Meet the Faculty – Dr. Angela Mackey

Associate Professor of Psychology
Chair, Social Sciences Division

Born and raised in Laramie, Wyo., but considers San Diego to be “home.”

“I earned my bachelor of science in biology (emphasis zoology) at San Diego State University. My goal at the time was to be an animal trainer, so I picked up a minor in psychology, which is how I was first exposed to the field of cognition. I fell in love right away! All the topics we covered were so fascinating, but I was still determined to work with marine mammals.

“During a biology course my senior year, we read a journal article on cognition in dolphins and once I realized I could merge my two interests, that was that! I started to pursue graduate work in marine mammal behavior and cognition and ended up at the University of Southern Mississippi, where I earned both my master’s and Ph.D. in experimental psychology.”

Teaching responsibilities
“My area of expertise falls under experimental psychology, so I tend to teach the courses that are more research-based rather than those that are applied (such as counseling). I have had the pleasure of teaching a number of courses in our program, including intro psych, human development, cognitive psychology, sensation and perception, learning theories, statistics, social psychology and research methods. I’ve also been able to create two new courses within our program: animal behavior, which I co-teach with a member of the zoology program, and animal cognition. I love being able to show students that psychology isn’t just about mental illness and therapy. There’s so much more to it!”

When did you begin teaching at KWC?
“I began teaching at KWC in 2015. I chose this institution because I really wanted to be in a place where I could focus on teaching well and building relationships with my students. My undergrad institution was extremely large and often had class sizes in the hundreds (sometimes several hundred). I was just a face in the crowd for many of my courses and didn’t truly get to know my professors until I took upper level courses in my major, which had slightly smaller class sizes. As I began my career, I knew that that kind of teaching experience was definitely not for me. When I saw the ad for my position at Wesleyan, I immediately felt it would be a perfect fit.”

Tell us about your career.
“I’m a big believer in not letting fear prevent you from taking advantage of opportunities as they come. Doing just that is how my career path has unfolded, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. After graduating from undergrad, I was pursuing my intended career path, working in animal care at Sea World. But an opportunity to study wild bottlenose dolphins in New Zealand came up, and I jumped on it. That opportunity not only allowed me to experience a different (and absolutely beautiful) part of the world, it also led me to graduate school, where I studied wild bottlenose dolphins in Mississippi Sound as well as in Utila, Honduras.

“I also had opportunities to study a number of animal species in zoos/aquariums throughout the States. While pursuing my dissertation work, I was offered an opportunity to study elephants at the San Diego Zoo, and once again, I jumped on it. My time at the zoo allowed me to develop a relationship with keepers and curators, which led to the further development of projects of my own. Now, I drive out to San Diego every summer in order to work on research projects in collaboration with the zoo. Most recently, I conducted a study exploring the cognitive abilities of the Malagasy fossa and am looking forward to doing a similar project with another animal species (perhaps the coatamundi) in the upcoming year.”

Why do you teach/
“I teach because I find it incredibly satisfying to share my passion for psychology with students. There are so many fascinating things that humans and non-human animals do! Understanding what’s going on behind the scenes to cause those behaviors/thoughts/abilities is so interesting. But at the heart of why I love teaching psychology is getting students to a point where they can appreciate all the different subfields and the importance of each in our world. There’s not a single career in which psychology doesn’t play a role.”

What do you find most rewarding about teaching?
“I find the biggest reward that comes from teaching is helping students discover their passion. Sometimes they come in knowing exactly what they will do and just need some help finding ways to gain some experience to get them to their goal. But then there is the student who comes in thinking they know exactly what they will do and their world is flipped upside down when they discover something else through their college experience. I love being a part of that process!”

What do you find most challenging about teaching?
“Apathy toward learning is a huge challenge in teaching (‘If it’s not going to be on the test, why bother with it?).’ But the challenge I face semester after semester is getting students to see me for help when they need it. It’s almost as if by coming to office hours for help, they are confirming that they are ‘dumb.’ I work very hard to dispel this myth and make sure students don’t feel judged when they do come see me. Sometimes, all it takes is a tiny tweak in how I’m saying something or providing the student with a different example, and all of a sudden, it clicks!”

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
“Spare time? Who has that? I guess if I did, you’d find me reading a non-academic book or having dinner and laughing with friends.”