The countdown is on for a longtime married couple who

RRHS teacher Rob Keeney stands in front of some fractals he designed for a classroom wall. (Herron photo)

teach at Rio Rancho High School.

Rob and Leslie Keeney have been teaching here for 21 years, and, as of Aug. 22 when the Observer paid him a classroom visit, it’s “174 days.”

Don’t get the impression the Keeneys don’t like teaching, because they do, but everyone’s got to retire sometime.

“We really enjoy being with the kids,” he ROB??said, adding they have three grown children of their own. None is in the education field.

“We don’t want to go out in a fizzle – we enjoy what we do.”

And this enjoyment at RRHS is it for them; they’re planning to take the 2023-24 school year off and then start traveling, with a villa in Italy a likely stop. And they still plan to be education consultants, based on the six decades or so of teaching between them.

When they return home and are having dinner, he said, “We try not to talk about teaching.”

Poor eyesight kept Rob from being an Air Force pilot; his father had been in the Air Force, even stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque. But after Rob’s stint in the USAF working in electronics ended, he worked for the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone, Africa.

After that, he obtained degrees at UNM and New Mexico Tech and got a teaching job at JFK Middle School in Gallup. That’s where he met Leslie; the two later moved to and taught in Savoonga and White Mountain Alaska, near the Bering Sea — where they literally could see Russia – and got teaching jobs at RRHS a few years after it opened.

Rob, who just turned 57, got a little incentive recently, when the Society for Science, one of the nation’s most prominent scientific and educational institutions, named him one of its recipients of $3,000.

He’s not one in a million – 83 other educators were also named to the organization’s Advocate Program for the 2022-23 school year. In its eighth year, the Advocate Program recognizes and honors the perseverance, hard work and fundamental role that teachers and mentors play in inspiring and supporting students who are future STEM problem-solvers, critical thinkers and talent — the next generation of climate scientists, biotechnologists, data analysts, astronomers and engineers.

Rob said he’s happiest when he sees his AP Calculus students go above and beyond and tackle research. As a mentor, he presents students with research opportunities and transitions them from hands-on research to successful entry of those projects in science fairs, making STEM career pathways more welcoming, possible and inclusive for all.

“Research is a huge way in which we better ourselves, individually and socially,” he said. “Being able to be an Advocate is an excellent opportunity for me to reach those who may traditionally see research as nothing more than what someone else does.
“All people are able; some only lack the pathway,” he added. “I am thrilled to help change that.”
The real change, he added, is restoring participation in research, which he said dropped off quite a bit when the pandemic changed the world, and he said this grant “is to boost the numbers.”
Keeney, who applied for the cash award, and other participants in the Society’s Advocate Program work with students from underrepresented groups and from low-income households by helping them to develop STEM projects that can then be entered into science research competitions.
To date, Advocates have supported more than 5,100 students during their participation in the program, of which, nearly 4,000 have successfully competed in at least one science research competition. Ninety percent of those students are from low-income households and 70% are of a race or ethnicity underrepresented in STEM.
This year’s Advocate Program is made possible by Arconic Foundation, Intel Corporation, Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, National Geographic Society and Regeneron.