Graduate student Robert Keel (Class of ’09, B.S., applied studies/public administration cum laude) received an Outstanding Graduate Student Award from the California Sociological Association (CAS) at the organization’s annual conference in November. He was recommended by sociology lecturer Susan Fellows and professor of criminal justice Theodore Byrne and received a plaque and a $100 monetary award.
Keel, a Long Beach native, joined the Army after taking his GED and retired from the Army in 1998 after a military career that included serving as an operations manager for the Battlefield Coordination Detachment in Korea, ROTC instructor at Oregon State University ,and a drill sergeant at Ft. Benning, Ga. He also served as a squad leader in the 82nd Airborne Division at Ft. Bragg, NC. Before deciding to return to college, he held several managerial positions in transportation and worked briefly as a private investigator. He attended Cypress College, where he made the dean’s honor roll three times, before transferring to California State University, Dominguez Hills and earning his bachelor’s degree. He decided to continue at the university and achieve his master’s degree in sociology, which he completed this month.
With his eye on a position in a state or federal agency, Keel says that he chose the master’s program in sociology in order to “give me a better understanding of people and help me be a better leader. A master’s degree will put me in a higher position where I will have more authority to help people.”
Keel is a staunch advocate for encouraging his younger classmates to not only pursue a college education but their advanced degrees.
“Today, with globalization and the way the economy is, you’re competing with a lot of people,” he says. “There are so many people out there with bachelor’s degrees. If you have a master’s degree, that’s going to put you one step above everybody else. If you have the time and the money, go for a doctorate, because that’s going to put you even higher.”
A single father to his 13-year-old son, Cody, Keel says that parenthood was also a big factor in deciding to go back to school.
“At the time I started going back to school, [my son] was just a little boy,” says Keel, who will be the first member of his family to earn a college degree. “I was working crazy hours and my son was getting shuffled from one place to the next, this wasn’t any type of a life for either one of us. Being retired from the military, I thought I should use my GI Bill to go back to school and finish my education so that I could get a better job and use that time to spend with my son… and show [him] that Dad can go out and do well in school, and get a degree. Getting a college education sets a good example for my son.”
Keel’s military career has already influenced Cody Keel in one direction: he wants to follow in his father’s footsteps and plans to be go into ROTC in college, join the military, and eventually land a job with an agency like the Drug Enforcement Administration or the CIA.
“My son plays a lot of X-Box,” laughs Keel. “From playing “Call of Duty,” I think he’s learned quite a bit about history from playing those games. He’s pretty fascinated by all that. He knows that Dad used to jump out of airplanes and went on hunting trips, where the hunted also hunt you. Right now, that’s something he thinks he wants to do. But I think there are other things in life to pursue; the military is a hard way of life. However, I have no regrets; I just want my son to have a good life.”
Byrne, who was Keel’s criminal justice professor and also serves as faculty advisor to Veterans Alliance at CSU Dominguez Hills, says that Keel has been a role model and mentor to his fellow veteran students.
“As a distinguished military veteran, Robert supports other veterans working toward their educational goals,” says Byrne. “His prior military experience has provided him with unique insights into the world and its relationship to issues involving sociology as well as criminal justice. I’ve observed him working closely with other students who were challenged by the material. His assistance proved instrumental to their success in the course.”
Fellows, for whom Keel served as a graduate teaching assistant, says that he succeeded in balancing his family, work, and academic obligations beyond the call of duty.
“As a single father, he had to put his family first a couple of times but always made sure his obligations were covered,” she says. “He always did what he said he would do; I could really count on him. Robert was a team player and helped other students if they were struggling with academic work that he understood. I think this is what impressed me the most: that he would go out of his way, take time and care about other students enough to help them. Combine [his] modest dignity, excellent academic achievement, and reliability and I believe you have an excellent example of a military veteran successfully returning to college.”
Keel is a member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society and the CSA. He has been on the Dean’s Honor Roll at CSU Dominguez Hills for three semesters and currently holds a GPA of 3.83. He was honored in the Army with the Meritorious Service Medal, Army and Air Force Commendation Medals, six Army Achievement Medals, and a Combat Infantryman Badge. He has also served as junior vice commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Hawaiian Gardens, where he is a life member.
For information on the sociology department at CSU Dominguez Hills, click here.
For more information on Veterans Alliance at CSU Dominguez Hills, click here.