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Published on May 02, 2023

The Spirit of Aquai

3 alumni leaders at Mohegan Sun

Mohegan Sun exterior
The towers of Mohegan Sun reflect off the Thames River at sunset. Photo courtesy of Mohegan Sun

Opened in Connecticut in 1996, the Mohegan Sun quickly became one of the world’s largest casinos. Through expansions both nationally and internationally, Mohegan has continued to operate according to the Mohegan Tribe’s “Spirit of Aquai.”

This philosophy calls for welcoming, mutual respect, cooperation and building relationships, and is infused in the culture at the Mohegan Sun. The company also strives to develop passionate and dedicated employees, many of whom graduated from Eastern and found a home there. We caught up with three Eastern alumni and captured their stories of progress and collaboration. Known for their drive and enthusiasm, they work hard, uplift those around them and proudly share the culture and history of the Mohegan Tribe.

Laurie Keenan
Laurie Keenan '12

Laurie Keenan ’12 did not start college straight out of high school. A Montville High School graduate, she began work as a clerk for the Town Council, taking minutes and preparing meeting agendas. Wanting more, Keenan started attending Three Rivers Community College, then known as Mohegan University. She earned her associate degree in liberal arts and then applied to schools for her bachelor’s degree, with Eastern located closest to her home.

“Eastern taught me how to be accountable to myself – handing in assignments, going to class,” said Keenan, who continued to work while attending the University as an English major. “Being an English major taught me how to express myself.”

Keenan’s stepfather pointed her in the direction of the recently built Mohegan Sun when she had little idea of what to do after graduation. She interviewed with the office of human resources and was hired as an on-call data entry employee working in the file room. “I liked the company and being in the people business.”

Within a few months Keenan was working full time. She found herself admiring the employee counselors in her department, and when a position opened, she applied. “They were outgoing, bubbly and friendly,” she said. Keenan worked in that role for seven years, performing workplace investigations and interpreting policies, before being promoted to shift manager. “It was a niche that I really, really enjoyed,” said Keenan. She worked in employee relations for 14 years until staffing reductions led to the disbandment of the training staff. When the division was brought back, she took on the role of training manager followed by the additional task of recruitment manager. 

“We were rebuilding from scratch,” said Keenan. It allowed her to tap into the creative drive that led her to major in English. In her new roles, Keenan traveled around the world recruiting students who wanted to work in the United States over their summer breaks. “This brought diversity to staffing,” she explained, “adding value for both customers and other staff members.” In November 2019 she was promoted to director of human resources. Four months later, Mohegan was closed due to the pandemic. “I was out for nine weeks,” said Keenan, who returned in June 2020. She was happy when business finally returned to normal. 

“We’re a company that sells fun,” said Keenan, who described Mohegan as a team culture. Because of this, they look to hire people with outgoing personalities who are naturally inclined to meet the needs of others. “Mohegan now faces immense competition around the United States,” said Keenan. “So what sets us apart? It’s our team members.”

mohegan shops
One of Mohegan Sun's several dining and shopping areas. Photo courtesy of Mohegan Sun

Keenan has encountered, hired and worked with many Eastern students and alumni over the years. When asked what makes Mohegan and Eastern such a good fit, she explains that the two are in the same region and that Mohegan is a familiar brand. “It also offers a variety of career opportunities.” By recruiting Eastern students into internships, Mohegan staff can show students firsthand why Mohegan is a great place to work.

Keenan recalled that while working as a recruitment manager, a group of master’s students from Eastern reached out to her regarding their capstone project. They met up and worked together throughout the semester. “One of the students was a young mother who wasn’t sure of her plans once she got her degree,” said Keenan, who encouraged her to apply to a marketing position at Mohegan. “That position went to another candidate, but the young woman was hired as an executive host.” She moved up to assistant shift manager and is now an assistant manager. “She loves Mohegan,” said Keenan. “I’m proud of her. You just have to get your foot in the door.”

Joe Lobe
Joe Lobe '03

Like Keenan, Joe Lobe ’03 didn’t start his college career at Eastern. He began at the University of Connecticut but found that the school was too big. He left before his second semester and attended community college before enrolling at Eastern.

“I was a commuter at UConn in 1999 and couldn’t get the classes that I needed,” said Lobe. “I could sign up for an 8 a.m. and my next class wouldn’t be until 4 p.m.” It wasn’t an ideal schedule for a commuter.

When Lobe became an Eastern student, he continued to commute but had a better experience. An accounting major, he stepped out of his comfort zone through classes and extracurricular activities. He participated in the Campus Lantern and interviewed the rock band Counting Crows. He also took a class titled British Melodrama. Taught by a visiting artist, the class helped put on the fall theater show. “The opportunity to do something like that as an accounting major was unique.” 

