Interim president and provost share in a new perspective of KSC energy and drive for the future
Student Life Editor
Earlier this semester, a group of students spent a relaxing evening by Brickyard Pond. They are smoking shisha from a hookah pipe, and out of nowhere, a dog ran up, followed by his owner. The owner was Interim President Jay Kahn, but the students didn’t recognize him.
Ashlynn Cedrone, a sophomore at Keene State College, was one of these students caught off guard by who she would soon learn was her interim president. She said her first interaction with Kahn was nowhere near nerve-wracking. “He was just nice,” Cedrone said, “He asked all of us our names and what our majors were. He seemed genuinely interested.” About the same time in the semester, Melinda Treadwell, KSC’s new provost, was in her office thinking of ways to connect with the student body. She thought, “A pizza party? Office hours?” The new provost began figuring ways to leave her “big white building” called Hale and meet the students that make her eager to drive to work every morning.
“Ultimately, the students are the only reason I’m here,” Treadwell said, “I’m serious about trying to make the experience here better.” In May 2012 Jay Kahn went from director of finance to interim president, as Melinda Treadwell, dean of professional and graduate studies, made an office in Hale as provost. The two have been figures on the KSC campus for years. Kahn began his career with KSC in 1988 when he filled the role as vice president of finance and planning. Treadwell went from KSC student to professor to dean, and is now provost. Each has worn different hats on campus; each brings a personal perspective, and it is this perspective that has created the greatest eye opener to Kahn and Treadwell as they view the KSC student body. From finance to presidency, Kahn said his transition to his new role has been a learning experience. “The role that I see most distinct in the president’s position is the ability to advocate for Keene State College, its students, and our faculty, staff, and our community partners,” Kahn said. The new provost said her position has created yet another relationship with students. “As provost, what’s been really interesting is that my relationship now with the students understands how our college can create opportunities or barriers to their success in a way that I hadn’t experienced before,” Treadwell stated.
Kahn said he has worked since the summer to understand his responsibility as president—a responsibility, according to Kahn, that remains not only to the college, but the community of Keene. “Because I’ve been in the community for 25 years, we’ve been familiar with each other over that period of time,” he explained. The interim president continued and said his perspective of KSC changed when the approximate 5,000 students crowded Appain Way in the fall. One-on-one experiences, like Kahn’s interaction with Cedrone and friends, have been key to understanding how students utilize campus resources and what they need to succeed.
“The student experience is different,” he said, “And it’s important to get to know students and what they value most about their experience at Keene State College.” Kahn said his eyes opened in a new way to the busy lives of the KSC student body, leading him to conclude students are eager to create for themselves a successful future. “Students want some kind of capstone experience that bridges them to the workplace. We need to be more intentional about how that happens,” Kahn said. He said he also observed student engagement in campus life. He said he has always known students stay engaged, but his presidency has shown him just how far students go. “I see it going deeper. The students are constantly evolving into new activities they want to try,” he explained, “I realized that the commitment students are making, not just to their academic studies, but to their broader development to community members. It’s enriching them and enriching the value of this campus.” Following Kahn’s realizations were Treadwell’s, who relayed a similar perspective as she stated an appreciation for the student body’s drive for the future.
“Every time I’ve had the opportunity to work with a student, that enthusiasm, that optimism comes through,” Treadwell continued, “That sounds so trite but I really genuinely mean it. It’s just that I really believe our student body comes here because they want community—they want to do it in a way that they can give back and I felt that with their students.” Treadwell said this enthusiasm both excites and challenges her in her new position as provost. “As provost what’s been really interesting is that my relationship now with the students is understanding how our college can create opportunities or barriers to their success in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. One of the challenges is trying to understand how our students work best,” she said. Treadwell said she’d like to engage that student energy and optimism with KSC’s policies and figure a way to continue to structure curriculums around such enthusiasm.
“I think the most important thing for me as provost is to try to understand our students in that way,” she said. Kim Schmidl-Gagne, program manager for diversity and multiculturalism, has worked closely with Treadwell and some with Kahn. “[Treadwell] is brilliant and could probably do anything she wants,” Schmidl-Gagne said.
“[Treadwell] came back here to teach and then to lead. It’s a special gift that she’s here at KSC. She has a vision for what it means to be a public liberal arts institution.” Schmidl-Gagne said, “They both have an enormous passion for Keene State College.” Dottie Morris, chief officer of diversity and multiculturalism, echoed Schmidl-Gagne on Treadwell’s passion.
“Because she is so dedicated, because she has that kind of love, it creates a kind of enthusiasm in other people so she’s able to share that enthusiasm in a way and I think that’s definitely a mark of a leader,” Morris stated. Morris added she sees the same things with Kahn. “With both of them there’s that same flavor for wanting to make sure that we don’t become stagnant, that we’re able to change not just for change’s sake, but engage in very thoughtful, reflective, and also very compassionate change. It’s the whole idea of having compassion as we’re changing. You don’t see that in a lot of institutions,” Morris said.
Schmidl-Gagne said though she believes both Kahn and Treadwell’s positions are temporary, she expects the college to continue its “forward momentum.” Schmidl-Gagne commented on Kahn and said, “I don’t think he’d ever shy from an opportunity to talk to anyone about Keene State College.” According to Cedronne, Kahn never smoked from the hookah. He did, however, spend approximately 30 minutes talking to her and her friends— even offering contacts for a student to make a potential internship connection. Cedronne will eventually leave KSC with a good story to tell of the time she almost smoked shisha with the interim president of her college. Such an impression is something Schmidl-Gagne said Kahn hopes to leave in his short time as interim president.
She said, “He wants to make sure that in this year he sort of has a legacy that is the sustainability of Keene State College.” For Cedronne, and many students alike, that impression has been made.
Julie Conlon can be contacted at