It's not a typical senior project.
But, then, Keith Zittel is not a typical college student.
The 57-year-old disabled veteran is finishing up his liberal arts degree this Sunday with a project that involves him welcoming and escorting the national organization of Bikers Against Bullies as members take a break in the Niagara Falls during a cross-country ride.
Zittel, a veteran who spent eight years in the U.S. Navy, became disabled from a plane crash in 2011 and was diagnosed with service-related PTSD. Thankfully, he can still ride and, with his tattooed arms, black leather vest and long blonde hair tucked into his helmet, cuts an imposing figure on his Harley Davidson full-dresser.
He looks formidable but, like all those who fight for peace and justice, he tries to use his power for good, which is what he hopes to do with his senior project.
NU Associate Professor Dave Taylor is overseeing Zittel's final project, which the two came up with after discussing Zittel's passion for the local chapter of Bikers against Bullies. Zittel started the chapter five years ago. He is also involved in the Patriot Guard, a group of local bikers who show up to honor veterans at funerals and other gatherings. Although Zittel graduated in May with the rest of his class, he needs to complete this capstone project to get his diploma.
Taylor found a website about Bikers Against Bullies making a "Ride to 79" from Burlington, Vermont to Sturgis, South Dakota for the 79th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and music festival. Taylor and Zittel knew they had found the right project when they read the riders were making only one stop on their trip and that was to occur this Sunday in Niagara Falls.
"When I saw it was Bikers Against Bullies, I thought, 'Oh, my God, I'm a part of that,'" Zittel said.
Taylor also thought the fact that the bikers were stopping in Niagara Falls was a happy coincidence.
"The stars were aligned," he said, adding that "Keith is a joy to work with."
Zittel contacted the national Bikers Against Bullies group and told them he would help on this end with publicity and setup as well as organize a fundraising dinner. He arranged parking for the bikes at Goat Island and will help with logistics as the riders enjoy their stay, including a ride on the Maid of the Mist and afterwards, the 7 p.m. the fundraising dinner in their honor at the restaurant Chill 443. The evening will include a proclamation from Mayor Paul Dyster, to be delivered to the riders by Councilman Ken Tompkins.
Zittel also enlisted the help of Niagara Falls Peacemakers to make sure the visit from the estimated 60 or more riders goes smoothly for all. He expressed his gratitude for their support.
The dinner is open to the public and Zittel hopes that locals, especially teachers and parents, show up to enjoy some fellowship with bikers devoted to an anti-bullying message.
After the event is over, Taylor will submit his final grade and Zittel will get his degree in liberal arts from Niagara University. And while that is a big deal, he's got a bigger deal coming up in September. The long-time bachelor is marrying his sweetheart, Patty Vinson, on Sept. 21.
Then, he will follow his dream of becoming a mentor.
"I love kids. I love people," he said.
"I just want to be a good mentor," he added, noting, "I want kids to look up to me and say, 'Hey, he helped to straighten me out.'"
For more information, visit "Bikers Against Bullies Niagara Falls NY" on Facebook.