Lobe started his career while still a student. In his last year at Eastern, he worked at Foxwoods as a financial analyst. “My hours were 10:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. Then I drove to Eastern for my 8 a.m. class,” said Lobe. He was promoted after graduation, and though his hours shifted to daytime, his schedule didn’t become any easier. “I was working full time and attending Western New England University School of Law,” said Lobe. He drove the 90 minutes to campus after work every day. From campus he went back home, and then did it all again the next day. He attended through the summertime and completed his law degree in four years. In the meantime, Mohegan took interest in his talents and headhunted him to join their mergers and acquisitions team.

“I was working to help expand business,” said Lobe, who since joining the team has been part of numerous expansions. He was responsible for closing the Falls View deal — the casino’s expansion into Canada. Now the vice president, deputy general counsel, Lobe describes himself as a jack of all trades. He oversees the corporate legal department, which works with all Mohegan properties that don’t have on-site legal representation. This includes properties in Connecticut, the Poconos and Las Vegas, among others. Every state’s gaming laws are different, and with Mohegan operating in eight jurisdictions, Lobe needs to know the laws of each. His job also necessitates a strong background in finance and government relations.

“My job requires a very general knowledge of the law,” said Lobe. “I’ll be looking at real estate transactions one moment, gaming regulations the next, then resolving an employment issue before moving on to a litigation matter.” It gives him the opportunity to do a little bit of every-thing and to use the education that he acquired at Eastern.

“My accounting and business background make me a dual-threat attorney, and my liberal arts education makes me more well-rounded.” Lobe offers an example of this, by way of a history class he took on Korea. As Mohegan expands into South Korea, his knowledge of its history, culture and customs has been helpful.

After several years of working at Mohegan, Lobe has noticed that the organizational culture is unique. “It’s the Spirit of Aquai,” he said. “It’s a welcoming culture. They expect a certain type of behavior from their employees. Everybody is very nice, and they have hired to that.”

beth regan
Beth Regan '79

A short drive away from the Mohegan Sun sits the offices of the Mohegan Tribal Council of Elders, where Beth Regan ’79 serves as a vice chairwoman and justice. This is a second career for Regan, who spent 35 years teaching at Tolland High School. Though initially unsure about college, Regan thrived at Eastern, where she found a passion for education, leading to a life devoted to teaching and uplifting others.

“Our family didn’t have a lot of money,” said Regan. It was Bob Miller who brought the idea of college to Regan and her twin sister Kathy. Miller had recently started the women’s basketball program at Eastern and attended a high school basketball game with the aim of recruiting the pair. “This was our first time playing organized sports,” said Regan, who jumped at the opportunity to play at the collegiate level. “It was a great place to want to be,” she said. Miller was an advocate of women’s sports and was committed to building the women’s basketball program, still new when Regan matriculated. Off the court, Regan majored in history and social sciences and minored in secondary education. During her student teaching assignment, she helped coach the school’s team.

“After graduation I had many job offers,” said Regan, who took the teaching position at Tolland High School where she spent her career teaching and coaching. “I loved my job.” While there, Regan specialized in Native American studies and Russian history. She developed courses on both subjects and, to enhance what her students were learning, organized trips to reservations, sweat lodge ceremonies and even overseas to Russia.

mohegan casino exterior
Photo courtesy of Mohegan Sun 

In addition to her work at Tolland High, Regan also created curriculum on Mohegan history and culture for Connecticut teachers of all grade levels. To develop these courses, Regan turned to her tribe for guidance. “I love the cultural side of my tribe,” she said. Her class for Tolland High was the first for-credit class in the state fully dedicated to Native American history. The work kept her connected to the tribe, and when she retired in the fall of 2014, Regan was elected to the Mohegan Tribal Council of Elders. In 2016 she was appointed to the position of secretary and in 2020 vice chairwoman.

The Council of Elders is tasked with overseeing judicial matters and the tribe’s cultural integrity. This is where Regan’s heart lies, with the cultural arm of the tribe. This includes their museum, library, archives, wigwam and archaeology. “I wouldn’t have left teaching for any other reason,” she said.

In a way, Regan is still teaching, sharing her tribe’s history and reintroducing their language through immersion classes offered to tribal members. Through her work, she hopes to keep the Mohegan culture going, to reclaim and teach their history. Part of this effort includes engaging with tribal members from out of state. “The pandemic showed that we can share with tribal members all over,” said Regan, who added that in addition to Zoom meetings and events, they also keep in touch with tribal members through newsletters, e-mails and homecoming events.

Regan has found other ways to stay engaged with teaching and coaching. She plays an essential role in the Mohegan Tribe’s partnership with the Connecticut Teacher of the Year Program. She has spent more than 30 years as a coach and volunteer for the Special Olympics and is a volunteer coach for Eastern’s women’s basketball team, where she also tutors students in history. 

“Eastern prepared me well,” said Regan. “It taught me how to be in a classroom and teach. Basketball taught me competition, teamwork, collaboration.” These skills were fostered at Eastern and Regan has carried them through her life. Now, she takes pride in imparting some of those lessons to others. “I want to give back a little piece of what I was given,” said Regan. “The more you can give back the better. Service to others is what drives me.”

Written by Meghan Carden