‘I am where I am now because of them’

Barbara KeatingBarbara Keating could not have imagined being in the position she’s in today: a professor with a Ph.D., a distinguished career in sociology and the ability to create endowed funds that give back to her alma mater and support the next generation of students.

“I come from the working class,” said Barbara, who is a member of the Burnett Society in recognition of her planned giving. “My dad was a road construction worker. My parents always struggled financially. But by virtue of having a higher-than-average quantity and quality of education, I became a university professor.”

As a child growing up in Papillion, Nebraska, Barbara said working-class families considered it a waste of money to send girls to college. But her grandfather thought differently. While he never attended school past eighth grade, he was well-read and valued education. So, he gave each of his grandchildren who wanted to study beyond high school $500 per year to do so. It was a hefty sum at that time and more than covered tuition.

Barbara attended the College of St. Mary in Omaha and received her bachelor’s degree in 1969. After taking some time off to get married and raise a family, she enrolled at the University of Nebraska Foundation at Omaha and received her master’s degree in sociology in 1979.

“UNO got me started,” she said. “They admitted me to a master’s program and encouraged me to go get a Ph.D.”

She recalls the advice of an influential professor who helped her feel less intimidated at the prospect of pursuing her doctorate: “He said getting a Ph.D. is less a matter of brilliance and more a matter of persistent hard work.”

Barbara received her Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and said the experience at both institutions was warmly supportive.

“One of the reasons I greatly value the sociology department at UNO and UNL is they were so good to me as a graduate student,” she said. “They gave us every support that they could. They saw our potential.”

After graduation, Barbara went to Minnesota State University, Mankato, where she spent her career as a professor of sociology. When she retired, she decided to return the gift of support she had received at Mankato and the two universities where she got her start. Barbara established estate gifts at all three campuses to support sociology students attending professional and academic conferences. The fund she set up at Mankato has already helped more than 80 students, and she hopes to have the same impact at UNO and UNL.

“This fund is in gratitude for the support I got for my professional development at Omaha and Lincoln,” she said. “I owe them … the encouragement that I got made a huge difference in my life. I am where I am now because of them.”