Class of 2019: From communicating to advocating, Aaron Keen turns passion for people into a degree

Aaron Keen.
Aaron Keen combined his interest in social work, public relations and LGBTQ studies to create his own path at VCU. (Kevin Morley, University Marketing)

Most students at Virginia Commonwealth University are on a clear path. They major in one of the many programs offered. But what happens when your passions overlap areas of focus? 

If you are Aaron Keen, you make your own path.

Combining classes from public relations, social work and LGBTQ studies, Keen took advantage of VCU’s bachelor of interdisciplinary studies degree to blaze his own trail. The program inspired and gave him passion to pursue his degree, he said.

“The PR side provides me with practical skills such as creating media, writing techniques and presenting information in a way that will effectively reach the right audience,” Keen said. “In LGBTQ studies, there are many intersections within this community. It is important to understand how these different intersections interact.” 

Keen has always had a passion for people, being involved in ministry growing up in Richlands, Virginia, a small, rural town in the southwest part of the state. After coming out as a gay man, he saw the discrimination that marginalized communities face. It was then that he decided to work in advocacy.

One accomplishment Keen is proud of is a presentation he made for UKirk, the national college ministry of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., about the importance of being an LGBTQ inclusive campus. To allow LGBTQ students a safe, welcoming space to worship, UKirk has since joined the More Light Presbyterians, a coalition of congregations and individuals in the Presbyterian Church that are committed to increasing the involvement of all people, regardless of sexuality.

Being involved with UKirk has shaped Keen’s time at VCU. Many of his memories revolve around his participation in the ministry.

“The fondest memories are those that have been built around authentic, meaningful conversations with classmates and professors,” he said.

One person who made an impact on Keen during his time at VCU is Marcie Walsh, Ph.D., an assistant professor of interdisciplinary studies.

“I worked with her to do an independent study on the intersections of conflicting identities of LGBTQ adults focusing on faith and sexuality,” he said. “This was one of my favorite learning experiences here at VCU.”

While he does not have any definite plans for after graduation, he is applying for jobs at LGBTQ nonprofits across the country, with the goal of an advocacy communications role.

His message to students at VCU: follow your interests. 

“Don’t be afraid to pursue your passions,” he said. “Sometimes that may make you a pioneer in your field, but it’s so important. The world needs to hear your unique voice and what you have to offer.”

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