April 10, 2023

In the five years Paul Robbins taught high school math in South Carolina, he worked in two different schools, one sufficiently resourced and the other underfunded. The stark contrast between the opportunities available to students based on school resources motivated him to enroll in graduate school and pursue a career in academia.

“My students did the absolute best they could with the resources they had,” Robbins says. “It was very tough watching how hard my students would work every day, knowing that for many of them that hard work might never pay off because many aspects of the educational system were not designed to support their success.

“I spent a lot of time thinking about how to make things better. It was my first real opportunity to observe the power of social systems and structures in shaping individual trajectories. I realized how difficult it was for an individual teacher to try to affect this disparate system while working from one classroom.”

Now an assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Science in Purdue University’s College of Health and Human Sciences, Robbins researches how engaging in social contexts, such as sports, families and religious institutions, influences development.