A tribute to the CEL’s outgoing director of the Olin/United Way Board Fellows program, Al Kent

  • November 30, 2020
  • By WashU Olin Business School
  • 3 minute read

Beth Doores and Amy VanEssendelft wrote this for the Olin Blog. Beth is WashU’s associate director for campus life and former CEL program manager. Amy is a current CEL senior program manager. Both of them worked with Al Kent and the Olin/United Way Program

The Olin/United Way Board Fellows Program provides graduate students the opportunity to serve the greater St. Louis area as voting board members through a year of service with a United Way-supported nonprofit agency. Students engage with community leaders and develop valuable skills in board governance, interpersonal communication and leadership.

Al Kent has been the program director since the 2013 cohort and has decided to “pass the gavel” to Karen Bedell, MSW ’18, in January.

As Al transitions out of his role as program director for the Olin/United Way Board Fellows Program, we want to say “thank you!” as we reflect on his impact at WashU. A charismatic person from the south, be brought (and will continue to bring) the St. Louis nonprofit community his time, talent and treasure for the good.

Al embodies the definition of stewardship. The care he shows for our community goes deeper than the hundreds of nonprofits he has helped. His leadership speaks to the humanistic approach he takes with graduate-level students as he mentors through the program, but also in their careers and lives. His attention to the person and to the experience is not simply what he gives; it is the very nature of his character.

Listening…then challenging

From the comfort he brings to a room full of strangers to his business acumen, he guides our community members to be social change agents. Al is about the act of activism that St. Louis thirsts for during this time. He does not boast about the nonprofit work he has done personally or his impact locally; instead, he listens.

After he listens, he reflects and responds with encouragement—as well as a challenge for you to look at things from a different lens, check your values and, in the end, be better, do better and live better.

A man of family values, his passion comes from the heart of why we do the work we do: family. Those whom Al considers family goes beyond his home, extending to the far reaches of the broader St. Louis region. He is always ready to take late-night phone calls, mentor leaders across our community and travel countless miles to actively engage with our nonprofits…continually working to connect the right people to make the most impact.

To discover someone who authentically embodies his words through actions is a treasure. Al Kent is someone whom we are honored to call colleague, mentor, friend and family. He has taught us why the act of activism is far greater than the legacy. Thank you, Al!

Melding social work and an MBA

As we look ahead to 2021, we are happy to announce Karen Bedell as the new Olin/United Way Board Fellows Program Director. Having participated in all aspects of the CEL over the past several years, serving now as the CEL Practicum program director, she brings a unique perspective and a wealth of experience.

Her previous experience includes serving as senior vice president and chief diversity officer at Centene, and she has held leadership positions in marketing, strategic planning and community relations. Her passion for finding the intersection between nonprofit and for-profit work led her to earn her master’s in social work from WashU’s Brown School, which connected her with the CEL. She combines both her MBA—which she earned at St. Louis University in 1984—and her MSW in an impactful and cohesive manner, to the benefit of all who work with her.

Al Kent will be transitioning in December as Karen takes over in her new role in January. Visit the Center for Experiential Learning page for more information.

About the Author

Washington University in Saint Louis

WashU Olin Business School

Firmly established at the Gateway to the West, Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis stands as the gateway to something far grander in scale. The education we deliver prepares our students to thoughtfully make difficult decisions—the kind that can change the world.

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