By Staff Reports
(Victor Valley)– Robert “Bob” Blackey has made CSUSB history — and he is, in fact, a history professor.
The 2017-18 academic year marks Blackey’s 50th and final year of teaching at Cal State San Bernardino, the first faculty member at the university to reach this milestone. To date, no other CSUSB faculty member has even reached 45 years of service.
When Blackey started his teaching career in CSUSB’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences in fall of 1968, the campus was just three years old with fewer than 2,000 students. In fact, CSUSB had yet to even reach university status. As much as the university has grown over the last five decades, Blackey has grown right along with it.
“Being here has helped me to grow and has led me to opportunities, which then led me to even more opportunities,” said Blackey.
But before Blackey seized these opportunities, which have led him to 50 years’ worth of awards, committees, presentations, publications, world travel, and now a CSUSB teaching landmark, he was sometimes doubted by his superiors.
“I was never a good test taker,” Blackey admitted. Due to his test scores, his high school guidance counselor told him that the only educational goal he should try reaching is to attend a two-year college.
Instead of succumbing to his counselor’s discouraging words, the New York native used them as motivation and was ultimately accepted into City College of New York as a history major. He went on to earn both his master’s and Ph.D. in history from New York University.
“Fortunately, I persisted,” Blackey said when recalling his past struggles. He now uses his experiences to motivate others and often gives presentations to students of all ages.
For the last 35 years, Blackey has participated in Project UPBEAT, a program designed to encourage middle school students to attend college. Blackey was the first CSUSB faculty member asked to be involved with the program and, at one point, he was giving up to 16 talks in one academic year. In total, he has given more than 250 of these presentations to thousands of middle school students.
“Dr. Blackey’s presentations have been engaging, motivational and interesting,” says Olivia Rosas, associate vice president of CSUSB’s enrollment management, who began working with Blackey over 30 years ago when she was hired as CSUSB’s outreach coordinator.
Blackey has also participated in other educational outreach programs, like GEAR UP, and has given more than 250 lecture presentations to elementary and high school students, primarily in San Bernardino and Riverside counties. During all of his talks, Blackey often tells his young audience: “Don’t let yourself be labeled when you have ambition for more.”
Although he surpassed his high school guidance counselor’s expectations, Blackey admits to being very nervous when he first came to CSUSB.
“I was intimidated and self-conscious,” Blackey said when reflecting on his first day as a 26-year-old assistant professor, especially since one of his first students was married to the chair of the sociology department.
Over time, his nerves subsided, and he found his distinct teaching style, which involves a lot of visuals to “humanize historical figures” and “bring characters to life.” Blackey’s favorite visual to use is a transparency. He claims he “went crazy” making them and, today, has thousands of transparencies that he still uses in his classroom.
“I use them in creative ways, including by crafting historical narratives through sequences of images,” Blackey said. He has even published a book and several articles on the use of images and similar subjects related to the teaching and learning of history.
Blackey is also known to bring props, like a toy rat when he teaches the Black Plague, which he playfully tosses to the students to grab their attention.
“It makes things more fun for me and for them,” he said. While he enjoys a bit of amusement in his classroom, he still describes his teaching as “demanding, but fair.”
His effective teaching style led him to receive a CSUSB Outstanding Professor Award for the 1983-84 academic year. Blackey has also earned several prestigious recognitions over the years, including the Eugene Asher Distinguished Teaching Award of the American Historical Association in 2001, which is given to only one historian each year. Blackey is also only the second CSUSB professor to earn the Wang Family Excellence Award of the California State University system, which he received in 2003.
An accomplished writer, Blackey has published a number of books, articles, book chapters, book reviews and pamphlets, and has written numerous Letters to the Editor, which have been published in popular news sources like The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post. His first one was published in 1968 to The New York Times about the controversial double standards he saw in the 1968 Olympics. His latest publication is a letter in the October 2017 issue of the newsmagazine “Perspectives on History” by the American Historical Association.
Blackey says he enjoys giving to others and tries to contribute as much as he can. One way he is giving back to the CSUSB campus is through a scholarship he created in consultation with the college’s development staff. The scholarship, called the Robert Blackey Scholarship, is for history majors seeking a career in either secondary school or higher education, or another history-related career. After more than four years of creating the scholarship, the first one was given in spring 2017.
Blackey is also dedicated to giving back to the community, as he was an avid blood donor for almost 35 years, giving approximately 32 gallons.
“I’ve learned to like to give,” said Blackey, who came from humble beginnings. “It feels good to make a contribution and do something for the community.”
Now that his 50-year chapter at CSUSB is about to close — what made him stay here for five decades? He simply “likes it here.” In fact, in 50 years, he has missed only one day of work due to illness.
“Dr. Blackey’s tenure as a faculty member at CSUSB is a testament to the profession and his passion for teaching,” said Rosas. “He brings a high level of energy, enthusiasm and wisdom into the classroom.”
Blackey — who has held major leadership positions, both elected and appointed, with the American Historical Association, The College Board and the Educational Testing Service — looks at his 50-year achievement as not merely a matter of longevity, but also with respect to the quality of what he has put into those years to serve the world of education. His teaching methods, professional activity and service have reached the campus, the community, the state and across the nation.
“Besides my children, teaching has been the center of my life,” Blackey said.
And he doesn’t plan to stop once he officially retires; as a dedicated promoter for higher education, Blackey would like to continue participating in outreach programs and giving presentations to advocate college to K-12 students.
His parting advice? “Always work hard. Never sell yourself short.”