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Keen Family Endowment Supports Faculty Excellence

The advances being made within Poole College, including its focus on innovation, its entrepreneurship program, and the business analytics program, were evident to Matt and Ruth Keen, and they decided to support the college in an effort to help further those endeavors. 

By Lea Hart

When Matt Keen joined the Board of Visitors at North Carolina State University in 2015, he quickly saw the positive developments taking place at the university under Chancellor Randy Woodson’s leadership. 

NC State was in the midst of the Think and Do the Extraordinary Campaign when Matt, who today serves as managing shareholder of global labor and employment law firm Ogletree Deakins and his wife, Ruth, decided they wanted to do their part.

The Keens have a long history with NC State, with a number of family members on both Matt and Ruth’s side having attended. What’s more, at the same time as Matt Keen began serving on the Board of Visitors, their son, Charles, enrolled in the Poole College of Management.

The advances being made within Poole College, including its focus on innovation, its entrepreneurship program, and the business analytics program, were evident to the couple, and they decided to support the college in an effort to help further those endeavors. 

In talking with Annette Ranft, dean of Poole College at the time, Matt Keen said she emphasized the importance of faculty support to grow and remain competitive with other institutions and pointed to ways the strength of the college’s faculty directly impacts its students.

Matt Keen with his son, Charles, who is an alumnus of Poole College.

They had witnessed that impact on their own son already. Charles Keen was part of the first cohort to complete the Business Analytics Honors Program, which led to his pursuit of a Master’s in Business Analytics at Arizona State University. He built a strong relationship with Professor Lee Craig during his time at NC State, and the Keen family saw Craig as an outstanding scholar and professor, as well as a faculty member who cared for and devoted time to his students.

“It is our hope that our support can in some way help attract and retain faculty of this caliber,” Matt Keen said.

The Keens established the Matthew and Ruth Keen Faculty Fellow Endowment in 2017. Awards are determined by the Dean of the Poole College of Management, or the dean’s designee and through strategic investments in star faculty, support college leadership in building outstanding departments and programs.

Flexibility in the Keen’s endowment allows for the funding to enhance faculty research and teaching in a variety of ways. This summer two faculty research awards are supported by the Keen endowment.

“One way we try to differentiate the experience our students will have at NC State is to expose them to thought leaders on the leading edge,” said Frank Buckless, Stephen P. Zelnak Jr. Dean of the Poole College of Management. “Support such as the Keens’ helps to ensure that our students are exposed to thought leaders who are committed to sharing their knowledge and our student success.”

Faculty often devote their summer to research in their fields and support for these activities is essential for top universities to not only hire, but also to retain talented faculty.

Through the Keen’s generosity, Eileen Taylor, professor of accounting, and Stefanie Robinson, associate professor of marketing, received support this summer to pursue their research. By coincidence, the two are both pursuing research that looks at corporate social responsibility through different lenses.

Summer Research Links to the Classroom and Industry

Taylor’s research focuses on whistleblowing, ethics, and data security. She teaches at the graduate level in both the Jenkins MBA and Master of Accounting (MAC) programs.

Taylor said her research in whistleblowing came out of her interest in accounting and control systems, but now focuses on the behavioral aspects of whistleblowing – when does someone feel comfortable coming forward and speaking up, and how can organizations create a culture where, if someone sees something, they can say something without repercussions.

The funding she’ll receive through the Keens’ support this summer will allow her the resources and time to focus on her research. 

These types of research opportunities for Taylor also bolster her classroom experience for students. 

“I try to link my research to what I teach,” Taylor said. “Accounting is very practice-oriented – the things I research are happening in the real world, and I can bring that knowledge back to my students.”

She shares her findings with the accounting profession as well, providing leaders  ideas on ways to improve their organization and make better decisions.

Robinson, meanwhile, teaches both graduate and undergraduate courses ranging from marketing research to consumer behavior.

Her research focuses on consumer behavior, understanding consumers’ perceptions and their decision making process. Within consumer behavior, Robinson focuses on social responsibility. For example, she examines consumers’ perceptions of different corporate social responsibility endeavors.

Like Taylor, Robinson is a big believer in bringing the knowledge gained through her research into the classroom, and in making connections that help industry as well.

“I like to think about how my research and my teaching come together,” Robinson said. “I think it is important to introduce students to research, both through classroom projects and via the Poole College of Management Consumer Behavior Research Lab.”

Her research can help companies and nonprofits as well, she said. In examining social responsibility, she can share ideas with nonprofits on how what they do can impact how people donate and their likelihood to donate. 

Supporting Student and Faculty Success

The Keens’ support is essential to Poole College’s strategic goals – the first being student success. Students need more than just a textbook to prepare for their professional careers and research like that from Taylor and Robinson helps students make connections and apply their new knowledge. 

It also supports the college’s second strategic goal of scholarship and research excellence. Production of relevant, impactful, high-quality research is important in both reputation and rankings. Investing in the best faculty in this way, in turn, attracts the top students to attend NC State and Poole College.

That was something Matt and Ruth Keen thought about as they made their decision to support the College.

For the college to continue to be recognized and on the cutting edge, it relies on faculty research and faculty advancement to expand,” Matt Keen said. “We need to continue to be a forward-thinking business school.

“These professors are doing that kind of research, which is good for the college and good for the students.”