28 Days of Black Excellence: Keenan Artis

28 Days of Black Excellence
28 Days of Black Excellence
28 Days of Black Excellence: Keenan Artis

“Make it a habit to build connections with others who don’t share the same skin as you, the same background as you, the same degree as you, or even the same ideas as you. You not only learn so much about the people you interact with but you also discover new pieces of your identity if you are willing to be open to the experience.”

Keenan Artis


Keenan Artis is a senior associate in the workforce transformation practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers, specializing in data analytics and diversity and inclusion. He is a graduate of the UIC College of Business Administration where he earned bachelor’s degrees in accounting and management information systems. At PwC, Artis has provided consulting services to clients from a wide range of industries, including pharmaceuticals, life sciences and technology. He also leads efforts to foster the development of new Black professionals in their Chicago office.

Artis volunteers as a mentor for America Needs You, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering first-generation, low-income college students by providing tools and knowledge for success in college and careers. He was born and raised in the Philippines.  

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Tariq El-Amin  00:01
Welcome to Black Excellence at UIC Office of Diversity, Equity and Engagement with Dr. Aisha El-Amin

Recording of Dr. Martin Luther King  00:09
[Applause] Believe in yourself and believe that you’re somebody.

Clips from 1995 movie “Panther”  00:17
That we study and master a bunch of different things.
Why are you here? 
Study and master a bunch of different things.
I’m proud to introduce our new Minister of Information

Aisha El-Amin  00:26
I’m Dr. Aisha El-Amin

Tariq El-Amin  00:29
Welcome to Black Excellence.

Aisha El-Amin 0:35
Hello, hello! Greetings, UIC family and friends. Welcome to UIC’s “28 Days of Historically Black Excellence” [“28 Days of Black Excellence”]. I am Dr. Aisha El-Amin, UIC’s associate vice chancellor for equity and belonging. It is my great honor to celebrate the history of Black excellence at UIC with powerful, inspiring and informative conversations with UIC’s alumni, past faculty and staff. Each day we have a new guest who will share their story with us.

Today, I am really just honored and excited and elated to welcome our guest, Keenan Artis. He graduated in 2018 in the College of Business Administration. Welcome, welcome. I would love for you to grab the mic and tell us what you’ve been up to!

Keenan Artis 1:31
Grab that mic! OK. Let me introduce myself. Thank you. Thank you, for introducing me. My name is Keenan Artis, and I graduated from UIC three years ago now. I completed a degree with, as I just said, the College of Business Administration, majoring in both accounting and information decision sciences. Currently, I am a senior associate with PricewaterhouseCoopers’ workforce transformation practice and I specialize in data analytics and diversity and inclusion. Within PwC, I am also the new member development co-leader for Chicago’s Black inclusion network, were I build events and activities tailored to increase membership and provide a pipeline for new Black hires to connect with leadership in the firm.

On the more personal end, I was born and raised in the Philippines and moved here independently in the summer of 2015 to find and grow myself as a person and a professional. Every other Saturday, I coach first-generation, diverse, low-income college students, academically and professionally, through an organization called America Needs You. And just recently, I obtained my certification for personal training to inspire confidence in others through fitness and wellness. So that’s a little bit about me.

Aisha El-Amin 2:47
Wow. So, you’ve been busy [laughs]. You know, just a little bit.

Keenan Artis 2:54
Not too much. [Laughs]

Aisha El-Amin 2:55
[Laughs] We have to connect with your work and see how we can connect in some of that at UIC, because we certainly could benefit…

Keenan Artis 3:04

Aisha El-Amin 3:04
… from your work. And I know you have a lot of folks here that are still singing your praises from the time that you were here. So…

Keenan Artis 3:11
Really? Oh…

Aisha El-Amin 3:14
So, you’ve left a lot of fond memories. Can you tell us some of your fondest memories from being at UIC?

Keenan Artis 3:20
Wow, there are a ton. Um… as it goes for fondest memories, I would say being a brother with Alpha Kappa Psi, where I engaged with nearly 100 other brothers who are diverse, not only demographically, but also in thought. And spending time with my friends via study dates to some fun adventures in the city. Being away, thousands of miles away from home, my friends here have become my chosen family in the United States. So, yeah, those were my fondest memories.

Aisha El-Amin 3:53
Now, tell me did you choose your career while you were in UIC? Or was that something… How did that evolve as you were here?

