Keith Watkins

Contact: Megan Looker
A first year student stands in front of a sculpture on campus.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—For a teen who spent his entire life tearing apart cars and anything he could get his hands on, WMU is turning Keith Watkins’ hobby into a career path of dissecting problems and finding solutions. The Kalamazoo Central High School graduate’s career ambitions started as a child, when he had a very messy habit.

“I was always the kid that wanted to take things apart to figure out how they worked,” he says. “And over time, it slowly developed… The question was always on my mind: How do people design things?”

As he started to better understand the world, Watkins discovered the cold truth of growing up—things don’t always go the way you want them to. However, instead of accepting it, he’s using his lifelong curiosity to transform this typical roadblock into a problem-solving career. 

“The question started being: How do people get their ideas to go the way they want to go? And how do they sell them to become effective ideas?” he says. “I found out that marketing is what’s behind that and it just really interested me. That’s something I can do because I can come up with the ideas.”

A close-up photo of a first year student.

This fall, Watkins will begin his journey in the Haworth College of Business, joining a nationally recognized marketing program focused on helping graduates build and maintain valuable relationships with clients by creating, delivering and communicating. What drew him most to the college was its flexibility to learn about several aspects of business before deciding the best path forward.

“I’m hoping going to Western will help me, and being in the business program will help me come up with better ideas and hopefully get me in an area that I can be with a team to make those ideas come to life,” he adds. “It really appealed to me that you could learn so many different things and then finally decide. That was really what helped me choose Western over any of the other colleges I was looking at.”


Watkins’ career aspirations extend far beyond the world of business. He hopes to use the skills he hones at WMU to make mental health care more accessible to populations who struggle with the costs.

“Speaking from experience, it’s hard for me to express my emotions and how I feel about things,” he says.

Entering WMU in fall 2020, Watkins’ will have the opportunity to reap the benefits of the University’s budding Think Big Initiative, creating a vision to foster student journeys focused on purpose, career and well-being, all rooted in the foundation of flexibility. The goal of these four core values is to make student mental, physical and academic well-being the University’s top priorities—a goal Watkins’ says made him realize WMU was the right choice for him.

Video of First-Year Faces: Keith Watkins

Additionally, when he learned about WMU’s Counseling Services, offering individual and group counseling to help students learn skills to cope with problems and develop new ways of thinking, he saw the value this resource could have not only for him, but for every student.

“College is a big transition and not everybody has somebody there in their lives that they can go to,” he says. “So, being able to have that therapist on-site helps them to be able to have somebody that no matter what, they can go to as they transition to start to build up close friend groups.”

While making this major life decision wasn’t a difficult choice for Watkins, he has one simple piece of advice for anyone still on the fence.

“It’s not hard to ask questions—just try it—because asking questions is how I got to where I am in my decision,” he says. “Not only does that give you information, but you can also get a feel for what the people are like by their eagerness to help you and receptiveness to your ideas.”

To read about more student experiences, visit First-Year Faces online.