Freda Robinson: the Definition of a Lifelong Learner

Freda Robinson diploma

Freda Robinson is proof that a college degree is worth the journey – at any age and for as long as it takes. 

Just nine days after celebrating her 60th birthday, Robinson walked across the stage during the commencement ceremony on the Kent State Campus  and received not one, but two, diplomas: the first for an associate degree in applied sciences and the other for a Bachelor of Science degree in Insurance Studies.

“As I was waiting to be called to receive my degree and in response to (the dean’s) congratulatory fist bump,” Robinson related, “I said to him: ‘and it only took me 34 years!’”

Yes, 34 years.

Robinson graduated from Canton McKinley High School in 1982 and, rather than heading off to college, she immediately began working at Nationwide Insurance.

“While I was gainfully employed, many of my peers and friends were struggling college students,” she noted. “I gave birth to my daughter in 1987 and in 1989 decided to enroll in college to attain a degree in education. It was very difficult to be a mother of a 2-year-old, work full-time and attend college full-time.”

After a year of trying to juggle these responsibilities, Robinson reduced her class schedule to part-time and eventually only took classes occasionally for about nine years.

Then, still working full-time in the insurance industry and making a “very decent salary,” she was encouraged by her son (who was then a junior at the University of New York Buffalo) to go back to school and finish her degree. That was in 2015.

“I was working at Liberty Mutual at that time and learned that a co-worker had her bachelor’s degree in insurance studies,” she said. “I never knew that was even an option! Going back to Kent State proved to be the quickest route to getting my degree without having to change schools and lose credits. I consistently completed courses on a part-time basis from that point until my graduation in 2023.”

As with many non-traditional students, Robinson encountered life events that increased her responsibilities, divided her attention and presented challenges: working full-time, raising children, relocating and a major health scare.

“One really big factor that I did not share is that I was diagnosed with a meningioma brain tumor in 2004,” she explained. “I had gamma knife surgery in 2005 and then again in 2009. I was told the radiation would affect my short-term memory and it did!

“I once had a photographic memory which made it easy to study and comprehend, but the memory loss had a profound impact on my ability to study and retain information. I was determined that would not be an excuse for me not reaching my goal!”

Today, after a career of 40 years in the insurance industry, Robinson switched gears and is the director of Workforce Development for the National Center for Urban Studies, working directly for the Canton Chamber of Commerce. She works with manufacturing employers to recruit individuals from underserved communities and secure positions for them with livable wages as part of the Good Jobs Challenge grant from the State of Ohio.

“My degree is opening doors for me that were otherwise closed due to a lack of a degree. In conjunction with my extensive experience, having my degree makes me far more attractive to employers,” she said. 

“I chose insurance studies because it was the industry I had been employed in for many years and the core courses could transfer to that major without any loss of credits. … I believe being a non-traditional student is beneficial because you have a better picture of what you really want to study. The option to take online courses is a major benefit because you can work according to your daily schedule.”

Robinson said that it is “exhilarating” to have earned her degrees, especially since she is a first-generation graduate. “Most of my friends have degrees and they were so proud that I completed my goal of finishing my degree. It took me a few weeks to realize I didn’t have to fret about 11:59 p.m. on Sunday nights, making sure all of my assignments were complete. It was a long and tedious journey, but I thank God that I made it.”

Although Robinson spent most of her adult life pursuing a college degree, she may not be finished.

“My fiancé, who graduated many years ago, suggested I may as well go straight to graduate school to work on a master’s degree since I am on a roll. I challenged him to do it together. Perhaps I could be done before I turn 63!”

POSTED: Monday, March 25, 2024 02:35 PM
Updated: Sunday, April 28, 2024 09:57 PM
Tina Smith, Kent State Regional Campuses Strategic Communications & Marketing
Mike Rich, Kent State University Communications & Marketing