Name: Elizabeth Robinson
Class: Heartland Class of 2005
Degree: Associate's in Arts
Interviewer: Colleen Reynolds, Director of Alumni Relations and Outreach
Download audio interview* (MP3 format, 1.74 MB)
*Note: You must download and install an MP3 player (e.g. Windows Media Player) in order to listen to the audio interview.
Colleen: It's been a quite a year for the latest alum in the Heartland spotlight. The YWCA of McLean County made Elizabeth Robinson the featured artist at its Women of Distinction dinner. Then, a recent trip to Haiti inspired her to donate half of the proceeds from sales of her exquisite jewelry to earthquake relief efforts!
Elizabeth: I'm Elizabeth Robinson and I graduated from Heartland in 2005 with an Associate in Arts, mostly taking Sociology classes and then I went on to go to ISU and I got a Bachelors in Sociology.
Colleen: Tell us about your time at Heartland and what you enjoyed about your experience here.
Elizabeth: I had wonderful experiences at Heartland. I found the faculty to very professional and knowlegeable and always willing to help. Their office doors were always open. Probably my best decision academically was to join Project Rise. As a first generation college student you need that little bit of extra support and encouragement and a community around you to help you do your best academically. Being a part of Project Rise, I had that. It added so much value to my experience here. I met so many people through that group and had lots of great experiences both academically and socially. I definitely recommend that program for anyone who qualifies for it. It was also enjoyable just being on campus and really being involved in the campus community. I worked at the bookstore while I was a student which was enjoyable.
Colleen: Tell me a little bit more about your Project Rise experience, especially for people who might not be familiar with that program. What kind of support did it provide for you?
Elizabeth: Well Project Rise is a student support services program mostly for first generation college students so they offer learning communities which help you academically. They have them in English and Math mostly. They also have peer mentors who are fellow students who have already been in the Project Rise program, usually second-year students at Heartland, and they kind of help you through the transition of starting your college journey; helping you with study skills or if you have problems communicating with a professor or some other classroom struggle -- they can help you with that. I was actually glad to be a peer mentor my second year at Heartland. It was a valuable experience because it's always good to help someone along their journey after you've been helped to get where you need to be. We also went on trips, different culturally events locally and we had special Project Rise events to get to know each other and just kind of build more of a kind of community within the college.
Colleen: When you talk about those trips, give be an example of an experience you had that you otherwise might not have found yourself having.
Elizabeth: We went to a pow wow in a town locally. They had tee pees set up and I had never seen a real tee pee. You know I had only seen them in story books so it was just really cool to get a peice of authentic Native American culture and see of their story telling and arts and totems they do. Project Rise is great about offering cultural experiences like that.
Colleen: Are there individual teachers or professors along the way who you feel really contributed to your success along the way?
Elizabeth: Yes. In fact, my first year I had an english teacher. Her name was Jennifer Swartout. She was a phenomenal teacher. She took her classroom very seriously which I think encouraged the students to take their work seriously in that classroom and I think she helped build a good foundation for me to take my own writing more seriously.
Colleen: And that takes us to what you're doing today. Tell us where your Heartland experiencesled you.
Elizabeth: I'm actually undertaking a couple of different ventures that I can say my Heartland experiences at Heartland have helped contribute to. I recently returned from Haiti in August. I spent two weeks there volunteering. I'm also a small business owner locally. I'm a jewelry designer so the line of jewelry I'm working on now is actually my Haiti collection and 50 percent of the sales from that are going back to Haiti for a development project I'll be working on there when I return so it's really exciting. In addition,I have embraced a new role as a writer (she laughs). So I'm working on a story for News and Views (local,monthly free newspaper) about retirement and having a happy, active retirement and I'm actually writing about a lot of the resources Heartland offers to help individuals do that -- have a happy, active retirement.
Colleen: Tell me a little bit more about your Haiti experience. What exactly were you doing there?
Elizabeth: I went to Haiti because I felt a call to travel. Travel has been a passion of mine for a very long time and the opportunity came up to go to Haiti and I was there! So I worked on a project educating the local about water purification and sanitation because there is no running water in Haiti. People get their water from rainwater collection. If it doesn't rain for awhile, it creates a little bit of problem but people still know where to get water. They get water from rivers and there are a few companies that make bottled water, but of course you have to pay for that so that's not an option for everyone. So the project I worked on there involved educating members in the community about how to treat their water and we created this program to be sustainable. We educated certain key leaders in community that are going to go on to educate others in the community after the volunteers are gone. It was a wonderful program that was through Volunteers for Peace which has volunteer programs all over the world.
Colleen: Alot of devastation still there, right?
Elizabeth: Yes and you look around and you see buildings crumbled to the ground and huge trucks overturned on the side of the street from an earthquake that was what, last year? And, there's so much to be done. To drive down the streets of Port Au Prince and see tents which were nothing more than tarp covered over a simple structure stacked right next to eachother for blocks and blocks, it's shocking. I was grateful to be in La Vallée de Jakmèl which was a community on the countryside which was very peaceful, very beautiful. It was up in the mountains with rolling hills everywhere but even there, they were impacted by the earthquake but not as severely as in the city. When I'm returning, I'm actually working on a project to rebuild the infrastructure for the organization I was volunteering with locally and I also want to help start a library there because people need books. There's only one, small library in that community and I know that's something that I can do -- help spread some knowledge and provide a love for literacy.
Colleen: So when do you plan to go back.
Elizabeth: I'm looking at January or March.
Colleen: Very exciting. You've got your hands in a lot. How did your Heartland experience help you with your entreprenuerial spirit and also your writing?
Elizabeth: Heartland was really instrumental in helping me organize my time better which none of this would be possible without developing those good time management skills. Through my classes here and just trying to keep up with things -- had to learn that just to stay ahead. I think that Heartland also really helped me understand a spirit of community because there's a certain togehterness that's part of the Heartland culture. People work together here. The environment is very supportive and positive and I think that positivity is something I make an effort to reflect in what I do.
Colleen: Any advice for students going through Heartland today?
Elizabeth: Yes. I have two peices of advice. Take your studies seriously, actually study. And, if you don't know how study and you don't know how to take tests well, take advantage of the resources that are here to help you. There is a testing center. Talk to your professors. But, do what you have to do to make sure that you get good grades because no one is going to have a positive college experience if they're not doing well in their classes. Take advantage of the resources here to help you and two is to get involved on campus. The campus wouldn't be what it is without student involvement. I know now there are way more clubs and opportunities to get involved than there were when I was a student here which I think is awesome. So, yeah, get involved on campus. Find something you enjoy doing -- maybe something that's related to what you want to go on to study or what you're studying now. Just get involved and meet people and have a good time!
Colleen: Elizabeth, thanks for sharing your story with us.
Elizabeth: No problem. Thanks for the opportunity.
Colleen: We've got a busy November coming up with two career-related events. First, "Pizza with the Pros" November 17th will pair alumni professionals with current Heartland students for some one-one-one career exploration. Then, mark your calendar for November 29 for another edition of "Speed Career Coaching", from 6-8 p.m. in the Community Commons building. Go on-line to www.heartland.edu/alumni for more information. Thanks for listening. I’m Alumni Relations-Outreach Director Colleen Reynolds.