In her work as Polk State’s Winter Haven associate dean of academic affairs, everything April Robinson does comes down to two words: student success.
Fortunately, she brings to the College a long, varied resume — and invaluable personal experiences — that are key to resolving the challenges students face in their pursuit of higher education.
“My job is all about helping people advance professionally and improve their lives,” said Robinson, who joined the staff of Polk State earlier this year.
Dr. Martha Santiago, Winter Haven dean of academic affairs, explained that Robinson works with both students and their instructors to develop and implement strategies that help students reach their goals.
“She has a vast knowledge of student services and academics. She works extremely well with students and she has a big picture perspective of how the College works,” Santiago said.
Education has always been central to the Pensacola native’s life, thanks in large part to her parents. Robinson’s mother worked as a homemaker, and her father worked in funeral services — neither graduated from high school, but both instilled in their daughter a love of learning.
“They knew the power of education, and that education could change your whole life,” said Robinson.
Robinson’s mother taught her to read by the time she was 3. Her father purchased encyclopedias — one volume at a time as finances allowed — and the family read each one aloud. Robinson, her three siblings and her parents spent their evenings together, collaborating on school assignments.
“I come from a family of educators, even though they weren’t formally educated,” said Robinson.
The family’s emphasis on education was rooted at least partially in the struggles Robinson’s parents and grandparents had faced in the racially divided South. Robinson is African-American and three of her grandparents were from Selma, Ala., a hotbed for the region’s racial tensions, where they experienced firsthand racism and segregation.
“Everything I do is in honor of my parents and grandparents,” Robinson explained. “It is my obligation and responsibility to utilize the opportunities my parents and grandparents weren’t afforded in a segregated society.”
Though Robinson knew early on — from the days when she led her playmates in games of school — that she would build a career out of education, her plans took a bit of a twist when she was 16, when her older brother was murdered in the family’s neighborhood.
“The person who killed him was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and went to prison for only three years,” Robinson said. Voluntary manslaughter is the crime of killing someone without premeditation or planning of the act.
“I really wanted to try to understand our legal system and how it works.”
Inspired by her brother’s murder, she earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of West Florida, becoming the first in her family to graduate from college; she later earned a master’s in public administration from UWF.
Melding her knowledge of criminal justice and love for education, Robinson went on to teach political science at Pensacola State College, and later to work as UWF’s Criminology Program coordinator. In the latter role, she made it her mission to help students understand the root causes of crime, such as poverty, the lack of education and absentee parents.
“I was helping to educate law enforcement and corrections officers. I enjoyed being able to provide them with more than just textbook theories, helping them to learn more about working with people,” she said.
In 2006, she moved to Polk County, to pursue a doctorate from the University of South Florida. She held positions at the former USF Lakeland and Hillsborough Community College before joining the staff of Polk State.
In her new role, she helps students overcome any number of obstacles that stand between them and their educational goals. She often draws on her own experiences: racial prejudices, her work in the male-dominated field of Criminal Justice, the juggling act that allowed her to raise her son while also pursuing her own education and working full time.
“I share my story with students because I can relate to a lot of the situations they face. I share the strategies I implemented in my own life,” Robinson said.
“A lot of the success depends on time management. You have to plan your time and meet deadlines.”
One of the ways Robinson hopes to better serve the students of Polk State is by strengthening the support the College provides its adjunct instructors. She would like to implement an adjunct mentoring program on the Winter Haven campus that would help adjuncts learn about things like classroom management and teaching strategies, while also offering them a better connection with the College as a whole.
“When you properly equip instructors with the training they need, you help them walk into a classroom and motivate the next generation of future leaders,” she said.
Robinson’s office is in Room 102 of the Winter Haven Science and Math Building, which is located on the northern edge of Polk State’s Winter Haven campus, where more than 5,000 students are enrolled.