Provost once AU student
For many students who attend AU, their college years are a journey for valuable information and tools that prepare them for their careers throughout the world. Neil Kerwin, AU's provost, discovered early that he would not have to travel the world in search of a career. His calling was at AU, his alma mater, all along.
"It was an intriguing prospect when I returned to the University to work," Kerwin said, "... four years right after I graduated."
Kerwin's 36 years of almost continued connection with the University began in the autumn of 1967 when he enrolled as a freshman from Waterbury, Conn.
"My life then [in Waterbury] was very, very different from the one that I lead now," Kerwin said.
Kerwin grew up in a working class household among 120,000 people who lived in Waterbury. Most of his immediate family worked in a place that was dominated by brass and copper factories.
"Usually, most people just drive by Waterbury on their way to Boston or New York," Kerwin said.
He was exposed to politics at a young age when his father served one term in the Connecticut Senate. This influenced his decision to attend AU because of its location and political science program. While his time as an undergraduate at AU was exciting, he also experienced a tumultuous period in the history of the college with the tensions rising from the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War.
"Students would not have recognized the campus back then," he said. "There were constant protests at Ward Circle and class disruption was a constant occurrence."
As a student, Kerwin was actively involved in the efforts against the war and attended many protests on campus and downtown. He also witnessed the civil disturbance in the District after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, especially on the 14th coroner.
"This happened literally on the evening before I was leaving for spring break," Kerwin said, "but the city was literally under siege."
According to Kerwin, it was an interesting and dynamic time to study politics under such considerable stress.
"As an undergrad, D.C. was an incredible laboratory for learning about politics," Kerwin said. "It was such an extraordinary time to be coming of age and learning about politics and international news."
After graduation in 1971, he received his master's and doctorate degrees at the University of Rhode Island and Johns Hopkins, respectively. He was drawn back to AU four years later when he became an undergraduate teaching assistant in the School of Public Affairs. Now he was a colleague to many of his professors whom had once been his teachers.
"It was odd and different but I was sharing my office ultimately with the people whom I respected," Kerwin said.
He later became dean in 1989, a position he held until 1997 when he became the provost for the University. As provost, Kerwin acts as the chief academic officer for AU. His primary concerns are of the quality of education students receive, but his own personal vision extends far beyond this.
"Many people ask what a provost is," Nathan Price said, special assistant to the provost. "It's a chief academic officer who overseas all academic affairs, but Dr. Kerwin gives his heart and lifeline to the University."
For Price, Kerwin had a lot to do with why he wanted to work at AU.
"In the two years that I have worked here, I can't say enough kudos," Price said. "He is completely dedicated to the institution especially to the faculty and students and is credited as a sheppard of many ambitious academic affairs."
Price called Kerwin a straight shooter and a hard worker.
"He has a tremendous memory to recall discreet vasts of information from all different areas of his mind from the community to politics and international affairs," Price said.
Kerwin has three hopes for students during their time at the University. He wants students to leave AU with a thirst for knowledge that extends beyond the interests they had when they arrived. He says he emphasizes the general education program because he believes students should be exposed to a full range of subject matter that includes the arts, mathematics and global issues.
"We have such superb scholars here at the school," Kerwin said. "We are going to keep on creating knowledge and transmitting it to the students and the rest of the world."
Secondly, he feels that students should find a deep interest in their time here. Whether students are enrolled in the School of Interntational Service, School of Public Affairs or School of Communication, there are plenty of resources here to find a passion and pursue it, he said. Finally, Kerwin says D.C. is an important element of learning at AU.
"Experiential learning is enormously powerful and there is no greater city than Washington to experience how politics and international affairs are conducted," Kerwin said.
"Making a difference in quality of education" is the motto that keeps Kerwin working hard at his job everyday.
Kerwin is excited that the new Katzen Arts Center is only the first of a host of new buildings for the main campus in the near future. Some of these buildings include a new home for SOC and a larger and state of the art facility for SIS. The more AU changes and grows, however, the more an integral part of its staff stays the same.
"People around the country are just now appreciating how good AU really is. People including myself have been working hard to keep this reputation good and solid," Kerwin said.
"To me, ethics is a lot and he has an incredible set of ethics," said Executive Assistant Maria Bueno, an AU employee for 32 years and who has worked with Kerwin since 1996. "He's an incredible human being, above and beyond extremely organized and dedicated. We all have a lot of respect and loyalty for him."
While Kerwin enjoys his job and his close working relationship with AU President Benjamin Ladner, he waxes nostalgic about joining the ranks of the faculty again. He wishes to teach graduate and possibly even some undergraduate classes again.
"Universities are treasures and become more special every year," Kerwin said.