By Bryan Parys '04
In Jenks 108, a rustle of papers and a cup of tea surround Dr. Donna Robinson. “I’m burning bright—I’ve never been more excited about education,” she says. Even though she’s talking specifically about entering retirement after 14 years at Gordon, it’s not hard to imagine this same scenario playing out in her first year teaching here—even down to the same office. While she’s moved a few times, it begins and culminates in Jenks 108.
It would be tempting to call this “coming full circle.” In fact, Dr. Robinson has been drawing and connecting circles at Gordon her whole life. “I was born to Gordon,” she says. Her father was a student when Gordon was on the Fens in Boston. She graduated in 1970, and her children, uncles, nephews, aunts and cousins have all passed through these hallways. “It wasn’t intentional,” she says. “There was just a natural gravitation to this place.”
Her road to teaching at Gordon was far from circular— more a series of humble and abrupt turns that Dr. Robinson rarely saw coming. She’d pray for open doors, and then simply walk through them. Sure, she cut her teeth for 15 years teaching at North Shore Christian School (NSCS)— but it wasn’t a job she went looking for. She got her start by enrolling her children at the school. Much of the maintenance at NSCS was done through a volunteer program designed for parents, so she stepped up; her first task in a school was to clean the bathrooms.
She continued to rise to whatever need arose—developing a customized, first- of-its-kind special education program, going for her master’s in reading, and then pursuing her advanced licensure with future Gordon colleague Susan Wood.
When she joined the Gordon faculty in 1999, Dr. Robinson defined herself as a “connector”—which describes a learning style that she had researched during her time at NSCS. During her job interview, then-Provost Mark Sargent asked her how she planned to help bridge the gulf between professional teacher preparation and the intellectual inquiry indicative of a traditional liberal arts institution. This became a career goal for Donna. “No one,” Dr. Sargent says, “responded more enthusiastically to that challenge than Donna Robinson.”
She ended up choosing it as the topic for her three-year review paper, and even came back and interviewed Dr. Sargent. “It was a pleasure to watch her build trust with colleagues from other departments,” he says, “and to see how eagerly she explored new ideas about pedagogy.”
She went on to chair the Education Department’s middle school and secondary education programs, serve as moderator for the Division of Education, and take a leading role in countless committees—not to mention teaching hundreds of students, many of whom make a point of keeping in touch.
Now, as she looks back, she says with confidence that the liberal arts do help prepare teachers, particularly by imparting an open-minded and collaborative mindset. And again, she points out circles. “Who taught these liberal arts professors about the liberal arts?” she asks. “Their teachers!”
That’s the kind of feedback loop that keeps Dr. Robinson pushing forward—that if you teach well, you connect new ideas to old. It’s not a circle, but a recursive action of connecting to God, to people, and to ideas.
Bryan Parys works and teaches writing at Gordon College. He counts himself lucky to have had Donna Robinson as his supervisor for two years during his role as program coordinator for the Division of Education.