Get to Know: Keith Wassum

Keith Wassum
Monday, June 24, 2019

For 40 years, Keith Wassum, the associate vice chancellor for business services, has been a tireless advocate for all things UNC Charlotte. His reputation on campus is that of highest compliment. He is known to always have students’ best interest in mind when making decisions or proposing new ideas.

Keith is often described as a people person who finds joy in learning about other people and their stories. Below are just a few reflections from his current and former colleagues about what he has meant to them and to UNC Charlotte. Each respondent was asked to describe Keith in one word, share their favorite memory of him and/or list what they believe to be his most important accomplishment at the University.   

Note: Some of the messages have been edited for clarity and space. If you have concerns or comments, please email ba-comms@uncc.edu.


Word art in the shape of the UNC Charlotte crown. The words describe Keith.
Just a few of the words colleagues chose to describe Keith Wassum.

Phil Dubois, Chancellor
“When Keith began his tenure at UNC Charlotte in 1979, there were 9,088 enrolled students. 
Today, we are nearing 30,000. There is not a single student who has attended this University in Keith’s 40 years here who hasn’t been touched in some way by his work -- whether they know it or not.

Anyone who has enjoyed the benefits of the Barnhardt Student Activity Center, savored a meal at South Village, enjoyed the concessions at a football game, or appreciated the benefits of a robust campus transit system has Keith to thank. In four decades, there are few areas of campus that have not been positively impacted by his leadership.

As most everyone knows, Keith is a straight shooter. In my time as provost and then chancellor, I have never had to wonder what is on his mind. Keith has always given me his honest counsel, and he has done so with only one concern: Doing what is best for UNC Charlotte and the students we serve.”

Beth Hardin, vice chancellor, Business Affairs
“My favorite memory of Keith was the wine dinners. Especially the dinner the week of April 30, that allowed people to care for each other through conversation, reconnecting with what is good, and ‘bread and wine.’ His greatest contribution to campus, if I must choose only one, would be the entire football initiative. It was collaborative and creative and made the entire campus better. The zero-waste initiative demonstrated national leadership.”

Doug Lape, director, Parking and Transportation Services (PaTS)
“He worked countless hours to ensure he and his team were doing everything possible to support the students. I’ve never seen a man as dedicated to a cause as Keith.”

Mark Lariviere, technology support analyst, Auxiliary Services
“Keith has an uncanny ability to look at a lengthy report loaded with figures and place his finger on an item deep in the details and say, ‘that doesn't look right to me.’ I would look over the code and often found that he was right. I don't know how he did it.”

Horace Lytch, director, Mail and Package Services
“He always supported bold ideas and the progress of Mail Services, even in times of financial uncertainty.”

Cindy Lee, business technology applications analyst, Auxiliary Services
“I think Keith's most important contribution to campus is making people feel at ease daily. Whether facilitating contracts impacting campus life such as with CATS or Chartwells, playing basketball with fellow staff members, or simply singing and trumpeting through the halls, his presence is immeasurable. He will be missed!”

Helena Connors, assistant director, PaTS
“My memory of Keith is him walking the halls of our building to greet everyone. He always took time to talk to us, not just pass us by. One of his greatest contributions to campus was negotiating the cost for the light rail all-access passes for students, faculty and staff.”

Jim Hoppa, former senior associate vice chancellor, Student Affairs
“Keith has always been a driving force behind what is best for our students, staff, faculty and campus community. He always knows how to treat others.”

Keith Wassum and Chancellor Philip L. Dubois
Keith Wassum and Chancellor Phil Dubois

Nelda Tatum, university program specialist, Business Affairs
“When I worked with Keith, he made the suggestion that we have student appreciation lunches each semester for all students working in the division. The graduating seniors were given a collage print of the campus. Games were played and prizes given to help students know how much they contributed to the success of our division and the university community. His kindness was very much appreciated by the students but those of us that worked to make these theme lunches happen were very appreciative of his thoughtfulness and kindness.”

Terry Setzer, former administrator, Student Affairs
“He is always trying to do his very best for those who worked for him. Thanks Keith for everything!”

Melody Harris, business operations director, Student Venues and Engagement
“Keith has always represented UNC Charlotte well.  He had the university's best interest in mind at all times. He will be missed!”

