River Valley Community College
Associate of Science, Industrial Electronics Technology
Carol Robbins will be the first to admit that as a teenager, she did not fit the profile of what she describes as the typical “college-after-high school” type of student. Although she was bright and academically successful, she found her high school classes didn’t always provide her with the real-world applications of what she was learning.
“I didn’t see the ‘Why?’ of mathematics,” she said.
This experience left her drawn to learning trades like woodworking and other hand crafts. From building tables and chairs, Carol moved on to crafting guitars with the Gurian Guitar company in Hinsdale, NH until a fire destroyed the company’s factory and left her out of work. At the time woodworking jobs in the Connecticut River Valley were scarce, but machine shop jobs were widely available to a high school graduate with an aptitude for making things.
“If you can build with wood, you can build with metal,” she said, adding, “and you could make good money doing it!”
Around this time, Carol enrolled at the New Hampshire Vocational Technical College (now River Valley Community College or RVCC) to further her practical knowledge of custom machine tool work. Early in her studies at RVCC, a course instructor and mentor observed Carol’s aptitude and passion for her work and encouraged her to “go down the hall to the electronics program!”
After beginning her studies in Industrial Electronics Technology, a physics professor completely changed her outlook on more advanced mathematics.
“Everything was a physical demonstration,” she said, noting how she was able to fully grasp the real-world applications of concepts learned in the classroom and the many ways that physics and mathematics underlie the construction of the modern world.
Beyond a newfound sense of academic confidence, Carol also learned lessons that helped her grow into a more well-rounded professional.
“In factories, you needed to know how to do your job to be respected by your employer and your peers,” Carol explained. “But the teachers carried themselves with respect in all their interactions with us and in turn taught us how to present ourselves as skilled professionals.”
Her education at RVCC provided her the knowledge, skills and confidence to continue learning and advancing her career, while her experiences in manufacturing inspired her to understand better the economic factors responsible for major changes across entire industries. With a greater level of comfort in advanced math, Carol pursued a bachelor’s degree in Economics from Bryn Mawr College, followed by a Ph.D. in Economics from the Alfred Lerner College of Business & Economics at the University of Delaware.
When reflecting on how she evolved from Instrument Technician to a Senior Economist with the National Science Foundation’s National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Carol credits RVCC as being the catalyst for her career advancement. Between this and the work of her sister, Melanie Robbins – Director of Academic Centers at White Mountains Community College for the past 25 years – Carol is a firm believer in the opportunities created through the Community College System of New Hampshire.
“I was confident when I left,” she said. “I was holding a diploma in one hand and a nine-month-old baby in the other and felt I had the skills to take care of both myself and my family while also adding value to wherever I worked.”