DHS grad takes world by storm
Rebecca Robbins keeps an open mind.
While she's a goal-oriented woman, she has a wide variety of interests, and works on several projects at once.
"I definitely am not the kid who's followed the most straightforward, concrete path," The 23-year-old said last week, during a phone interview from her Milwaukee office, where she's interning for SC Johnson in the consumer products realm. "I realized quickly in undergrad that taking opportunities when they present themselves can make for the most exciting career."
This helps explain the interesting path she's traveling down, which may not make sense on paper.
She enrolled in Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration in the fall of 2005, after graduating from Darien High School earlier that year. At that time, it was her experience running her own catering company throughout high school that made her think hotel school could be the best fit for her.
"I applied, and got in, and I was the happiest kid on earth," she said. "I tried to make the most of my college experience, and took opportunities when they knocked."
One of these opportunities came her sophomore year, when she met Professor James B. Maas, Ph.D., an expert on sleep studies, and the instructor for Cornell's largest course, Psychology 101.
"I fell in love with the class, and that's when I started my interest in psychology. I told the professor I wanted to research with him, and got involved in his work," she said.
Within a short period of time, she was working as head TA, researching on sleep, health and productivity with her professor, helped him write a book and even developed a consulting company to "develop health modules focusing on sleep strategies for getting a good night sleep," Robbins said.
"Working with Dr. Maas, he allowed her opportunities where she could grow," said Rebecca's mother, Martha. "They did a study at Deerfield Academy where they changed the curriculum to allow students to get more hours of sleep."
The study had significant results. The Massachusetts prep school pushed class start times back by a half an hour, and nightly check-in times up by a half an hour, increasing the students' sleep time by an hour.
"We saw everything go up," Robbins said. "Mood, health and grade-point average increased across the board for the first time since the 1700s."
"We saw Orlando get into the quarterfinals for the NBA for the first time in a decade, which of course we'd like to get full credit for," Robbins said with a laugh.
But while focusing on sleep studies was a major commitment, Robbins took time to discover her other passions. While at Cornell, she founded the women's club golf team. And while she wasn't in school, she traveled the world, spending a summer in rural Ghana, where she lectured at a dozen schools on the topics of healthy nutrition and disease avoidance. The fall of her senior year, she traveled to Qatar, where she served as the Psych 101 teaching assistant at the Weill Cornell Medical College.
"She's very careful to set goals for her life to challenge her, and she's undertaken some pretty amazing things," said her father, Todd. "When she told us she was going to Ghana, you could have knocked us over with a feather."
Before her trip to Africa, Robbins had an interview for a summer internship with a financial company in Philadelphia.
"The Ghana trip was right after she really felt she had a great chance to get a great job with one of the banks, and when we talked after the interview, she said, `You know what, the interview went really well, and I think I got it, but I want to follow something I wouldn't have a chance to do at any other point in my life,'" Martha Robbins said.
So she went to Ghana.
"I'm realizing that we're so blessed coming from a community like Darien, and having been so fortunate to benefit from the education opportunities there. It hit me when I went to Cornell that we have so much to give, and there's so much opportunity for good," Rebecca said. "In Ghana, I learned that just literally being a confident, college-aged individual can affect so much change."
While her wide variety of interests and experiences may not seem linear, they all come together in her mind. From her appearance on the Food Network as a teen caterer in high school and her immersion in middle eastern culture when she lived in Qatar, to her current internship and everything in between, each experience has served as a brick in the path she is traveling toward her ultimate goal.
"I'm still trying to figure out what I want to do full time," she said. "My career plan as of now is to pursue a master's in business, and a Ph.D. in psychology and communications."
She graduated from Cornell in 2009, with a degree in hotel administration and a minor in real estate, and will begin her post-graduate program in communications and psychology at the university in the fall.
"I have a passion now, having been exposed to the Middle East, for universal education for girls in the Arab world ," she said.
She also wants to work on psychology as it relates to international diplomacy.
"I don't know where I'll be five years from now, but I hope it will involve my passion; hopefully I'll be in a position to keep contributing to others," she said.
"And although, I'm not necessarily pursuing a career in culinary arts, I have realized that cooking can be a hobby, maybe when I'm retired, I can open up a café."