Keiser University Aims to Help the Community, Grow and Expand
Melody Rider, president of Keiser University’s Lakeland campus, said she’s very excited about 2022 after the Year of Pivot (2020) and the Year of Transition (2021).
The Year of Pivot saw faculty and staff working from home, students learning remotely and many safety challenges on campus – all adding a lot of stress, she said. “But in 2020 we didn’t think about it; we just did what we had to do to meet the needs and challenge in every way.”
Then came the Year of Transition. “2021 was a very different year than what we expected. It was far more challenging than 2020,” Rider said.
She sums up 2021 as the most challenging year of her career. “Nuances were not things I’ve ever dealt with before. Covid changed people and their perspective, how they live their day-to-day lives, and personal changes bled into their professional lives. People here 10+ years wanted to retire, stay home, change careers.”
Keiser’s model is based on students and faculty being on campus, working hand in hand until late into the evening, when needed, she said. “We don’t have a work-from-home model. But we did it for the last year and a half. We had to, but now we have to get back to who we are in our mission, to our students. We have to get back to our roots.”
That includes many opportunities and challenges, which go hand in hand, Rider said. Key leaders and faculty left, creating more vacancies than usual. But that created opportunities to hire people with fresh thoughts and ideas. “There were a lot of internal promotions, and we reached out and found very good talent. I told people we need you 100% in. Looking ahead to 2022, we have that solid team that is very dedicated to students first.”
That required much training to ensure all supervisors, faculty and staff had all the tools and resources needed to serve students, she said. “It was a great opportunity to change things that maybe didn’t work as well or we could improve on. Continual improvement is always our mindset. These changes brought in a new set of eyes.”
Bringing everyone back to campus was a success story from 2021. “It was so awesome,” Rider said. “After a day I sat down and said, ‘Oh, they’re back.’ There were so few complaints. To have them walking the halls and seeing the faculty every day provides a certain amount of energy. You hear that hum.”
And that’s a sound she wants to hear this year. “Our future looks bright,” she said.
On Rider’s wishlist is money to add a third building, which founder Arthur Keiser supports – when the college’s Lakeland population increases, Rider said.
Right now, “We knock down walls, move this, move that. We have to be very creative in finding the right space. We are going to add some new programs next year.”
The college’s Innovation and Technology Building and Allied Health/College of Nursing Building are home to a variety of associate, bachelor and graduate degree programs. Among the offerings are nursing and nutrition; imaging sciences; technology management; cyber forensics and information security; and management information systems. Many support the growing technology-enabled manufacturing and other high-tech industries expanding and locating in Polk County.
Adding more is important to help serve the community in a variety of ways, she said. “I would like to add more innovative programs to support what I know we’re moving toward – more tech-driven and database fields. We just launched an iCloud program and a respiratory program. Our goal is to meet the community’s needs.”
Rider plans to build upon relationships made before and during the pandemic to keep moving Keiser forward.
“Going through any hard time, there are new opportunities,” she said. “We had so much support from the community with our students, and doors opened. Our client is the community. We created many new partnerships through regular business IT and graphics but also allied health – that community has been so strained through all of this.”
Knowing the college can be flexible and the community supportive, she said she thinks 2022 will only get better.
But she has to remain focused because she still worries about things like student outcomes, success and retention, she said. “How can we make that better, help them more? I’m a die-hard student advocate. A lot of our allied health programs are licensure-based; if they don’t pass, they can’t get employed. We are holding boot camp weekends, we are diving deep to find how we can better assist students for better outcomes.”
Safety remains the biggest challenge, said the woman who was given the nickname “Capt. Covid” during the early days. The college has a zero-tolerance rule and did not have an outbreak in 2020.