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The “W” Factor: A Crucible Where Friendships Can Be Formed

I’m a better Wabash alumnus because I know Kaz. I’m a better Lambda Chi brother. I am better man because I know Kaz.
Rob Shook ’83

Kaz Koehring ’18 was a freshman waiting for Glee Club practice to start on the Salter Hall stage when IBM Program Director Rob Shook ’83 walked in.

“Rob comes to Glee Club practice whenever he’s back on campus,” Kaz explains. “He sings with us, which is awesome.”

Kaz introduced himself.

“We started chatting on stage, sang together, then stayed in touch.”

“As an alumnus there are two things that I can do for students,” Rob says. “I can shorten the learning curve, and I can make connections. The more I know about what students are trying to accomplish and what their goals are, the easier it is for me to make meaningful connections for them.”

In Kaz’s case, that connection would eventually lead to an internship at IBM and a recently accepted job offer there.

But the mentorship began as a friendship, and that remains its foundation. It’s a crucial one for Kaz, who had moved to Indiana from an idyllic life in Hawaii after his mother suffered a spinal cord injury in a car accident. The tragedy took its toll on the family, and in high school Kaz’s teammates on the wrestling team provided much needed support.

“I have three state championship rings,” he says. “A couple of us were really good, myself and the others were just average. But it’s something about that bond —we’re all grinding it out together, working very hard. That culture brought us all together.

“So I started to get the bigger picture of family early in life. Things were diminishing around me, so I defined that for myself.”

He saw a glimpse of family during his first visit to Wabash.

“My clutch went out on my truck,” Kaz recalls. “This was right after some things had been going on at home, so I didn’t really have anyone to help me. I called Nick Bova ’17 who had wrestled with me throughout high school. He picked me up, helped me get my truck towed, and though I ended up missing half my campus tour, I stayed the night and just hung out.

“Nick and I were already family, but it felt good that he wanted to introduce me to this family, too, making sure that I met people here.”

Kaz sensed what Wabash could be in his life, joined the Glee Club his freshman year,
and met the mentor he calls “the constant in my life” that year at practice.

Kaz: Rob is vulnerable, not afraid to step into an uncomfortable situation and be who he is. I don’t know any other alumnus who just shows up at Glee Club practice to sing with us, get to know students.

I can share anything with Rob. He’s family.
Rob: This is by no means a one‑way friendship. I talk with Kaz about some of the tough stuff going on in life and at work. Wabash is a crucible where friendships like this can be formed.

Kaz: The classrooms, the campus in general, enhance vulnerability in people. They call on you in class and say, “Hey, what do you think about this?” Or, “What kind of man are you going to be?”

That question is something that I didn’t really think about before. But coming here, being asked the difficult questions, being vulnerable enough as a campus that we can share that and talk with one another, has been really important for me.

Rob: Wabash is a small college. That’s one of its strengths. I think that friendships are easier to form in this smaller environment where people know each other, where sometimes you’re sitting around, laughing about something stupid, or you’re talking about the loss of a pet, or the loss of a family member, or you’re talking about changes that are coming up in life that are going to be really tough.

You can ask “Have you ever had any experience in that?” and you’ll hear, “Well, no, I haven’t, but I know somebody who has, and I’m sure they’d be happy to talk with you.” Making connections like that. That’s part of the nature of this place.”

pulled quotes possible:

I’m a better Wabash alumnus because I know Kaz. I’m a better Lambda Chi brother. I am better man because I know Kaz.

            Rob Shook ’83