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USG president has come a long
way since arrival in Storrs
September 29, 1997
All Keith Kenyon could do in September 1994 was watch as his friends left him behind to begin their sophomore year of college. After a dismal freshman year, he had withdrawn from the University of Connecticut and was staying at home in Norfolk, Mass.
But things have changed dramatically since then. Kenyon is back at UConn - and he's the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) President.
Looking back, he blames only himself.
"I thought of college as camp," Kenyon says. "There were 10 of us that were close; I don't think anyone did well. We were all new up here. We didn't know what to expect. We didn't go out and party. We sat in our rooms and watched TV."
Kenyon, a physical therapy major at the time, failed chemistry and biology. He was placed on academic probation and his parents decided to have him withdraw from school.
He went to work at the Boston Globe, where his dad is chairman of the pressroom. Kenyon got a job as a paper handler that included such responsibilities as mixing ink and cutting paper. After work, he took night classes at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.
"It didn't feel like college to me," Kenyon says. 'I was the youngest person in most of my classes."
Though he was busy, all he could think about was getting back to the University of Connecticut. His wish became a reality when his aunt decided to lend him $3,000.
"Maybe she saw that there was something in me ... that I could do well if I went back," Kenyon says.
Determined to prove her right, he jumped head first into his classes when he returned in the spring of 1995, and got off academic probation.
One day, Kenyon was sitting in his journalism class and Wayne Worcester, his professor, told a story "about someone who went to the University of New Hampshire, I believe, who did badly in school and didn't know what to do. So he took some time off, and when that person went back, he found out he was good in writing, so he pursued that. I sat back and thought of myself."
Inspired by Worcester's story, Kenyon decided to become a journalism major. Shortly thereafter, he interviewed Brian Collins, the USG president.
"I remember sitting there interviewing him," Kenyon says, "and he was talking about what he can do. His position is respected enough that when he threw out ideas, people would take a look at them. And I said to myself, 'this is something I can do'."
Kenyon ran unopposed for the East Campus Council Seat. That led to positions as East Campus Senator, Commuter Senator and eventually the USG presidency.
Since taking over from Collins in May, Kenyon has helped bring the Husky Express bus service to students who live in off-campus housing. He also established a spirit club to create more interaction between students and athletics.
"I think something like this can expand the level of enthusiasm for all sports, not just basketball," Kenyon says.
The real challenge, he adds, is to get students more involved in issues.
"Obviously, if you find a student the day they get a parking ticket," Kenyon says, "they would be interested in the parking issue. But if you talk to them two weeks later about parking, they probably won't be interested. How do we pique their interest?"
Kenyon also knows that championing causes, particularly with the administration, will rest heavily on his shoulders. Yet he is determined that the voice of students will be heard.
"We are the most important part of the university, and we will not accept being ignored," he says.
He plans to take the students' voice to the state legislature as well, in hopes of avoiding further budget cuts like those he says have hurt students during the last couple of years. Kenyon is optimistic, though, that things may have changed for the better after this year's session because "President Austin has started to bridge the gap between the two."
Like Austin, Kenyon has followed a well-known president.
"I think I have a step up because of Brian," Kenyon says. "I can pick up the phone and talk to the former president, and that wasn't something he had. I can work off what he has learned and what I am learning."
As for Kenyon's future, he has two immediate goals: to establish a career in public relations and to continue making his parents happy.
"I think my parents are proud of me," Kenyon says. "I am sure there is a sense of relief for them that I turned out okay. I think they know that I will succeed in life and I want them to know they did a good job raising me."
This article is one in a series featuring student leaders at the University.