Social Work Professor Practices What She Teaches
"One of the reasons I really love working with Neumann students is that they are eager and excited."
Rina Keller came to Neumann University in 2015 to help launch the Social Work major, and she brought with her a genuine desire to uplift the entire campus community. Like her colleagues, Keller has watched her students leave Neumann’s Holy Hill and transform lives, which is no surprise based on the example she sets for them.
The idea of starting a new major at NU was appealing to Keller, a woman always up for a challenge. Prior to joining the faculty at Neumann, Keller worked at Rosemont College for nine years as a Sociology professor. She was also a clinical associate at Walden Counseling and Therapy Center in Bryn Mawr. Currently, she is an assistant professor and director of field placement for the Social Work major.
When not helping her students, Keller is the chair of the Civic Engagement Commitment, co-chair of the Knights’ Pantry, and newly appointed president of the Faculty Senate.
Keller graduated from Rosemont College with a degree in Sociology. She has a master’s in Social Work from Bryn Mawr College and a master’s in Public Administration from Villanova University. She is also a licensed social worker in the state of Pennsylvania.
Keller credits her degree in Sociology as the impetus for all that she has done professionally.
“I was always interested in psychology and therapy. The Sociology program was a blend of all the things I was interested in, and it had really dynamic professors. So that’s what I ended up studying, and it has been an amazing foundation for everything else I have done,” she explained.
When Keller came to NU, the Social Work degree program was in the planning stages. She worked closely with Barbara Hanes, the former Education dean, to build the program, and Keller also built the Social Work minor.
A critical component of the Social Work major is the students’ field placement or internship that Keller oversees. Her students complete 400 hours over the course of their senior year.
“It’s an intense experience. It’s like a job, and I place and supervise them, which is actually one of my favorite things because I have the opportunity of guidance and mentorship. We’ve had an excellent success rate with grad school and jobs,” Keller said.
Students who major in Social Work tend to form tight bonds with their classmates and professors. Spending time with her students in and out of the classroom has enabled Keller to better understand and appreciate what drives them to succeed.
“One of the reasons I really love working with Neumann students is that they are eager and excited. Their education and careers are important to them, and they’re willing to learn and do hard things. The best part is seeing their growth,” Keller said.
From these close relationships, Keller came to understand the struggles that many students face. Her social worker instinct kicked in, and the result was establishing the Knights’ Pantry with Mary Beth Davis, counselor at Neumann’s Counseling Center for Wellness.
“Some of our students may be struggling and needing help. They have a lot on their plates. They’re working. They might be parents, or they might be caregivers. If you’re hungry, you can’t do anything,” she said.
Being involved with so many activities outside of teaching has allowed Keller to meet other NU staff and professors and expand her network.
“One reason I love my job is that I take my professional values and ethics seriously and see myself as a steward of the profession, so helping prepare future social workers is an honor. I have the privilege of helping guide social work students to a successful professional career,” she said. “I love the work, and I love who I work with. I’ve really appreciated the opportunity to try new things and collaborate with other people.”