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Retiring IU South Bend professor raising money for scholarships by taking bids to choose his new tattoo

June 8, 2016

Retirement parties rarely include tattoos and fundraising. Mike Keen, the Chancellor’s Professor of Sustainability at IU South Bend, is combining the three for his “Second Life Celebration” this month. Money raised at his early retirement party will endow Sustain the Future Scholarships for underrepresented students with financial need from the South Bend region.

mike keen


Keen’s retirement won’t be all rest and relaxation. After opening the Center for a Sustainable Future and spearheading the sustainability studies major, minor and graduate program over the last eight years at IU South Bend, Keen will redirect his sustainability acumen toward the private sector.

“My goal was to establish the IU sustainable studies program on a firm sustainable platform,” Keen said. “Now I’m interested in doing some of the same kind of work by helping nonprofits, government entities and the educational sector collaborate around sustainability projects and knowledge.”

Before he leaves IU South Bend, Keen and his wife, Gabrielle Robinson, former director of international programs at IU South Bend, are donating $25,000 toward the Sustain the Future scholarship. They hope to raise an additional $10,000 with tattoo votes and party ticket sales.

Keen’s inventive crowd fundraising campaign, “Help IU and the city of South Bend leave a lasting impression on Mike,” allows anyone who donates to vote online for a tattoo. Keen will have the winning design tattooed (donors can choose exactly where), which he'll reveal at the June 23 celebration. The tattoo options include the IU South Bend Titan mascot and the South Bend city flag.

Dave Vollrath and Gwynn Mettetal endowed the first Sustain the Future Scholarship last year. The scholarships range from $4,000 to $5,000 and focuses on underrepresented students with diverse race and ethnic backgrounds with financial needs. Keen plans for the endowment to grow and eventually benefit four or five new students annually.

Keen hopes that the renewability of the scholarships will help mitigate financial obstacles to staying enrolled at the university.

“The scholarships are renewable each year for their time as a student. That’s why we’re targeting students in financial need. As long as they are focused on doing their schoolwork they will succeed. The biggest problem on IU’s regional campuses is the not the ability to perform in the classroom, but life. Providing for families or working interferes with their success,” Keen said.

tattoo options

Tattoo options include, from left, a stylized image of the South Bend city flag and the IU South Bend Titan mascot. | IMAGES COURTESY OF MIKE KEEN

In addition to empowering students who have financial constraints, Keen hopes the scholarship will create a dialogue between the university and the South Bend community.

“We want to make sure sustainability studies is made available to everyone in our community and represents everybody in our community,” Keen said. “We want to make sure that no one gets left behind.”

In addition to the tattoo fundraiser, Keen’s retirement party will feature a “Roast or Toast Mike” event. Attendees can pay $25 per minute to either playfully jab or pay tribute to Keen.

Local restaurants and producers will donate the food and beverages for the party. Participating vendors include Zen Coffee, Violet Sky chocolatiers, LaSalle Grill, Green Sense vertical farm and many others. Brew Werks will serve a limited-edition beer made exclusively for the event. 

After the June retirement party, Keen plans to create a tiny house eco-community of eight to 12 houses with net-zero energy consumption, and he plans to travel throughout the U.S. on a book tour with Robinson.

“It’s been a terrific 30 years,” Keen said. “When I joined IU South Bend, it didn’t seem like much of a campus. We didn’t have a library and one of our classrooms was a former cheese factory. You didn’t feel like it was a campus. But I thought it had huge potential and was excited to be able to get in on the ground floor of a campus that serves an entire community. And all of that was right. For me, it’s been an absolute privilege to be part of this.”

Keen's retirement project aligns with priorities outlined in the university’s Bicentennial Strategic Plan, including a commitment to student success and a vibrant community of scholars.

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