When Frances Keene is formally awarded her Ph.D. in higher education Friday, two people who will be celebrating have never known her when she wasn’t studying for her doctorate: her children.

Emerson is 9 years old and Mary Helen is 6.

“I was six-months pregnant when I began in 2007,” Keene said. “I was pregnant again when I took my prelims in 2009. I was admittedly naïve about what going to school and working full time and being a parent entailed. It was a lot harder than I thought it would be. It was lonely, solitary work. I cried an ocean of tears and learned a lot about patience.”

With a bachelor's degree in psychology from the College of William & Mary and a master’s degree in counselor education from the University of Virginia, Keene came to Virginia Tech in 2002 as victim services adjudication coordinator in what was then called the Office of Judicial Affairs. She eventually became director of Student Conduct, a position she held until 2012 when she stepped into the role of chief of operations and deputy to Senior Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Frank Shushok.

“I owe Virginia Tech for sticking with me on this journey," she said. "My family, my friends, my supervisors, and my committee were all very supportive. There were at least three times I wanted to quit. I really meant it, and I had very good reasons, but my husband, friends, and colleagues in Student Affairs helped me through the tough spots.”

Keene said she loves being able to help people on their journeys, that she enjoys being around students with all their possibilities and working with coworkers who care.

“Having my own kids gave me a different perspective on college students," she said. "I want them to have someone who cares and helps them find their way as they discover who they want to be.”

“Frances works tirelessly to support our students and to inspire Student Affairs faculty and staff," Shushok said. "She sees potential in undergraduate students and helps them find their path. Graduate students and new Student Affairs professionals gravitate toward Frances to learn from her, and she is an awesome mentor. Seasoned educators want to work with Frances because they have seen firsthand the passion she demonstrates in all aspects of the work she does.

“I have seen so many individuals drawn to Frances because they want to be a part of something special. Frances has the ability to inspire others through her words and actions. Frances is a supportive and compassionate leader. She is unwavering in her capacity to see the best in people. Frances is a constant voice reminding us why we serve and more importantly, who we serve,” Shushok said.

Keene defended her dissertation on fostering self-authorship in the student conduct environment in August 2016, so the actual commencement ceremony is a bit anticlimactic for her.

But for her extended family, and especially for her husband and children, it will be an exciting conclusion to a long effort.

“We are a different family because of this endeavor,” she said. “We did homework together and my children saw that education was important to me. We made the work a family affair.”

Keene and her family plan to stay in Blacksburg and she will continue her work in Student Affairs at Virginia Tech. She said she is “content to do what I love with the people I respect.”

Written by Sandy Broughton

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