Newswise — When Jackie Kegley, Ph.D. looks back on the 48 years she's spent teaching on the California State University, Bakersfield campus, it isn't the many accolades, published research, or scores of courses she's taught that she thinks of first.
Rather, it's the many students who have learned how to think more deeply about everyday ethical dilemmas that the professor of philosophy is most enthused about.
In Dr. Kegley's near-half-century of service at CSU Bakersfield, she has been a tremendous catalyst for change and transformation, in her specialty of ethics studies and well beyond. She has taught business students about the consequences of an unethical sale on a business's creditability; nursing students about the moral challenges that can arise when working with young children; and computer science students about how to approach cyberbullying.
"[Ethics] is about mediation between views or about having the courage to stand up for values and having personal integrity," states Kegley.
Now the chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies; director of the Helen Louise Hawk Honors Program; and co-founder of the Kegley Institute of Ethics, Kegley and her legacy at the campus have clearly impacted several generations.
"One of CSU's main roles is, I think, to provide access to quality education for all our students so that we can build a strong workforce," she says. "But it's about more than [that]; it's about educating citizens to serve their communities."
These strong feelings led Kegley in 2013 to donate $250,000 for the development of the Kegley Center for Student Success, which provides tutoring and mentoring services, primarily for athletes. "Student success is being able to develop skills that allow students to go on and succeed in their professions," she notes.
In just the past few years, the center has been effective in raising CSUB athletes' overall GPA to 3.2. "Athletes have special demands on their time and they have to keep up with certain demands," she explains.
The Study of Right and Wrong
Kegley was drawn to the subject of ethics through her charismatic husband, Dr. Charles W. Kegley, the founding chair of CSU Bakersfield's Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies.
It wasn't long before Kegley began her own research in ethics studies, becoming a leading light in the field. In 2006, she received an award from the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy for her "career-long contributions to American philosophy."
When her husband passed away 30 years ago, Jackie created the institute on the Bakersfield campus in honor of his work and the many lives he touched.
Since she joined CSU Bakersfield in 1969, the school has, she says, given her access to innumerable opportunities to expand both the institute and her research — just some of the reasons she's remained committed to the CSU for more than half her life.
"I like the atmosphere and the vision of the university," reflects Kegley. "This is a place that is committed to student growth and success."
In 2000, Kegley received the prestigious CSU Wang Family Excellence Award, and in 2015, she was awarded the CSUB President's Medal in recognition of her philanthropic efforts, just two among many accolades given for her teaching, leadership and service.
Teaching by Example
Ethics — also called moral philosophy, or the study of the moral principles that govern a person's behavior — is a hot topic these days.
Not least because we all regularly face ethical dilemmas of some kind — whether it's a student wrestling with whether or not to cheat on a test, an employee who decides to blow the whistle on fraud at work, or a friend who fails to step in to stop an episode of abuse.
Kegley knows that a deeper understanding of ethical behavior is valuable to all students, regardless of their major or the career they pursue. In fact, the Kegley Institute of Ethics now offers an Ethics Across the Curriculum program that helps CSUB faculty incorporate ethics education across a wide variety of subjects.
"Ethics is best taught through case examples and problem-solving techniques and especially through the ability to listen carefully to the views of others and to be able to see some merit in all views," Kegley stresses.
Kegley's own research could hardly be more relevant; she focuses on the philosophy and ethics of science and technology. Recently, her work has explored ethical issues related to social media in particular.
"Since technology has burst onto our screens, it has raised many ethical questions," she says. "With the growth of technology, there is much more access and anonymity. I hope [my research] makes people more aware. It's about making people informed, better decision-makers and, hopefully, better all-around citizens."
A Deep Connection with First-Generation Students
Growing up in Fredonia, New York, Kegley didn't see college as part of her future. Not only had no one in her family earned a degree, but women weren't nearly so common on campuses at the time.
"I was not convinced that I could seek a university education since I had no role models or experience in this regard," says Kegley, who also didn't have the support of many in her family.
There was one important exception, though: "My mother had a different opinion."
It was that encouragement that ultimately led her to leave New York for Allegheny College, in Meadville, Pennsylvania; she graduated in 1960 with a bachelor's in English and history.
Not that earning those degrees was easy; money was a constant struggle, so Kegley worked four jobs while going to college, including one as a switchboard operator on the night shift.
Now she calls upon those experiences as a first-generation college-goer to connect with CSU Bakersfield's students; some 80 percent of the campus's freshmen are the first in their families to attend a university, too.
Starting out as an undergraduate, says Kegley, "I floundered around as many of our own students do. Growing up, I saw and experienced many of the issues that our students are experiencing."
Because her name and photo are ubiquitous on the Bakersfield campus, students "see me as someone who has made it," she notes. "I talk to them about how I started out and how those feelings they have, like being scared and not being sure they can succeed or have the necessary skills or support to succeed — I had them, too."
Kegley finds it easy to offer support because she's so often witnessed the power of both education and small moments of caring to help her underrepresented, first-generation students.
"I have certainly seen transformation in our students … We've had students who have been living out of their cars or previously incarcerated and they have gone on to accomplish great things," she says.
"This is what [CSU Bakersfield is] all about. When I see student success, it really excites me and makes me feel like what I do every day is worthwhile."