of which is the 2011 Inovateus Award for Outstanding Contributions to Sustainability. Other awards include the IUSB Eldon Lundquist Award, the IU Trustees' Teaching Award, the IUSB Chancellor's Fellowship and the IU President's Award for Distinguished Teaching.

Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Alfred Guillaume testifies to Keen's exemplary community service initiatives: "Mike firmly believes that if he lives in a community, it can only be enriched by the individual and/or collective energies of people doing something purposeful and meaningful to enhance the quality of life." Further, Keen has the rare ability to bring seemingly disparate entities together to approach a need or project and work toward change. For instance, thanks to Keen's influence as its founder, the Center for a Sustainable Future has been a focus of much collaboration among researchers, private citizens, corporations and the civic community as well as farmers, food distributors and governmental policy makers.

Sam Miller, who serves on the advisory board for the Center for a Sustainable Future, says the center owes much of its early success to Keen's tireless efforts in its formative stages. Now recognized as a driving instigator of sustainability in lifestyle and practice, the center has also changed the way IUSB students, faculty and staff approach environmental and green energy issues. Further, Keen helped to develop a course, Sustainability and Innovation, that has since led to the revitalization of IUSB's sustainability curriculum and the development of a minor, which requires students to partner with a local business or campus unit and put their course work into practice.

According to his Department of Sociology and Anthropology colleague, associate professor Gail McGuire, Keen faced a challenge in the center's early years with no staff, a poor location, limited technology and a low budget.

"Over the last three years, he's transformed sustainability from a buzzword to a reality on our campus," McGuire says.

From helping to construct IU's first building that is certified by LEED (Leadership in Energy Efficient Development) to creating an award to recognize those who have contributed to sustainable practices, there is no question about Keen's dedication and commitment. He speaks with passion about his role in developing the center and its mission of educating, enabling, empowering and engaging the community in issues of suitability.

"While service is sometimes overlooked or undervalued in the academy, I have seen it not only as a responsibility to be fulfilled, but as a challenge that is fulfilling," Keen says. "It is through our service that we not only ensure the intellectual integrity of the university and our disciplines, but also engage our communities and share our knowledge and expertise with them."

Keen stresses that, in order for society to gain more respect for higher education, there needs to be a "tectonic" change in attitudes regarding the value of service and service engagement, which can revitalize nearly every field. In Keen's own words, "the road to recovery lies along the path of public intellectual and civic engagement, and not just in support of economic development, but also in the arts, the sciences and public discourse in general."