Gerald Spates, former director, Multicultural Resource Center
“Mr. Wassum’s committed support established the Multicultural Resource Center.”

Jo Prophit, former director for vending and ATM contracts, Business Services
“With Keith students always came first. They deserved the best service at the best value.”

Lou Ann Lamb, communications manager, Auxiliary Services
"Keith has led thousands of projects, large and small, from construction of the James H. Barnhardt Student Activity Center and South Village Crossing, to making and selling fudge in the old Cone Center Candy Shoppe. I think his most important contributions are the result of his irrepressible enthusiasm and unremitting encouragement. There is almost nothing Keith doesn’t want to learn more about and apply to his work. His wanderings into restaurant kitchens to ask a chef a question or study their back-of-house or hood system are reflected in the kitchens of Crown Commons and SoVi. He can tell you what the optimal butt rub rating should be on chair upholstery and the varietal traits and proper culinary indications of popcorn kernels. (Those are both actual things, I'm not making this up!) In terms of leadership, anyone who has ever worked for Keith will say that he “holds feet to the fire” and in the same breath will say that he “washes feet” as well. He is the University's secret sauce."

Jackie Simpson, former associate vice chancellor and director, Housing and Residence Life
“It is impossible to pick just one contribution Keith has made to the University, but from a Housing Director's perspective, I'll say the building of SoVi. It is a spectacular building that brings a sense of community to the south side of campus, changing its look, feel and desirability. Keith is multifaceted. He is tenacious in management of his areas, he is a pitbull in negotiations, he has a teddy bear heart full of compassion and empathy and he doesn't forget his friends. There were times our roles on campus did not always put us in a position to be in agreement, but even during those times, I always knew Keith was a friend.”  

Sarah Lynch, resident district manager, Chartwells Dining Services
“His leadership and compassion during the recent tragedy have made a lasting impression on me. I think his greatest campus contribution was Chartwells.”

Michael Avery, assistant director for operations, Student Union
"My favorite memory of Keith is playing faculty/staff basketball.”


Geneice Bond, director of marketing and guest experience, Chartwells Dining Services

“I have always appreciated his trust in me and welcoming me to the team.  I promised him that I would be the last marketer that he would come across with Chartwells at UNC Charlotte! Look Keith, I made it! Will totally miss you!”

Keith greets guests during a wine dinner in the Bistro, held to showcase the culinary talents of the Chartwells team.
Keith greets guests during a wine dinner in the Bistro, held to showcase the culinary talents of the Chartwells team.

Jamie Lawing (Clinton), catering executive chef, Chartwells Dining Services
“I have always loved Keith coming to my culinary competition practice runs. I valued that one-on-one time with him and he has always been a cheerleader of mine. For that, I am thankful for the time we got to know each other.”

Karen Natale, licensing and contract manager, Barnes and Noble Campus Bookstore
“What a legacy Keith leaves. When my husband Mike and I worked there, we always used to say UNC Charlotte was such a well-run institution and Keith had a lot to do with that. I was inspired watching the respectful way he worked with contractors or other departments -- yet he was firm and demanding and got the best work from everyone. How fortunate UNC Charlotte was to have him.”

Jerry Ferguson, retired, Purchasing and Auxiliary Services
“I met Keith on Labor Day in 1979.  We were standing in the entryway of the old Residence Dining Hall, just prior to the start of dinner service, watching the rain pour down in torrents. We watched as a small motorcycle pulled onto the main campus entrance and started down the road to the Sanford, Moore, and RDH complex, battling the wind and rain all the way. The rider, wearing a rain poncho, was soaked to the skin, long wet hair streaked across his face, obviously, cold, tired, and very uncomfortable. We invited the rider inside, and learned that his name was Keith and he had ridden his Honda 750 motorcycle pretty much non-stop for 500 miles from Pittsburgh, PA. The fellow who looked like a drowned rat told us that he was coming to UNC Charlotte, fresh out of grad school with his new MBA from the University of Pittsburgh in tow, to begin a new job with Housing and Residence Life. Who would have ever thought that this soaking wet road warrior, on the little motorcycle, would still be here 40 years later?  
Wonder if he still has that bike?
As for his campus contributions, Keith did a masterful job serving as project manager for the Student Activity Center project. He pushed this contentious, problematic project to successful completion in 1996. Keith knew the transformational importance of the project to UNC Charlotte, insisting that the facility accept nothing but a first class design concept and, despite tight budget restrictions, an excellent construction implementation process. He accepted nothing short of excellence from anyone involved. The Student Activity Center turned out to be the jewel in the UNC Charlotte campus crown, setting a high standard for all of the campus facility projects that would soon follow. It was our sincere pleasure to have worked with Keith Wassum on the Student Activity Center project!”

