California Alumnus Aims to Connect Whitman Entrepreneurs to West Coast Resources
Jim Keene ’79 was born in Connecticut and spent his college years in Upstate New York, but he’s lived in California for the last 39 years. Keene didn’t plan on moving to the West Coast a few years after graduating from Syracuse University. A job brought him there, but the sun, fast pace of life, great outdoor activities and forward-thinking, open-minded people made it home.
In particular, the Bay Area, where Keene currently resides, is home to Silicon Valley and perhaps the most forward-thinking people of all—entrepreneurs who are always looking to solve problems and jump-start the next big innovation. Whitman’s entrepreneurship and emerging enterprises (EEE) program has a great reputation, Keene comments. “Here I am in Silicon Valley, and even though I’m not a techie, why not try and connect the Whitman School with the center of entrepreneurship in the country?”
IF YOU WANT TO BE ENTREPRENEURIAL IN YOUR WORK LIFE, THEN IT’S HELPFUL TO SEE WHAT HAS MADE SILICON VALLEY AND SAN FRANCISCO A SUCCESSFUL AREA FOR IT.” —Jim Keene
So, in 2018, he started Whitman’s Silicon Valley Internship Program, where students have the opportunity to spend a summer interning with a company in the Bay Area. To get the program off the ground, Keene primarily worked with Entrepreneurship Chair Alex McKelvie, associate dean for undergraduate and master’s education, and Susan Filk ins, the University’s director of regional development on the West Coast. It was a relatively informal process, Keene says, but they worked to utilize his existing contacts in the area to find potential matches between students and companies.
Whitman students have taken part in the program for two summers, but Keene hopes to bring more undergraduates to the West Coast through a week-long career exploration trip, where they will have the chance to meet alumni and visit a variety of companies. “If you want to be entrepreneurial in your work life, then it’s helpful to see what has made Silicon Valley and San Francisco a successful area for it,” Keene says, citing educational institutions and access to venture capital as some of the reasons why the area continues to thrive.
Keene’s biggest goal for the program over the next couple years of is to increase the involvement of Bay Area-based Syracuse alumni, whether it’s through hosting company visits or providing experiential learning opportunities for current students within their companies. As a member of Syracuse University’s Northern California Council, Keene regularly connects with alumni in the area and has met several times with Dean Eugene Anderson and once with Chancellor Kent Syverud while visiting San Francisco.
This commitment to giving back to Syracuse in any way possible was influenced by his father, Keene says, who always sought to connect undergraduates from his alma mater to better opportunities and thing she cared about. Keene’s been operating on that same philosophy for the last 25 years. “It’s a belief system that there’s a circle of life,” Keene says. “I want to give back to the places that gave so much to me.”