Keenan Artis 4:03
That’s interesting. Oh, wow. I would say that I started out, I had an interest in accounting. And, to be honest, I was in high school and I was like, I want to make money. So accounting just made sense because, you know, it was like the science of money, right? And then throughout time, I just picked up some courses, learned about different technology and analytics, and that’s kind of where I started pivoting towards data analytics. So I was just really also pretty open to just letting myself learn new things. But I would say that I was pretty set on business as my degree.

Aisha El-Amin 4:42
Wow, wow. I completely understand. I have a first-year student at UIC now. My daughter, my youngest daughter.

Keenan Artis 4:50
Oh, wow. What’s she majoring in?

Aisha El-Amin 4:52
She’s in business as well. So… [Laughs]

Keenan Artis 4:54
Yeah… Make that money! [Laughs]

Aisha El-Amin 4:57
And, that’s her rationale. So, just to hear how you, you know, you kind of evolved during your college years to see…

Keenan Artis 5:05
Yeah, that’s true.

Aisha El-Amin 5:05
…where you might fit in. So, if you could talk to it, because our journeys are always having challenges, right?

Keenan Artis 5:15
Yeah. Yeah.

Aisha El-Amin 5:15
Can you talk about maybe some of the challenges that you faced and how you engage those challenges? Because, obviously, you were able to come out on the other side of them and finish.

Keenan Artis 5:25
Oh, yeah.

Aisha El-Amin 5:26
Can you tell us a little bit about how that looked?

Keenan Artis 5:29
Oh, wow. Again, a ton of challenges, just from living. But if I were to choose one that I really struggled with, I think across my entire college experience, were challenging my negative core beliefs. To provide more context, I had several experiences growing up where I was in an environment that made me feel that I was a freak in my own country, for lack of a better word. My skin color was being associated with a lesser form of beauty. My body — I was overweight at the time — was constantly being criticized for being soft, big, out of place, and misporportioned. And my kind of love — I’m gay — was viewed as something unholy and disgusting. I will admit that these experiences propelled me to move to the United States. However, back then, I believed that after leaving this environment that I would also leave these thoughts behind. But guess what? They came along for the ride [laughs].

So how do I engage with this challenge? By finding ways to separate myself from these core beliefs and to build healthier ones. I surrounded myself with friends who loved me for who I am and pushed me to continue striving for my dreams. I engaged myself in activities, such as fitness, learning random things and exploring the city. Joining a student org. was also huge. But most importantly, I sought professional help, which can be hard to start doing because of the stigma that exists around mental health, especially within the Black community. But, just as a PSA: It is OK not to be OK and it is OK to ask for help. Strength requires support.

The ultimate takeaway from all of this is, and this served as a very potent antidote to my limiting beliefs, is that I… there wasn’t… I realized that there was nothing wrong with me to begin with. You know? And I have everything that I need, if not more, to achieve the dreams and objectives that I’ve set up for myself. So.

Aisha El-Amin 7:19
Oh my gosh. Yes. I’m going to need you to just say that again, because I want it to sink in with folks. Just that, you know…

Keenan Artis 7:27
I’mma say this in second person. There’s nothing wrong with y’all. You have everything that you need, if not more to achieve your dreams that you’ve set out for yourself. So, believe in yourself.

Aisha El-Amin 7:38
I love that. I love that. I have to take a detour on our journey here and…

Keenan Artis 7:44

Aisha El-Amin 7:44
…tell me how you got into fitness and like what’s your thing? Like, I like to run. I haven’t done it like I should, but I ran a marathon and a couple of half marathons. So, what got you into the fitness thing and what’s your piece of the pie that you love the most of fitness, if you have one.

Keenan Artis 8:02
So, I’m the opposite of you. I hate running. But I know the benefits of running, so I’m like, you know what? This is medicine, we got to do it. And it boosts your confidence, all of that but I really like lifting. I like lifting weights. And, what got me into fitness, I think it’s mostly for the mental part and just the confidence building. I saw the impact that it had on my psyche. Just kind of witnessing yourself, like, transcend preconceived limits, right? Through exercise, you see your body kind of grow. You see your body become more fit. Your mind becomes a lot healthier and I just got really passionate about it and just integrated it into my lifestyle. I got into personal training because I just want to inspire others to kind of do the same.

When I’m in a rut, when I’m feeling unhappy, when I’m stressed, I hit the gym and for some reason I come back with all the answers. Not all the answers, but I just feel more confident to kind of take on the stressors of the day. So, fitness is kind of like my church [laughs], so to speak.

Aisha El-Amin 9:09
I love it. I love it. So, this is not a shameless plug, it is a plug that is very intentional. How can folks connect with you for coaching and fitness? Can you give us, you know, give us your information so that folks can connect with you?

