Following the Learning
As Robin Baliszewski reflects on the twists and turns of her three decades in education, she says she always put a premium on applying what she was learning to guide her in her career.
“I was a biology major in college with an undeclared minor in philosophy,” Robin says. “I thought I wanted to go to medical school and I realized that as much as I loved science, my interests were broad.”
After graduation and a summer working three jobs, she went on a low-budget trip through Europe with some friends.
“When I returned home, I remember sitting on the back porch with my mom,” Robin says. “She told me in so many words: ‘If you aren’t going to graduate school or medical school, you better get a job because you’re not living here.’ That was her way of saying it’s time to move into the real world.”
Robin says she began to think about what she wanted to do.
“Thinking about going to a job where I sat behind a desk all day wasn’t really appealing to me,” Robin says. “The thought of being able to work on a college campus, in the heart of teaching and learning was exciting.”
She soon spoke with a recruiter—and landed a job in educational publishing.
“Everything clicked with that decision,” Robin says. “I loved talking with faculty members every day, learning about what they were doing in the classroom.”
It was a long way from studying to be a doctor.
Today, Robin leads sales for higher education in the U.S. for Pearson.
“The funny part about my first interview with Pearson,” she says, “was that I went ahead with the appointment even though I was still recovering from sinus surgery.”
“I sat at a table looking out the window and because of the glare from the window, I had a really hard time seeing the interviewer’s face,” Robin recalls. “I was so nervous about messing up the interview I didn’t think to ask if I could move my chair.”
“I learned later that the hiring manager told his colleagues: ‘If she can’t maintain eye contact, she’ll never succeed in our business.’ Thankfully, the recruiter convinced him to see me one more time, and after taking a battery of tests, going through multiple rounds of interviews, and spending a day on campus with a sales rep, I was offered the job.”
A New Understanding About Education
Having spent a few years as a young sales rep in upstate New York during the 1980s, Robin was moved into an editorial role with Pearson.
She first worked with authors to develop teaching materials that taught English as a second language.
“Again, I learned something new about myself and my work,” Robin says. “The students using our materials were immigrants who needed English to get a job and have a career and pursue a productive life.
“I would talk with teachers in church basements and YMCA rooms,” she says, “and heard over and over again about how students sought out learning to improve their lives.”
Robin says she felt the power of education come alive in a whole new way.
She liked the work so much, she stayed in that job another decade, developing products in criminal justice, hospitality, and agriculture.
A New Challenge
After taking on a director of marketing role, Robin was given an opportunity to run the ESL division and subsequently the career and vocational division at Pearson. She was then asked to take on the role of Director for People for Pearson.
“I knew nothing about HR outside of my experience leading teams and working with HR in my previous jobs. The power of having a great team hit home for me in a whole new way,” she recalls. “I was surrounded by HR professionals who taught me the ropes helped me succeed. To this day I’m indebted to those colleagues.”
But after four years in that role, Robin realized she missed something about her previous positions.
“I realized I missed the direct interaction with customers and product development and sales,” Robin says.
That realization helped lead her to her current position as a Managing Director in charge of sales.
A Mom’s Influence
“My mom always believed that if you put your mind to it, anything was possible,” Robin says.
Her mother went on to earn her GED at the age of 40 so she could secure a job with Delta Airlines.
“She didn’t let things stand in her way,” Robin says. “She also loved creating experiences that people wouldn’t soon forget.”
“We’d have holiday dinners,” Robin says, “and my mom would make six main courses instead of one. She’d make eight pies instead of one or two,” she says. “Fortunately, she was a fantastic cook.”
“Breaking bread with family and friends was one of her favorite things to do. She wanted people to leave feeling like they just ate the best meal of their lives,” Robin says. “My mother always went the proverbial extra mile.”
Robin says her mom’s outlook and attitude influenced her greatly, especially in her career.
“It all starts with the relationships and bonds we build with each other,” Robin believes. “It’s all about the experience we create for ourselves and the people we work with.”
Helping Others Find a Career Path
Over the years, people have asked Robin about particular career paths.
“I love having those conversations,” Robin says. “I always tell people, ‘do what you love.'”
“I didn’t have a plan to one day be a managing director for a large company. To me, it’s always been about the journey, about what’s possible, about what I love doing.”