Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Leadership lived: Innocence Project coordinator helps shape future careers


Illinois Innocence Project Case Coordinate Rhonda Keech says mentoring students is one of the best parts of her job. The project is based in the Center for State Policy and Leadership at the University of Illinois Springfield.

Keech works directly with UIS students who intern with the project. The students conduct case reviews submitted by inmates who maintain they are innocent of their crimes. She oversees the process using her years of experience to mentor students.

“I’ve learned a ton from Rhonda,” said Amanda Altman, an Innocence Project graduate assistant. “She’s been one of the most instrumental people that I’ve met at UIS and there are a lot of great people at UIS, so that’s saying a lot.”

Altman says Keech tries to enhance the student experience by putting thought into the task she assigns. Her door is always open and she’s ready to answer questions.

“You can go in and ask her anything you want and she’ll always give you a straight forward, honest, and supportive answer,” said Altman.

Keech points out that students often cite their internship with the Innocence Project as a deciding factor when it comes determining whether they will go to law school and what they’ll study.

“We get the most incredible students,” said Keech. “It’s just so amazing to work with them and see their abilities and see them grow. That’s probably the best part of my job.”

During the 2012-13 academic year, students helped to exonerate three individuals. Students witnessed the releases at the prison and got to meet those who they helped to free.

“That is a life changing experience,” said Keech. “It’s just once in a lifetime that you’ll be able to witness that and be a part of that.”

Keech’s passion for her work and dedication to her students make it exciting for her to come to work every day as she lives leadership by example.

“I love this university and I love working with our students,” said Keech.

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