Faculty Focus: Brandi Robinson

Brandi Robinson, faculty adviser for the Energy and Sustainability Policy program in the John and Willie Leone Family Department of Energy and Mineral Engineering, recently received the 2018 Penn State Excellence in Advising Award. We caught up with Brandi to talk about the courses that she teaches for Penn State World Campus. Here are some details from our chat:

Please give our readers a sense of your teaching background and how you arrived at your current position with Penn State?

I’ve been an instructor and adviser in the ESP program since 2010.  Prior to that, I was a policy analyst for Environmental Credit Corp, a local greenhouse gas offset project developer (now part of ClimeCo).  My graduate research and professional experience focused on various scales of climate change action in the form of emissions reductions.  When the ESP program was being developed, I was asked to serve on the External Advisory Board to help inform the development of industry-relevant curriculum to uniquely prepare ESP students for jobs in a rapidly growing and ever-changing field.  I initially agreed to teach one class a year as a contract instructor, but quickly realized that I wanted to be much more involved in the program and was excited for the opportunity to return to academia full time.

What courses do you teach for Penn State World Campus?

I currently teach GEOG 438W (Human Dimensions of Global Warming), GEOG 432 (Energy Policy), and EME 803 (Applied Energy Policy).  I’ve also taught EMSC 302 (Orientation to the ESP Program) and often oversee capstone projects for students in EME 466 (Capstone in Energy and Sustainability Policy).

What can you tell our readers about the Energy and Sustainability Policy program?

The ESP program is unique in that it seeks to prepare our students to operate at the important intersection of science and policy.  Too often, science and policy operate in isolation from one another, which leads to ill-informed policy decisions and poorly communicated scientific findings.  Students in this major are uniquely poised to help bridge this gap, with the critical and analytical thinking skills and energy industry knowledge necessary to understand the complexities of the science but in the context of social, political, environmental, and economic realities. We currently have about 150 active students in the B.A. and B.S. versions of the major and have graduated more than 60 students since the program started in 2010.

Where do you see the field of energy and sustainability policy headed in the next 10 years?

The future is bright for our field!  With increased understanding of the importance of transitioning to a low carbon economy comes the need to craft and enact effective policy to manage our natural resources, economic interests, and sustainability goals.  I envision that this field will initially focus heavily on local and state level initiatives as well as private sector policy related to corporate social responsibility.  Closer to that 10 year mark, we may see a more unified national approach and policy direction which aligns well with international efforts such as the Paris Agreement.  ESP graduates, though, will be at the forefront of educating both citizens and policy makers about the steps necessary to move us in the right direction.

What have you learned by teaching Penn State World Campus students?

I’ve learned that being an adult student is even harder than it may seem.  I perhaps appreciate this even more now as the parent of a young child.  I think about my students who are juggling full-time work commitments in addition to caring for their families (young children, aging parents, etc.), and I’m frankly in awe. Their dedication to their education is unique and unwavering.  Somehow, in the chaos of life, they’re giving their all to their classes.

What inspires you as a teacher?

I am most inspired by the eager and earnest desire of our students to learn.  Not just to master the content enough to earn a good grade and be closer to their degree completion, but to really understand the concepts and dig into them way deeper than we anticipate.  Their ambition and curiosity drive me to be a more engaged and focused teacher.  Teaching online for Penn State World Campus, of course, is not a 9–5 job.  I work hard to make myself available to my students in the evenings and on weekends, recognizing that may be the only pocket of time they can carve out for school work, and if they spend it waiting for an answer from me, no one is well-served.  And on nights when I’m tired from a long day at the office and a busy evening of parenting, I always think of my students who have likely had similarly busy days of work and family and who are now just cracking open the lids of their laptops to complete assignments I’ve crafted.  I feel immense responsibility to honor the work they’re doing by giving it my very best.

Do you keep in touch with graduates of the program?

Absolutely!  While there are certainly some students who are more regularly connected to us than others, I try very hard to stay in touch with my students.  I have a former student who lives locally now and we regularly get coffee and serve on a committee together for climate action in our township.  For my students who aren’t a meet-up at Irving’s away, email, LinkedIn, and Facebook all provide ample opportunities to stay connected.  It’s so excited to see where their degrees take them.  Just the other day, I was liking a bunch of pictures on Facebook for a former student who lives in California and was installing a solar array on her own roof — by herself.

Can you explain to our readers what it is like to connect with students at the Penn State World Campus Graduation Celebration?

The opportunity to meet our students at graduation is really one of the best parts of the job.  In some cases, I’ve been working with a student for many years both as an adviser and instructor.  We navigate through life events, job changes, and any other myriad perils that could derail their educational goals.  Getting to meet face to face at graduation is such a rewarding experience (hopefully for the student, too!).  And what an honor it is that our students (and their families) come from home to be part of graduation.  It’s always nice to be able to tell a proud mom or dad what a dedicated student their son/daughter was, or thank a spouse who kept things in their lives afloat while school took precedence, or to tell a student’s kids how hard mom/dad worked to earn this degree.  Completing your education as an adult learner requires support from your entire village, and having the opportunity to meet them and acknowledge their key roles in the student’s success is important.

What’s your favorite thing to do outside of the classroom?

Play with my daughter!  I have a kindergartner who loves books, mudpies, and Playmobil – we have great fun.  I also enjoy thrifting for clothes and vintage Pyrex dishes.