Dr. Barry Robinson: Why He Chose Whatcom

Dr. Barry Robinson headshot
Dr. Barry Robinson (Photo Credit: David Loudon)

After serving as the Executive Dean of Healthcare and Human Services at Seattle Central College, Vice President of Instruction Barry Robinson has found a new home at Whatcom Community College, excited to be at the forefront of what the institution has to offer both its students and the broader community.

Born and raised in Louisville, Ky., Robinson received most of his education in his home state before attending Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore to finish his graduate program and work on the clinical virology aspects of his career. Upon finishing this chapter of his education, Robinson later moved to Delaware in an attempt to help treat those experiencing nervous degradation due to specific diseases. Despite his passion, he found it difficult to get into a necessary position to do so.

“In the Pharmaceutical Industry, they basically like to hire at a lower level, and then kind of let you promote yourself up that way. So I was working on my doctorate at the time. So they usually have one doctorate kind of run a lab of, let’s say, 40-50 individuals that all have their master’s degree, and they work together in order to get that. So the level that I was at already, there’s very few of those within the Pharmaceutical Industry.”

It was after experiencing this career resistance that Robinson moved to Washington. “I just kind of lost myself within research for a little while,” he said, detailing his time in the state before his lab was approached by one of the Division Chairs at South Seattle College asking if there would be any scientists interested in teaching at the school. This prompted Robinson to make his transition into higher education.

Dr. Barry Robinson attending a meet and greet with WCC faculty
Dr. Barry Robinson attending a meet and greet with WCC faculty (Photo Credit: David Loudon)

Robinson was most recently employed as Executive Dean of Healthcare and Human Services at Seattle Central College from 2019-2022, prior to that serving as Academic Dean at Green River College from 2017-2019. His move to Whatcom came after realizing that several of the ideas the College was turning to, and implementing had already been suggested by him at his previous institutions to no avail.

“I did my little research on Whatcom, and found that a lot of the stuff that [Whatcom] is already doing, I was getting kind of pushed back on at some of the other colleges that I was at,” he said. “I thought, well, if I could get on here, I could help enhance some of those things, or at least be part of some of the things that I wanted to be part of my previous institutions.”

Robinson explained that Whatcom’s Cybersecurity Grant and five-year contract with Microsoft instantly made the institution appealing to him. In addition to the grant, the relationship the school maintains with local tribal nations is one that Robinson had wanted to forge at his previous positions.

“And I wanted to kind of reach out that way. But a lot of people told me that I needed to slow my roll. Because you know, that’s a very sensitive boundary that you cross into, and that culture has been burned a lot in the past,” he said.

With these motivators in mind, Robinson said that the interview process was what convinced him to make the move.

“The people here are very friendly, very welcoming. I can say this is probably the most welcoming place that I’ve been at in the state of Washington,” he added.

Enrollment took a major hit due to COVID-19, and was down to 4400 students in October 2021, a significant drop in comparison to the 6600 students who attended the college in 2017.

“Frankly, yes, enrollment is down,” Robinson said, before offering his ideas for getting students back on campus, as well as his optimism for a more in-person 2022/23 school-year.

Barry Robinson instructing
Dr. Barry Robinson conversing with community member (Photo Credit: David Loudon)

“I think that we’re going to have more people on campus. One of the things that the cabinet and I are trying to work on is to get basically more presence of faculty … on campus. And as a result of that, we’ll have the draw of more students,” he said. “We’re gonna have a lot more students out here, and a lot more cultural and different activities that’s going to have everybody entertained.”

As Vice President for Instruction, Robinson represents WCC academically both locally, statewide, and nationally. Over the next few years, he would like to see WCC become more integrated with the Northwest Indian College, as well as industry partnerships in the area that provide the means for students to go to school, and gain working experience. As far as on-campus life, he shared a specific vision.

“You can look at the college structure as being four tiers. But I want that to be seamless. And what I mean by that is, so when a student comes on board, their interactions with everybody on campus is seamless. They don’t know where you are, they don’t know if you belong to this or that group. It’s just basically everybody helping students along the way,” he said, “and not saying that none of that’s missing now, I would just like to enhance on some of those things that are already there.”

Robinson closed by sharing that he has an open-door policy in his office that he encourages both students and faculty to take advantage of.

“When individuals walk through that door, I ask them … if you need me to participate in the discussion, or to just let you vent,” he said. “I know we all need to get some things off our chest sometimes and just having someone there and present and listening is sometimes a great thing, so come on back.”

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