As a high school freshman in southern New Hampshire, Robin Baldwin could sense that one of her classmates wasn’t getting the support he needed in school.
The boy, who had been diagnosed with selective mutism, was often singled out by staff over a perceived lack of participation, and was sometimes removed from class for failing to participate. As Baldwin saw it, the boy was being treated unfairly and punished for something he couldn’t control – an inability to speak during social situations.
“Seeing the lack of support there was in our district for kids like him really made me uncomfortable,” said Baldwin, a first-generation college student and member of the Class of 2021. “Nobody really wanted to be friends with him because he didn’t speak, but I was very curious.”
Baldwin eventually befriended the boy, becoming one of the few people outside of his immediate family that he’d speak to. That relationship instilled in Baldwin a passion for psychology and a desire to one day help others in similar situations.
So when it came time to apply to colleges, knowing full well she wanted to pursue a degree in psychology, Baldwin said she immediately thought of Colby-Sawyer after having attended a National Honor Society summit on campus during high school.
“This campus is gorgeous, and I immediately fell in love with it,” said Baldwin, adding that it was always her plan to one day attend college. “There’s just something really homey about it. It’s so relaxing and calm here, and everybody’s so nice. It’s where I wanted to be.”
Baldwin said she was the only student from her high school class to attend Colby-Sawyer, but quickly settled in with a group of new friends during summer orientation. Once school started, she said she was immediately able to reconnect with those friends, who helped provide a sense of comfort in an otherwise unfamiliar setting.
“They were a real strong base for me,” Baldwin said. “We all have similar ethnic backgrounds I guess, so it was definitely nice to have that familiarity with people.”
After settling into her new home away from home, Baldwin turned her attention back to helping others and began work as a peer mentor.
Baldwin said it’s gratifying to help first-year students find their sense of place on campus, whether it’s introducing them to classmates with similar interests, or recommending clubs or events that fit their individual personalities.
“I love the awkward stages of life,” Baldwin said. “There’s something about it that’s charming – they’re just trying to figure things out. I like being able to help people figure that thing out – any problems that they have. So being able to help with things like that is really fulfilling.”
Director of Student Success and Retention Erica Webb, who works closely with the college’s peer mentors, credited Baldwin for her ability to listen to her classmates’ concerns rather than be quick to offer up advice.
Webb says she often reminds mentors that sometimes the best way to help someone is to simply listen rather than attempt to solve their problems.
“As soon as I met Robin, I knew she was unique,” Webb said. “Just listening can be powerful for a student who wants to be seen and understood, rather than having someone try to ‘fix’ them. She works hard to help her peers fall in love with our community because she loves it as well.”
Even in the classroom, Baldwin’s passion for helping others is evident.
Professor R. Todd Coy of the School of Business & Social Sciences, who teaches several psychology courses, said he was immediately struck by Baldwin’s willingness to help others better understand course material.
“She’s the type of student that others seek out when they’re experiencing difficulty in class,” said Coy, who also serves as Baldwin’s academic advisor. “It’s clear that she genuinely cares about her fellow students and is willing to work for them in pursuit of their goals. I have no doubt this attitude extends to her wider life and will continue in her future endeavors.”
This past summer, Baldwin was selected as a member of the BOLD Women’s Leadership Network, a national program that cultivates leadership by facilitating opportunities for career development and networking. The network is in its second year at Colby-Sawyer, after having received a $1.1 million grant from the Pussycat Foundation to fund scholarships and transformational projects on campus.
Baldwin said that being a part of the 14-member organization has afforded her opportunities she otherwise wouldn’t be privy to, and has allowed her to meet and bond with other first-generation college students from rural backgrounds – a criteria for membership in the network.
“We go to a lot of events that allow us to become leaders in our field and really learn to assert ourselves,” said Baldwin, who’s also a member of the African Student Association and Planned Parenthood Generation Action club. “I’m terrible at public speaking. I freeze up and it’s horrible. And during homecoming weekend there was an event where we got to speak to some alumni, and I flubbed over every single word – it was awful. But the alumni were great and they told me I did awesome. So it’s opportunities like that where we have the chance to mess up and it isn’t going to hurt us in the future that really helps you to grow.”
Baldwin said she plans to take advantage of other resources on campus – like the Harrington Center for Experiential Learning, a professional development collaborative that provides academic advising and other career-development opportunities – to help begin the process of applying to graduate school.
That’s because for Baldwin, her goal of helping others – like her high school classmate – has never wavered.
“I want to be a school psychologist,” said Baldwin, who added that she remains close with the boy from her high school to this day. “I want to work with middle and high school kids, because I feel like a lot of mental health problems start during those early years and get overlooked. Someone needs to support those kids.”