In the mid-1990’s, Christopher Hunt Robertson left his position as a law office manager to resume his university studies full-time. In 1997, he graduated from the Bachelor of Individualized Studies program at George Mason University. He then completed the M.Ed. degree in GMU’s Adult Education Curriculum and Instruction program, along with a Gerontology Certificate. His career has included higher education administration in registrar and human resources offices. In community services, with the Pennsylvania Civil Service, he worked with older adults.He enjoys researching and writing historical biographies, and has received eight book awards from the North Carolina Society of Historians. His community history projects have included academic, museum, and public television presentations. As a BIS graduate, we’ve asked Chris to reflect on his time at GMU, his career, and his writing interests.
What led you to enroll in the Individualized Studies degree program at George Mason University?
I was born and reared in Charlotte, North Carolina. Like many others, I finished high school without clear goals for the future. After attending a couple universities, I chose to pursue full-time employment instead. I became a legal assistant at a small law firm in Philadelphia and was eventually promoted to office manager, responsible for training and supervising the administrative staff.
Approaching my thirtieth birthday, I decided that a new career path might be desirable, but that I should first further my education. I learned about the innovative Bachelor of Individualized Studies program at
George Mason University (GMU) and moved to Washington, DC. This time around, I had a much better sense of my interests and strengths. I had enjoyed training others in the workforce, so I proposed a BIS program of study in Human Resource Development and Training – an interdisciplinary program combining business and psychology courses. By that point, I was quite motivated and found it much easier to excel academically.
What are some of the insights you gained from your BIS studies?
I learned that the focus of workforce training was shifting from what trainers were doing to what learners were doing. To effectively educate employees, one must understand how adults learn, and then adjust educational delivery to optimize that process. My psychology courses were particularly helpful there, while my business courses taught me to closely align training objectives with employers’ needs. I completed my BIS degree in 1997.
Following your BIS graduation, you chose to remain at GMU to study Gerontology and Adult Education at the graduate level. What prompted your enrollment in those programs?
As a mature adult, I was interested in knowing how aging adults learn and adapt in the workplace. I pursued gerontology studies to better understand the older adult population. As a student assistant, I organized a Gerontology Fair that was well attended by both students and community organizations serving the region’s senior residents. For my internship, I discovered that a local vocational counseling agency specialized in working with older adults, and in that setting, I was able to recruit, assess clients’ interests and skills, and then recommend relevant training options at local institutions. I obtained my Gerontology Certificate in 1998.
Finally, I decided to enroll in GMU’s new M.Ed. cohort program in Adult Education Curriculum and Instruction. Its director, Dr. Ed Jones, was a dedicated, insightful, and progressive educator. When given the option to choose research topics, I continued my focus on workforce training, and I completed my M.Ed. degree in 2000.
How were you able to apply what you had learned at GMU in your career?
For a total of fifteen years, I engaged in public service in the educational and social services fields. For the past eleven years, I’ve worked in the private sector, helping to train and supervise employees.
Please elaborate on the public service phase of your career.
My career has been situated in the Mid-Atlantic region, from Pennsylvania to North Carolina. I have friends and family throughout that region and was comfortable relocating as interesting opportunities arose.
Of my fifteen years in public service, the first ten were in public education. At the Northern Virginia Community College, I worked in the benefits section of the Human Resources Office. Later, at the University of Maryland Global Campus, I worked as a degree auditor, transcript evaluator, and academic advisor in the Registrar’s Office.
During the remaining five years, I worked with Pennsylvania’s Civil Service as an assessor with county aging offices. I conducted assessments in residential, assisted living, and nursing home settings to determine the eligibility of older adults with physical challenges for government-funded support programs.
You’ve also developed a writing avocation. How did that begin and where can your books be found?
I’ve always been an avid reader of history and my extensive writing at GMU honed my writing skills. So I suppose it was just a matter of time before I’d attempt to do some historical writing myself. During the past eleven years, while working in the private sector, I’ve developed an avocation in biographical and historical research.
If someone had suggested a decade ago that I might write eight historical biographies, all receiving book awards from the North Carolina Society of Historians, I would have been skeptical. But I’ve found this hobby to be enjoyable and worthwhile. My books appear in two published series: “Building a New South” and “Building Educational and Religious Institutions.” I’m especially interested in recovering the lost stories of early local leaders. Since past writers have often profiled national and international figures, we often know less about the early leaders who built the communities we live in. And while some of us may become leaders at the state level or beyond, all of us can provide some sort of leadership locally. My books can be found at various university, state, and county libraries, but the public can easily access them, free-of-charge, in e-book format online. Simply go to books.google.com, search on “Christopher Hunt Robertson,” and you can immediately access the full texts, without registration.
In closing, what advice would you offer to those considering BIS enrollment?
Academic advisors can help to guide students toward their best options. That said, choosing GMU’s BIS program was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. For focused and self-motivated learners seeking interdisciplinary perspectives, individualized programs of study can offer a fantastic range of opportunities.
In retrospect, I feel fortunate because my interdisciplinary GMU credentials opened many doors and made possible an interesting and varied professional career.
January 30, 2024