Eisenhart Award for Outstanding Teaching

Keith Jenkins: A lifelong passion for teaching creates inspiration

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A. Sue Weisler

Keith Jenkins is dedicated to education as an instructor and a lifelong student.

Keith Jenkins, associate professor of communication in the College of Liberal Arts, has spent almost three decades as a teacher at the university level—18 years as a faculty member at RIT—and enjoys engaging and working with students as much today as he did when he first fell in love with the profession as a graduate student at Florida State University.

That enthusiasm for learning and helping others to succeed has recently been rewarded with his selection as a 2010 winner of the Eisenhart Award for Outstanding Teaching. Jenkins is thankful for the recognition, especially since the award includes student and faculty input illustrating the impact he has achieved in the classroom.

“I have dedicated my life to impacting the lives of others through education and have been equally impacted as a learner via the classroom experience, which has only furthered my passion for higher education and opportunities to pass that passion onto others,” he says. “I am incredibly thankful that my students and fellow faculty members have benefited from my efforts.”

Jenkins originally planned to go into engineering but his love of acting drew him to the speech and drama department at the University of Arkansas. Wanting to develop a firm foundation for multiple professional opportunities, he ultimately got a bachelor’s degree in communication and then pursued a master’s degree at Florida State.

“By the time I began graduate school I was looking at possible fields in communication but still was not sure where my career path should go, particularly since I still had a passion for acting,” he notes. “However, during my first year I was tapped to teach an undergraduate class in Fundamentals of Speech Communication and fell in love with all aspects of teaching. I decided to focus all of my efforts on becoming a professor at the college level.”

During his long tenure at RIT, Jenkins has focused on engaging students not only in the classroom, but also through experiential learning opportunities and through his research work, which includes a study of the impact of race on rhetoric and an analysis of the public speeches of President Obama. He has also held a number of administrative positions on campus, including service as RIT faculty-in-residence from 1993 to 1995 and assistant provost for diversity from 1999 to 2002. For his teaching efforts he earned the Provost’s Excellence in Teaching Award in 1994 and was presented with the Isaac L. Jordan Pluralism Award in 2005 for his work in diversity and community engagement. 

Jenkins hopes his efforts have helped to inspire people the way his experiences in college led to his life’s work.

“I want students to believe that they can follow their passions and be successful, while also instilling the idea that thoughtful and committed people can change the world,” he says.