UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — To say that Tim Robinson’s decades-long career at Penn State evolved is quite the understatement. But, when you’re tasked since 1993 with bringing cutting-edge technology into the learning process, that just goes with the territory.
Robinson, who is retiring June 30, was hired as a technology instructor when the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences (EMS) sought to take advantage of an emerging educational learning tool: computers. Before then, he used his master’s degree in instructional systems from Penn State by spending more than a decade designing lessons for elementary school students.
“I studied anything I could get my hands on related to programmed instruction,” Robinson said. “Wow, what a concept. It’s called MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) now. It has turned into something huge but back then it was just a gleam in a few people’s eyes. Then Dean John Dutton thought this was going to be something big and positioned the college to lead the effort.”
Since then, Robinson led the charge in helping both students and faculty on many fronts. The college boasted one of the first websites on campus, which Robinson launched. He designed “The Globe,” a software-based, three-dimensional feature that projects data such as weather patterns, airline flights and continental formulations outside the lobby of The Ryan Family Student Center. He’s educated students on a range of technologies, including the EMS One Button Studio, blogs, spreadsheets and other learning tools.
After attaining a master’s degree in 1982, Robinson worked for a firm in State College developing learning tools for grade school students. There, a connection with a math education graduate student at Penn State led to a three-year excursion for him, his wife and young family — to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he taught young students.
He returned to State College — and later to Penn State — with a passion for urging students to get out of their comfort zone and study abroad. That’s something he still stresses.
“It was definitely mind-expanding, and I’ve been a huge proponent of study abroad and events such as the EMS International Cultural Night and EMS Involvement Fair,” Robinson said. “I enjoy pushing everyone to get out of the country and get out of that ‘this is all you know’ mindset to find out how big the world really is and how people in other parts of the world really are.”
Robinson says he joined the perfect field for him at the perfect time and he has enjoyed how his career has evolved. It’s a welcome chance, he says, that he joined an exploding industry in its infancy.
About seven years ago, he added lecturer to his job duties, teaching classes related to sustainability and energy, another passion of his. He plans to continue that effort. He’s launching a 3-day intensive ‘boot camp’ on carbon-free living. He has also begun to do energy audits for homeowners, businesses and organizations, finding ways to do more using less energy.
He’s added several classes over time and enjoys getting students to think about the global impacts of using energy.
“I have been privileged to have a bunch of students who are still in touch with me, and we’ve formed some strong bonds,” Robinson said. “What I think my lasting contribution is going to be is thousands of students who know something about energy and the environment, how the energy economy works. If me being here at Penn State makes a difference in the world I think that’s going to be it.”