After moving to Las Vegas in 2006 to study (’13 BS Gaming Management), Mitch Keenan decided to stay. Fourteen years later, he credits UNLV and Las Vegas with making him who he is today “as a husband, father, and provider.” After working in hospitality and business development for several years, he returned to campus nearly a year ago to be a regional development officer for the UNLV Alumni Association in the Division of Philanthropy and Alumni Engagement. Now — or at least before coronavirus — he jets around the nation, building relationships with alumni and inviting them to engage with and contribute to their alma mater. For the time being, of course, he's changing things up and working from home to reach out to alums across the nation.
What's your typical day like right now?
I try to keep my day to a strong mental schedule, I treat it like work. I wake up early and get ready for work as if I am leaving the house. I read to put shoes on is a mental trigger for you to feel like you are at work. I take a lunch break at 12 every day. I just eat with my family instead of having a meeting. I try to end my day as if I would come home and end my day, I change out of my "work clothes" ... It is all an adjustment we are working through. My daughter thinks it's fun to deliver me snacks during the day.
What do you miss most about coming to campus?
What’s special about UNLV to you?
So much. But one thing I really liked in President (Marta) Meana’s first State of the University address was the notion that while some schools, like Harvard or Yale, are “gate-closers,” we are a “gate-opener.” I’m a first-generation college student myself, like about 27 percent of UNLV students right now. UNLV is a top-tier, R-1 university that says, “If you’re in the 1 percent (economically), we welcome you; but if you’re less fortunate, we also welcome you, and can help you. Through programs like the HOPE Scholars and others, we got you.” I’m super proud of that.
What three words would you use to describe yourself?
Passionate, loyal, and outspoken.
What did you learn in your early career in different industries that led you back to UNLV?
I was initially in hotel management, and I worked with Derek Stevens and the executive team of (what was then) Fitzgerald’s as they changed the brand to The D. To be in on that, on the cusp of that, was amazing. I was 24-years-old and able to sit in on all of these meetings at The D with the CEO and CFO. I learned a lot. One main thing it showed me was what it means to build relationships first and then leverage those relationships into the future. That eventually translated to what I do now. As a development officer, it’s all about building relationships. It’s not about selling. It’s about getting to know what people are interested in and helping match those interests.
What is the main difference you feel working in the public sector versus the private sector?
The speed of action is different. It’s more mobile in other businesses, faster. And here, I am not selling a product per se, I am selling an opportunity, an idea, a shared belief. Also there’s a little more of a tendency in the public sector for people to say, “This is the way we’ve always done it.” My approach is I am going to do something different than just accept that. I ask, ‘Why do we do it that way?’ If we have a new idea, why say no? I ask, ‘Why not?’ If you’re fine with the status quo, nothing will change or grow and I want to represent our students, who are always changing and growing.
What’s your philosophy about building relationships with alumni and donors?
I go by “The Three E’s : Educate, Engage, Empower.” I go to different regions and educate alumni about how UNLV has grown and increased in value to the community, and to the students, and to them because their degrees are worth more the better the university gets. I encourage them to become engaged with us and empower them to have an effect on the current students. I am very passionate about building in a society that thrives on enterprise. I can paint a vivid picture of what you can do to benefit the university and yourself at the same time. I am going to push you up that hill to get you to understand what we can do together.
How do you decompress when work is stressful?
So what are your favorite movies?
Heat, Shawshank Redemption, the new film Uncut Gems are just a few of my favorites.
Tell us about a special place on campus to you.
I proposed to my wife Rebecca (’11 BS Hotel Administration) right outside Thomas & Mack under the tree. I had just walked for graduation and I was in my cap and gown. Both of our families were there – I planned it, and she was surprised. It was great. So that’s a special place, for sure.
What do you do in your off time?
My wife — who is pregnant — and our daughter, Sloane, who is 3, and I go to our cabin in Brian Head (Utah). In the summer we hike and ride quads; in the winter we snowmobile.
What are you able to indulge in now that you're spending more time at home.
I am indulging spending extra time with my daughter. I have been told a lot, by a lot of successful people, the only thing they wish they could buy but cannot is time. Whether it be time with their kids, or significant others, or friends, or even co-workers they wish they spent more time with outside the office. Nothing can replace what you get when you are with the ones you love most.
What is the silver lining in this current situation for you?
For me, finding the silver lining is focused on how this covid pandemic will impact business, travel, and meetings and event engagement moving forward. Will organizations and institutions be forced to lean into more technology and remote capabilities to conduct overall business? What will those new efforts look like for alumni engagement, community engagement, and even engagement with corporate America? I think we, as a society, have a huge opportunity to shape how America operates moving forward.
What would you do if you had an exorbitant amount of money to give to UNLV?
I would create a women’s entrepreneurship institute to include all colleges and units, to build up female business entrepreneurs. Fifty-seven percent of our graduates are women, and I’d like to invest more in making sure that we are the launching pad into business leadership and business ownership for women. I think men sometimes are in business solely for themselves, and I think women are often thinking first about everyone else. We are already supporting women here at UNLV, but I want to extend that into the workforce.
Do you have role model?
My stepdad. I’ve always wanted to be like him since I was 5-years-old. He is a fire chief at the same place he became a firefighter the year after he graduated high school. That’s rare these days; people change jobs. It’s not that I want to be a firefighter, but I want to be like him in the sense that he lives with a servant mentality even though he is the chief, and I respect that. He lives like a curious sponge, not a brick – he listens and still learns, and he’s an instructor, a podcast creator, and he speaks at conferences – all that stuff. But he will sit back and let you figure things out on your own until you need help, then he’ll help — living that servant mentality.