College recognizes ‘indispensable’ biology lab manager

Lori Keen earns Spoelhof achievement award


Fall 2010

Lori Keen

Lori Keen

Recently, Lori Keen was sitting among her colleagues in the Calvin chapel—puzzling over just how long she had worked for Calvin—when she heard Calvin’s president calling her name. “I heard Gaylen say ‘Lori,’” she said. “I thought, ‘What other Loris are there?’” Then, Keen said, it all started to add up.

Keen, the lab services manager for the biology department, was being honored as the ninth winner of the William Spoelhof Lifetime Achievement Award. The award, named for former Calvin College president William Spoelhof, is annually bestowed upon one staff member who exemplifies the qualities of dedication, service and performance that marked Spoelhof’s long career at Calvin.

The honor is well deserved, according to biology professor Dave Koetje: “She’s an indispensable part of our department. She’s the glue that holds this thing together,” he said. “Without her, our jobs would be extremely … complicated and those of us who have little hair would have even less. We’d be pullin’ it out.”

Keen has tended the biology lab at Calvin for 24 years. She maintains cultures, prepares stock reagents, makes plates and whatever else is required to prepare lab procedures for students. She also handles all the purchasing and sets the lab’s safety guidelines.

She also spends significant time working with students.

“These kids have to be on their own in the lab, working on a project, and I’m the one who turns them loose,” Keen said. “It’s troubleshooting about whatever project they’re doing. So they’ll come to me and (say), ‘Lori, I’m culturing these earthworms. And what should I grow them in?’ You never know what they’re going to set up or what their systems are or how they’ll come to me for help.”

Biology faculty rely on Keen’s problemsolving skills, Koetje said: “She’ll try something out and say, ‘This worked up to a point, but let’s clarify here and here.’ She has an eye for details, and she has an uncanny skill for helping us communicate instructions to students.”

Keen came to the biology department in 1985. She had graduated from Calvin in 1981 with a bachelor of science in biology and worked in the intervening years at a couple of local florist shops. “I quickly realized that being in retail wasn’t where I wanted to be,” she said. “You didn’t really need a biology degree to do what I was doing.

The biology department of the mid-’80s was not the bustling enterprise it is now, said Keen: “That first summer, it was pretty quiet. There was one student doing research, and now it’s such an active, busy place. So, I think the lab mirrors the changes that the department has undergone.”

In addition to keeping the biology labs functioning, Keen also serves her department as an ambassador for Healthy Habits, a college-wide initiative to promote healthier living. She participates in the National Association of Scientific Materials Managers, which she served in the mid-’90s as a secretary and vice president. She also serves on the board of Safe Haven Ministries, a domestic abuse center for women and children, and on the advisory committee for the Christian Reformed Church’s Safe Church Ministry.

She and her husband, Cal Keen, who works at Calvin in the information technology department, have two children: Aaron, a Calvin senior, and Elizabeth, who just turned 16.

After almost a quarter-century in the lab, Keen still loves her work. “While the job title hasn’t changed in 25, 30 years, what I’m doing has expanded,” she said.

And she appreciates being recognized by the Calvin community: “I think mostly it’s nice to know that your colleagues notice that you’re working hard and that you’re appreciated. Because I think the vast majority of people I work with at Calvin, and that I know, deserve the award,” Keen said.