Gary Stinnett, associate vice chancellor, Human Resources
“There are so many important contributions he made, both in Business Affairs and Student Affairs. His work with Athletics and the football committee from the very beginning was exceptional and critical in getting the football program and game-day support pulled together. It was also impressive how deeply he cared about his employees and their well-being.”

Katharina Findlater, executive assistant, Business Affairs
“In my short tenure here I can only think of SoVi being one of his most important contributions. What an amazing space for our students! Keith was a true original that I learned to appreciate to work with.”

Cindy Torrence, director of board dining, Chartwells Dining Services
“He has always been a voice for excellence and pushed all his programs to be the best they can be. ”

Christy Jackson, director of communications, Business Affairs
“My favorite memories are the wine dinners he hosted on campus over the past couple years, but perhaps not for the most obvious reason. The food and wine were spectacular, don't get me wrong, but what I remember most is watching Keith greet each guest. Not only did he seem to know every one, which he likely did, but he greeted them all as though they were the most important person he had invited that evening. He made them feel welcomed and valued, which is not dissimilar from how I have seen him treat his colleagues and employees during the work day. Keith is the type of person I think we all hope we can be -- honest but kind, driven but fun, and authentically himself no matter the situation.”

Keith greets the crowd during the opening of South Village Crossing
Keith speaks during the dedication of South Village Crossing as Vice Chancellor Beth Hardin and Chancellor Phil Dubois look on. 

Jan Beecham, former operations accounting assistant, Student Life and Facilities Management
“I have no one particular favorite memory of Keith. One funny thing I do remember is Keith collecting state quarters and I used to get them for him, Hey Keith are any of them worth more than a quarter now? I feel it is just an honor to know him and to have had the opportunity to work with him! Keith is one of the most kind, caring individuals I know, he truly cares for the campus community and the individuals he works with. He has inspired me on more than one occasion with his dedication to making the University one of the best places to work and get an education.”

Anne Brown, associate vice chancellor, Financial Services
“I'm relatively new to UNC Charlotte, so what I see mostly are the cumulative results of Keith's decades of work here. This is both in terms of facilities and services, but also - and equally important - the work ethic and teamwork he has inspired. These contributions can't be accomplished all at once or over a short period of time. They result from years and years of effort to build and nurture relationships. His success is apparent in how highly he is regarded across and beyond campus in his role here.”

John Bogdan, associate vice chancellor, Safety and Security
“The loaf of bread and the hot sauce are my favorite memories! But also the significant amount of effort he put into feeding all of the folks in Safety and Security over the exhausting week following April 30.”

Ana Alvarez, former director, Auxiliary Services
“The design, development and construction of South Village Crossing during my time under Keith's leadership was such a significant contribution to the campus that it will serve as his legacy for years to come.”

Donna Merck, associate director, Cone University Center
“During my first year of working with Keith (and Jim Hoppa -- in 1994), I rode with them to attend the ACUI regional conference at Virginia Tech. On the way back, they were telling great tales about how everyone dresses up for Halloween and asking me what I was going to wear on the upcoming Monday for my costume. I am quietly sitting in the back, thinking to myself, ‘I hope they do not think I am going to really dress up - even if everyone does!’ As we pulled into the Cone parking deck, because I was so quiet, I think Keith was afraid that I would really dress up, so he quietly told me that our office really did not dress for Halloween. This example demonstrates Keith to a tee. He likes to have fun, (when appropriate) but is always compassionate and always the first person to notice something different about a person (e.g. new hairstyle, etc.). He is very perceptive - but that also means he sees everything - no matter how minute. He sometimes drove me crazy with the "minute" details that always sounded like an urgent, 'get it done/fixed now...umm...request.'  But, I could never argue because he was always right!"

