Deacon Profile: Ken Zick

Ken Zick is the vice president of Student Life and a professor of law at the university. With his recent novel West to Donegal Bay, he holds the title of historical fiction author as well. Zick received his B.A. in history from Albion College  in 1971 and went on to receive his J.D. from Wayne State University in 1974.

Clare Stanton/Old Gold & Black

He also earned a post-graduate MLS from the University of Michigan. Zick worked at the Law School for 13 years, founded the Clinical Education program, and in 1988 was appointed vice president of Student Life and Instructional Resources by President Hearn.

Zick received the Kulynych Family Omicron Delta Kappa award Feb. 21 from the university for his service. Zick will be taking a leave of absence June 30.

What is a typical day like as the vice president of Student Life and as a professor?

 There is no typical day. That is what makes this job so appealing and exciting. In large part, there is a schedule to my week. There are committee meetings, meetings with staff and with students. There are also all the projects that a vice president is drawn into depending upon their expertise and interests. And all of that is punctuated by the needs of students, whether it’s to intervene or respond to a student request or crisis within an organization.

It encompasses a myriad of different human challenges and joys. You can move from celebration of a student accomplishment to grief of a significant loss. It’s very exciting during the academic year. It is a seamless life. It is not a job; it is a calling.

How did you become so interested in law?

 That was serendipitous, actually. When I went to school, we didn’t have the kind of purposeful career planning available now. It’s much better now that there are resources for students to reflect upon and to survey their interests. But for me, I didn’t want to leave school. I was asked to apply for several fellowships in journalism, divinity, political studies and law. I struggled because I didn’t really want to leave college. The decision ended up being accepting a fellowship in graduate studies at the University of Michigan. After about a year there, I got bit by the social justice bug. I wanted to change the world. I went to law school and I loved it. I loved the cultivation of the ability to understand how things work in government and society. It’s like a mystery unfolding.

I think every student ought to have some schooling in public law. My love was really teaching, though, so I returned to graduate studies and was fortunate enough to stumble upon Wake Forest.

What is your favorite part of being a professor?

 My favorite part is the joy of influencing students in growing. For every teacher, it’s exciting when you can actually see the lights go on.

You’re always looking at their reactions to try to make sure a student is grasping the material, and hopefully you’re energizing them. If you can inspire students with your passion, then the learning curve will be dramatic.

And not every student is interested in every subject, but I think at Wake Forest, students are prepared, on-task and engaged. A teacher derives great satisfaction from finding that engagement when it happens.

What do you like to do outside of work?

 I just enjoy listening to students and hearing about their experiences. I love traveling with students. Some of my best moments are when I’m not consumed by the rigorous schedule and I can relax and enjoy watching students interact. It keeps you very young. Going on the trip to Zambia with Chi-Ro was a truly wonderful experience. I also went on a Student Union sailing trip for spring break from Miami to the Bahamas. They were studying for exams and reading poetry, and you cherish those memories. They’re so vivid to me.

Did you ever consider pursuing a different field or career?

 I think you always do. You want to explore other aspects of your personality. But if you can teach and you can serve a community, there are so many disciplines associated with that.

I am able to experience student health, ministry, vocational counseling — all of that is Student Life. So in one way or another, I have the best job of all. I can explore everything from gaining more knowledge about pandemics like the flu to how to best approach suffering students who are survivors of eating disorders or how best to minister to students who are struggling to find themselves.

And just being a small part of that, even though it’s often an unseen part, allows me to experience the breadth and depth of human development.

I’m very privileged to work with a group of people who are unbelievable professionals. 

Can you tell me a little about your novel West to Donegal Bay?

Writing has always been a passion for me. I write a lot of poetry — poetry is therapy [for me]. It also allows me to capture moments in my life.

If you live a busy life, it seems to roll on endlessly. You need take time to reflect on who you are and what your purpose is in both prayer and poetry. I wrote that novel on summer vacations for five years. It coupled my love for history and my passion for Wake Forest and young people.

It’s about a young man who grows up in the mountains of North Carolina and comes to Wake Forest. Then a mystery unfolds and takes him to Ireland. It’s a historical mystery.

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