This article was originally published in the summer 2012 Harker Quarterly.
There’s something about a room with a view. And from Butch Keller’s office on Harker’s upper school campus, students can easily be seen walking happily to and from class throughout the day.
Moreover, the upper school head’s light-filled, heavily window paned office perfectly mirrors the way Harker approaches the high school experience – with an outward vision towards meeting student needs. In turn, the students often continue thinking of Harker even after they graduate.
In fact, Keller explained that the now annual alumni university tours actually began from the alumni themselves, who kept writing, wanting to keep in touch, asking for visits on their new college campuses, eager to show how well they were doing.
“This didn’t start out as some official program. It was simply former students asking us for visits,” affirmed Jane Keller, Butch’s wife, an upper school math teacher at Harker, who also goes on the trips to visit alumni at college campuses throughout the U.S.
During a recent trip, held over spring break, the Kellers met with more than 40 Harker alumni attending various universities on the East Coast. Trip highlights included group dinners and visits to Tufts University, Princeton University and Wagner College in New York.
On a previous alumni tour held in October, the Kellers visited students living in Washington, D.C. That trip included a visit with alumni at Georgetown University, as well as a visit to George Washington University, which included a group breakfast, dinner and watching a volleyball game played by Candace Silva-Martin ’09.
As a memento of their visits, and on behalf of Harker’s alumni office, the Kellers gave the students giant “Keller tour” mugs further inscribed with the names of the varied universities they attend. After the most recent trip, alumni emphasized how much they enjoyed their time catching up and bonding with one another, as well as updating Harker (via the Kellers) on life after graduating.
“When Mr. Keller visited Washington, D.C., I showed him and Ms. Keller around campus and ate dinner with them and other alumni from the area,” said Rishi Bhatia ’11. “During my Easter break, I was in New York, so I went to the alumni dinner there where I saw former classmates who are now studying in New York. I enjoyed meeting other alumni and talking about our experiences since we left Harker,” said Bhatia, who had the unique opportunity to be a part of both the Washington, D.C., and New York Keller tours.
Butch Keller said the first alumni trip began in spring ’09 when he and his wife headed to New York to attend a performance by Harker’s upper school
orchestra at Lincoln Center. Several alumni living in the area heard they were coming and asked them to stop by.
Soon after, requests were made from other alumni, such as students from the upper school’s first class to graduate with Butch Keller as head, to “come out and see us.”
During the visits, the Kellers always seek to understand what Harker did well to prepare students for university life and what could be improved upon. This year they heard over and over again how well trained graduates were in writing research papers, especially in the area of humanities.
Both the Kellers agree on the importance of visiting alumni while they are still in college and of learning on location by “living in the moment” with the students.
“The alumni visits are very special trips – with no strings attached – that really grew organically from the students themselves. It’s been so rewarding staying in touch and learning what everyone is up to,” Butch Keller said.