Olen Smith, former vice chancellor, Business Affairs
“I have long admired Keith’s superior management skills. I consider convincing him to join the Business Affairs Division one of my top accomplishments during my almost 25 years at UNC Charlotte. He was capable and willing to handle any assignment within his wide scope of responsibilities and occasionally some outside those considerable duties. Early in Keith’s time in Business Affairs, the University received a donation of the home of a prominent Charlotte journalist. I asked Keith to sell the property realizing the maximum proceeds for the University’s endowment. Keith did exactly that! The only question he asked during the entire process was what to do with false teeth that the owner had left on his desk. Keith is truly multi-talented. The University has benefited from is dedication and love during his long years of outstanding service.”

Cathy Bolen, administrative assistant, Business Affairs
“It's only one of many but I remember a time involving our student worker. She was nearing completion of her studies and thought she would be graduating in the Spring, only to find out she was short some credit hours. She came to work despite being upset and crying. Keith talked her through it and treated her as if she were his own daughter. She was so hurt and disappointed but Keith reverted to his Student Affairs skills and made her feel better. Keith may have a gruff exterior at times but inside he is 100% pure Niner gold.”

Robin Sutton, marketing director, Business Services
"I will always remember the daily yelling down the hall or Friday morning Motown dance parties. But more importantly, I've had a multitude of bosses from a variety of industries over the last 14 years. Keith forever will stand above them all. He exemplifies what a true leader should look like. He provides a loaf of bread to each and every new employee, regardless of position, showing that he truly cares and values everyone. He knows everyone's name and is genuinely concerned about their well-being along with their family's well-being. He always remembers why we are here and does what's right, no matter who he has to annoy or defy in the process. And he's never afraid to jump in and get his hands dirty. No job is too small or beneath him. I was only able to work with Keith for a year, but his example of what a great boss can and should look like will leave an impression for a lifetime. Also, the interview I had with him was simultaneously the most intimidating and empowering one I've ever had. For all of this, I am thankful."

Cheers to you, Keith.

Rachel Skipworth, bookstore and licensing program manager, Auxiliary Services
"What has he not done for the University and community? He is the number one supporter of the University Blood Drive that takes place every year, a big reason why SoVi is here, a huge supporter of making sure students receive a quality education while helping them save money with books, etc. (we have the lowest new book margin in the United States).  There are not many like him that take the initiative to make things better for the University, but also for those who live in the community."

Kenneth Field, director, Auxiliary Services
"I have enjoyed just learning from his years of knowledge on how we got here, what was behind the decisions and what to expect going forward. He is a very caring person and that is reflected in how he takes the time to know the names of the staff working in all areas of Auxiliary and Business Services. Baking a fresh loaf of bread for each newly hired person is also a great mission in making everyone feel welcome. His biggest contribution is being able to see the bigger picture and anticipating potential pitfalls. He asks tough questions and makes sure you have thought through the process. He cares deeply for this institution and it shows in his commitment to do what is right for the students, creating student success moments and memories."

TL Smith, former project coordinator, Business Services
"My favorite memory of Keith is him being a mentor, friend, and boss.  And many discussions on life!  His accomplishments are too many to list:  preservation of the Bell, construction of SAC, Student Union, South Village Dining, Football Stadium, many food renovations.  Food service contract and oversee.  Instilling work ethic, lead by example!"

Jody Thompson, food services program manager, Auxiliary Services
"From a dining perspective, each and every one of our facilities is an accomplishment.  The dining locations on this campus have top of the line equipment, well thought-out layouts, and all the best finishes to ensure our partners have the tools that they need (and more!) to be successful.  The Prospector Building, South Village Crossing and our newest addition, the Catering Commissary, are testaments to the attention to detail that Keith puts into everything that he does.  Facility design doesn't happen in Business Services without meeting with all future users of the space--Dining Services, FM, Auxiliary Services, etc.--and making sure that everyone has an opportunity to share their vision.  This is why the spaces work so well when they're complete--everyone is invested in them before the projects even begin."

If you would like to share your memories of Keith or wish him well in retirement, please fill out this form. We will make sure he receives a copy of all of the responses.