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Jessica Keene

“I want to serve as that mentor, that advisor, that confidant that can help students to achieve their academic and their professional aspirations, because those people in my life have meant so much to me.”

Krieger School of Arts & Sciences

History, PhD 2020

Lecturer of History and Undergraduate Career Advisor for College of Humanities and Fine Arts at University of Massachusetts Amherst

Jessica‘s Podcast Episode

In this episode, we discuss Jessica’s experience as a first-generation college student, what led her to leave her tenure track position at a small liberal arts college to pursue a role that combines her passions for teaching history and undergraduate career advising, and her take on the importance of giving yourself the opportunity to explore your interests during your doctoral studies to help discover how you want to design your life.

Learn More About Jessica‘s Story

This picture is important to me because it represents family, home, and where I come from. I am a proud first-generation college student from a rural Virginia community. This is a picture of my Dad, Randy Keene, and I ca. 1994 with his Freightliner in our front yard. Dad was an independent contract driver for much of my childhood, hauling trash back and forth between Virginia and New York. My Dad passed away unexpectedly on Thanksgiving Day 2011, when I was in the middle of preparing my applications for doctoral programs. In our final conversation on 22 November 2011 he told me that he wanted me to go to Johns Hopkins to get my PhD. And that’s exactly what I did. I dedicated my dissertation in his honor. I am so grateful to have been a truck driver’s kid and am thankful for the work ethic and sense of purpose my Dad and my family have instilled in me.

This image is from my dissertation defense at Johns Hopkins on 16 January 2020. I sit at the head of the table, surrounded by scholars whose work I profoundly respect and admire. They are also people who invested a great deal of time and energy into me and my scholarship. While I used to feel like an impostor within academic settings such as this one, in this image I am in my final hour of my doctoral studies and nearing initiation into the highest levels of this impressive scholarly community. I look knowledgeable and confident as I respond to their incisive and thoughtful questions about my dissertation project. In short, this image shows that I am no longer an outsider to this community; instead, it shows that I have earned my place and belong. Five days after this image was taken, I began my work as an Assistant Professor at Georgian Court University. It felt like a whirlwind at the time, making the transition from doctoral candidate to Dr. Keene.