Keenan Artis 9:27
Of course. You can email me at keenanartis@gmail.com. That’s K-E-E-N-A-N A-R-T-I-S at gmail dot com. Or you can connect with me on LinkedIn. I think I’m the only Keenan Jeffrey Artis there, so you should be able to find me. So yeah…

Aisha El-Amin 9:43
Awesome. Thank you for that.

Keenan Artis 9:45
Yeah, totally.

Aisha El-Amin 9:46
So there’ll be students that are currently facing their own challenges, right? That are looking at this, that look like you and that are going through some of the same things that you went through.

Keenan Artis 10:01

Aisha El-Amin 10:02
What are some pieces of advice that you would give them? Or, even if you look back, like your former self, like if you were talking to yourself, what helped you through that experience?

Keenan Artis 10:14
Whoo. Yeah, there’s a lot. But if it were… If I were to kind of consolidate everything, it’d be: Don’t stop learning, and do things that terrify you sometimes. Make it a habit to build connections with others who don’t share the same skin as you, the same background as you, the same degree as you, or even the same ideas as you. You not only learn so much about the people you interact with but you also discover new pieces of your identity if you are willing to be open to the experience, right?

And feed your curiosity, especially about things that are, even remotely, related to your degree. Perhaps you’re a business major, but you want to learn more about poetry, take an intro to poetry class, you know? Or maybe you’re an engineering major who wants to learn more about the fine arts. Take an intro to art and just be open. At the end of the day, you’re more than a candidate of your degree that you chose, or God forbid, someone pressured you into choosing.

Also, just finally, have fun. College is a great place to learn more about yourself and build the confidence you will need post-graduation in a safe environment with peers from diverse backgrounds, right? And life is so short — which the pandemic has made awfully clear — so, as cliche as it sounds, make the most out of it and seize the day.

Aisha El-Amin 11:28
Oh, I love that. I love that. I want you… Can you dive into “do things that frighten you?”

Keenan Artis 11:36

Aisha El-Amin 11:37
Dive into that a little bit more and tell us what what that means and what that might look like.

Keenan Artis 11:42
I think that doing things that terrify you is the number one thing that builds confidence. Right? So that could be something like, maybe you are… How can say this? If you want to learn more about, say Black culture and you’re not Black, right? It can be very intimidating to start that conversation, especially with social media having so much hate against, you know, not saying the right things. However, we need to create a culture where people allow… like, where people provide that safe space to make mistakes and learn. So, that’s kind of an example of doing something that terrifies you. Or even like when you, maybe during your second year of college or in business, and then you realize that like, “Wait, I actually wanted to want to be a doctor now.” Doing that pivot can be really scary but, honestly, if it aligns with your values, then I’d say, go for it. It’s going to be terrifying because it’s new. The future is uncertain. But that’s the only way where you can build confidence and really stepped into your most authentic life.

Aisha El-Amin 12:53
Wow, I love it. Oh, one more thing… I know you mentioned your fraternity. How did that help you through and would you encourage other students to get involved in that way as well, with fraternities?

Keenan Artis 13:09
Absolutely. Community is very important, just in the journey. What attracted me to Alpha Kappa Psi was just their diverse body of students. There were people coming in from different backgrounds and we all had the same goals to grow professionally but also to have fun and learn more about each other. And, quite honestly, I learned, I feel like 80% of the skills that I’ve learned, in that fraternity that I need to apply in real life, especially when it comes to having difficult conversations with people. I was also vice president of professional development for a time at Alpha Kappa Psi, so also leading a group of diverse people was an interesting experience, right? And it’s something that has really served as a launchpad to me being a leader in my firm today.

Aisha El-Amin 14:11
Wow, that’s huge. That’s huge. Wow. We have so much great advice that you share with us. We also have a way of connecting with you. So, for our students who are there now at UIC and who are, you know, having some trials of their own or challenges or really just excited about their next steps…

Keenan Artis 14:33

Aisha El-Amin 14:34
…I encouraged them to connect with you. I thank you…

Keenan Artis 14:37
I hope they do so.

Aisha El-Amin 14:38
Yes [laughs]. Thank you for making us UIC proud and being part of the legacy of Black excellence at UIC.

Keenan Artis 14:46
Oh, absolutely. Thank you so much for inviting me to have this conversation.

Tariq El-Amin 14:49
[Music] Thanks for joining us find more inspiring and informative conversations with UIC alumni, faculty and staff at blackresources.uic.edu. That’s blackresources.uic.edu.

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