When it came time to choose a college major, Ryan Keith was pulled in many directions at once. He had so many interests and majors that he could pursue; he could not decide what to choose. “I considered the things that got me really excited,” Ryan says of his decision-making process, “what caught my eye, what I wanted to read about, what things I enjoyed doing.” Ryan finally narrowed it down to a few majors, and then made his final decision by figuring out “which one fit best with what I wanted to do for a living, and what I knew I could do for a living.” He finally determined that this could be best accomplished through politics.
Ryan immersed himself in activities that provided training and personal development beyond what could be gleaned from the classroom. He become involved in the Student Government Association and served as head of the Student Forum, and for two years he served on the President's Cabinet. Yet some of the most impacting experiences Ryan would have at Messiah occurred off campus. Ryan tutored in Harrisburg through the urban outreach program Abba’s Place. Working with the children's ministry team in Harrisburg "was a defining experience in figuring out what I wanted to do,” Ryan says of Abba’s Place.
Valuing the opportunities presented by his major, Ryan notes, “The politics department allowed me to, in some cases, explore things in the classroom, and then apply them outside the classroom.” In addition to getting some on-the-job experience through internships, Ryan was able to apply what he learned in class right at Messiah, through discussions with the student body and administration.
Since graduation, Ryan has been able to use his political training in various other ways. “For a politics major,” he explains, “it’s about learning how to think critically about very complicated matters of culture and people. I use that knowledge every day.”
• "Make sure to ask your friends what they think you are good at. They have invaluable insight into your talents."
• "Do not be afraid to try things out. If you think you are interested in something, go and try it. The least that will happen is you will learn what you do not like."
• "Do not be afraid to put yourself in challenging situations—it will be a lesson unto itself."
Owing to his internship experience and extracurricular activities, Ryan was presented with several post-graduation job opportunities without having to actively pursue them. His offers included positions in his hometown of Boston and in central Pennsylvania. During his years at Messiah, Ryan really connected with the region; he felt a commitment to invest his time in economic development in Harrisburg, so he took a job with the Capital Region Economic Development Corporation.
The abundance of job opportunities that awaited Ryan after graduation were due to more than just his resume qualifications: relationships he built up with politics professors and key community leaders provided ample advice and opportunities. “I took Cliff Jones, a politics professor, in my sophomore year,” Ryan says. “He offered to mentor me, and he helped me get several internship and job opportunities. Dean Curry, another politics professor, helped me think through my opportunities, as did President Sawatsky, whom I knew from serving on the President’s Cabinet.”
Following graduation, Ryan began work with the Capital Region Economic Development Corporation as an Economic Development Specialist. He worked as a generalist, taking a broad range of calls and solving all kinds of problems. Ryan soon moved on to become Director of Membership, a position he held for four months before being promoted to Coordinator for the Harrisburg Market Keystone Innovation Zone, an initiative committed to economic growth in central Pennsylvania. He is currently expanding his skills and knowledge through that role.
“Essentially,” Ryan says, “my job is to work on enhancing entrepreneurial opportunities on college campuses. I spend a lot of time on campuses looking for opportunities to help our company help the college expand what it offers. I meet with professors, administrators, and representatives from companies looking for students to recruit. I can most accurately be described as a networker. I look at problems and find out who can best solve them.”
Ryan especially values the opportunity his job affords him to aid many people from many different backgrounds. “Especially given the experiences I had at and during Messiah,” he observes, “I have gained a great opportunity to impact people of all economic sets. I’m most grateful that my job gives me the ability to help a wide range of people—I’m passionate about helping people, and that’s what I do pretty much every day. I help people realize their dreams. I help someone with a low income get a job. Sometimes I wake up and think: wow—I’m 25 and I’ve done something.”
Ryan has a passion for Africa. He has taken multiple trips to Zimbabwe to work on establishing economic infrastructures. "Eventually," he hopes, "I'd like to get involved in a non-profit organization, one that works on development in Southern Africa. I'm getting the skills now to really be able to work in that field."
Forgotten Voices International (FVI), which was founded by Ryan, is partnering with local churches in Zimbabwe and graduates of the Theological College of Zimbabwe (TCZ) to empower local people to effectively address the challenges faced by AIDS orphans. These challenges include the financial burden of school fees, basic nutritional & hygienic needs, and psycho-social support for the orphans and their relatives. Since its formation in February 2005, Forgotten Voices International has raised about $50,000 to support projects in Zimbabwe. For more information on FVI, please visit www.forgottenvoices.org.
Profile by Angela Kriebel, 2005