After Hurricane Katrina battered the U.S. coast, Danielle Robinson ’12 traveled to New Orleans to help the city rebuild. She helped other volunteers gut damaged homes so the rebuilding process could begin.
"It was really the hardest work I'd ever done, suiting up with a mask and hazmat suit and going into someone's home to face that destruction," Robinson said. "People's spirits were so strong."
At that time, Robinson was a high school graduate postponing college for the chance to see the world. "I was afraid that if I went to school and got a job, I would never get to travel and experience life," Robinson said. "I decided that I would jump into what I thought was real life."
A few years later, Robinson finally pursued college, where she learned that higher education would be another chapter of her worldwide adventures.
She studied at Tyler Junior College in Texas for two years, then her family moved to Virginia. She applied to three Virginia colleges and was accepted. Because Randolph College was the closest to her family's new home, she decided to tour here first.
"As soon as I was here and had the tour, I knew this was where I wanted to go," she said. "I never even visited the other schools."
Robinson majored in English with an emphasis in creative writing. She remembers her first poetry class, with three other students and professor Jim Peterson. The creative writing faculty helped her fine tune her writing in ways that could not have happened in more crowded classrooms. "They're published authors who know what they're doing," Robinson said.
Robinson also worked on research outside her major. Last December, she traveled to the U.S. Virgin Islands with a group from Randolph to test for links between human-caused bacteria and the degradation of coral reefs around the island. Her task was to document the research with photos and writing, but she worked on the research, too.
"I always think it's great to work with people in other disciplines," she said. "They had so much to teach me, and my questions made them think of something they hadn't thought about. Even though I wasn't a science major, I felt like I was still valuable."
When Robinson graduated, she was hired as an assistant for the College's new Center for Student Research. The Center administers three programs-Summer Research, which lets students and professors work on projects together during the break; Randolph's Innovative Student Experience (RISE), which gives students money to pursue research and creative projects; and the Symposium of Artists and Scholars, an annual event celebrating the best work among Randolph students.
Robinson also plays a role in running the American Culture Program and Passport, a first-year experience program.
She felt like working in the new center would be a good way to contribute to the atmosphere that had helped her thrive as a student. She hopes her efforts help students become more involved in research.
"Research doesn't have to be just in the sciences; it also can be in the arts and humanities," Robinson said. "I want to generate that awareness that it doesn't matter what your major is, you can conduct successful research in your field."