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Robinson retires from PVCC after 42 years

By Max Walpole

Courtesy Piedmont Virginia Community College

Instantly recognizable by any PVCC student or faculty member for his distinctive neatly-trimmed, starting-to-gray beard, his warm smile and prominent position as the Phi Theta Kappa honor society faculty adviser, Bruce Robinson has been a valued member of the community ever since he began working at PVCC in 1979. After 42 years of teaching, Robinson retired May 14. 

When the resident of Cumberland County for the past 43 years graduated college, he was not intending to pursue a career as an educator. He served as the assistant manager of a department store before selling insurance in Charlottesville.

Bruce Robinson

“I saw an ad for Piedmont Virginia Community College for an accountant, and so I applied for that job in 1979 and was hired that September,” Robinson said.

He worked at PVCC as an accountant for 12 years before finding an opportunity to demonstrate his leadership skills. When PVCC updated their phone systems from rotary phones to the current models, he was in charge of training PVCC employees to use the new system. When it was time for Robinson to train the business division personnel, the college chairman was impressed with how easily Robinson connected to the employees he taught and how patient he was with them and asked Robinson if he wanted to become an adjunct professor. At first, Robinson was hesitant. “I thought, ‘Well, I’ve really never taught per se’ and he said, ‘Well, yes, you have, and I’ve seen you do it … you really do have a knack for it,’ and so I said, ‘Sure. I’ll go ahead and teach a course in Lotus 123,’” Robinson said. 

At first, Robinson was extremely nervous when teaching his first class. However, after seeing the student evaluations of his course at the end of the semester, he realized he did not have to be as nervous. From there, Robinson went back to university and worked hard to earn a master’s degree so he could teach full time. After graduating with his degree, he balanced teaching with his job as an army photojournalist until he retired from the military in 1998.

“So it was the military … that kind of influenced the way I did my teaching, because I would always tell my students, ‘I’m not a control freak, but I’m always in charge,’” Robinson said. 

Robinson is married to Ruby Robertson Robinson. She is a native of Cumberland County and works as a Cumberland Elementary School teacher. The two have lived in Cartersville for the past 30 years. Bruce Robinson is a member of the Cartersville Ruritan Club and serves as the chairman of the Cumberland County Public Schools Foundation, Inc. He attends church at Baptist Union Baptist Church in Dillwyn where he serves as a deacon.

Over the course of his teaching career, Robinson has learned as much from his students as they learned from him. As each semester began and new students joined his class, Robinson tailored his teaching to accommodate the strengths and weaknesses of each of his students.

“I didn’t have the same people every semester, I had 150 different new students. And so that kind of drove me to learn from them as individuals as time passed, learn new cultures, understand the value and diversity of not only the different cultures, but also the different ages and what students experienced in the class because my classes were technology based,” Robinson said. 

“(I learned) that they had their own issues, that they had their own lives. And that I had to do what I could to meet them where they were. Regardless of how many times you repeat it, I think some students didn’t learn it that way. So the job for me was to not let that frustrate me, and not let it frustrate the student, and give the student confidence that regardless of whatever it was they thought they did not understand, that I would always be there to push them to be able to learn,” Robinson said.

Robinson formed strong friendships within the PVCC community. He maintains a close friendship with Director of Student Success and Retention David Lerman. On memorable occasions, Lerman and Robinson have even taken to wearing matching outfits. 

“He is one of my very good friends and though I am very happy for him to reach this milestone, I will greatly miss having him as a colleague,” Lerman said. “He was such a wonderful professor, such a fine leader for PTK, and such a good role model for students, staff and faculty. He took immense pleasure in the lofty accomplishments of our college’s most high-achieving students, quite a few of whom won awards as the top community college students in Virginia. But he also was one of the most gentle and encouraging guides a student could possibly have, truly meeting our students at their level and working with them to achieve mastery of skills that would provide not only career possibilities but also pride of accomplishment and a growth in their self-confidence. Furthermore, he took it upon himself to reach out to all PVCC’s male students of color every semester and emphasize his pride in them and his availability if they wanted someone to talk to.” 

Aside from faculty, Robinson also approaches each male African-American and Hispanic student each semester and offers to mentor them.

“To me, being a mentor to students who look like me because they get to a point where they have communicated that they never saw a whole bunch of African-American male teachers, even in high school. They may have seen a coach or two, but once they get to college, they don’t see any African-American male instructors. And so I wanted to make sure that my face was out there for them to be able to count on me if they needed me. And so that, to me, is what I want my legacy to be,” Robinson said.

“I’ve had several (mentees) come back to visit and just pour their hearts out to me that if I hadn’t been there, that they wouldn’t be where they are. I will say that it’s a well-rounded group of people, not just African-American males or Hispanic males, but particularly (students) who have moved on to four-year schools and say later in life that they remembered me telling them that they could do what I do. That … my parents didn’t finish high school … I was the first one (in my family) to go to college, I was the first one to graduate high school and certainly the first one who was going to be a college professor. And as I tell my story to them, they kind of held on to some of that as they moved on with their lives and that they would either share that with a phone call by my office or they would actually let me know that they had children who are coming to PVCC and they wanted me to look out for them,” Robinson said.

Robinson does not regret his choice to retire, but it was nonetheless a tough decision. While he still plans on teaching at PVCC as an adjunct faculty member, Robinson immediately knew what he would miss the most about teaching full-time at PVCC.

“I’ll miss everyday interaction with, again, each individual student, because when I go into the classroom after three or four weeks I’ve become familiar with the goings on of each individual student. Whether they’re really quiet, or whether they are talkative, whether they have a lot of questions, whether they need additional help,” Robinson said.

The PVCC community will miss Robinson, too.

“Bruce didn’t just talk about education, empowerment and social change. He lived it,” Lerman said.