After working for seven and a half years in Kenyon’s Office of Student Engagement, Director of Student Engagement Sam Filkins decided he was ready for a new challenge. On July 17, Filkins assumed the position of vice president for the Area Development Foundation of Knox County.
The Area Development Foundation is an organization that, according to Filkins, plays a significant role in “making Knox County the best it can be” by developing the area’s economy and encouraging people to move and work there.
Although Filkins is no longer working directly for the College, he will stay connected to Kenyon. As part of his new role, he expects to serve on several community boards and take part in partnerships with the College.
In his new job, Filkins will work with the Knox County Land Bank, a group that finds vacant or tax-delinquent properties and turns them into community assets, including both green and public spaces. Filkins also plans to transform vacant storefront properties into places such as thrift stores for students and community members and fix up sites that can be made into affordable housing.
“It’s a great opportunity to have a hand in a lot of different things going on in the county and can really help serve its citizens,” Filkins said. “Obviously, downtown Mount Vernon has seen a huge growth, but there’s still a lot of growth possibilities for community building.”
Throughout his time at Kenyon, Filkins made several significant contributions to the community and created long-lasting programs that are beloved by students, including Weaver Wednesday, a once-a-week evening activity hosted by rotating organizations. Filkins believed that the program would give students who had nothing to do on a Wednesday night an outlet to engage with peers and student organizations. Ultimately, Filkins’ work paid off: Weaver Wednesday won a state-wide Innovative Program Award and became a cherished tradition among Kenyon students.
“I’m proud of this one because I felt like it has created a space for people that didn’t have one before,” Filkins said.
As he continued his work on student engagement programs, Filkins came to realize a key truth about student activities: “It’s not necessarily the activity that is important. It’s having something consistent that people know they can count on. So having a grounding point once a week always gives you that option.” This lesson was especially important to Filkins during the remote part of last semester, when he reimagined the concept of student engagement through several online programs that kept the Kenyon community connected, including Bingo Night and a landmark bracket tournament.
Reflecting on his last few months at Kenyon, Filkins deemed the remote spring 2020 semester a success while recognizing that improvements could have been made.
“We have 1,700-plus students, so there’s always constant room for growth for anyone in my position to realize that we’re always going to miss out on some of them,” Filkins said. “But just because [some students] don’t interact with our programs doesn’t mean that they aren’t having a Kenyon experience.”
While Filkins is excited about his new career, he admits that the transition conjures bittersweet feelings. He will miss several aspects of working in Student Engagement, building relationships with students chief among them.
“Overall, I’m going to miss that ability to help people grow,” Filkins expressed. “I’ll be doing it in a different way, though, in my new job, and I’m excited about that.”
Filkins was pleasantly surprised when students reached out to him upon hearing that he was leaving Kenyon.
“I think I’ve always looked at myself as an educator,” Filkins said. “Hearing some students say that I was able to help them figure something out about themselves or about how to be a leader really validated all the work I had to put in. To hear that I was, in some way, able to be a small part of their experience in a positive way has been really touching.”
Filkins is comforted that he will retain connections at Kenyon despite beginning this new chapter in his life.
“I’m really excited that I’m not leaving the area and can still be friends with these people. I won’t be in meetings with them all the time, but I will still be able to keep those relationships going,” he said. “I don’t get to say what my legacy is at Kenyon, but I hope that people feel that I’ve always tried to build community through a foundation of trust.”