Small Grant Makes Big Difference for Neag Alumna

As a graduate student 35 years ago, Paula Ivaska Robbins received a $500 grant from the UConn Research Foundation to provide funds for her Ph.D. dissertation.

The grant allowed her to travel around New England, interviewing businessmen who had successfully navigated midlife career changes. It was a relevant topic for Robbins who, as director of career counseling at Trinity College, counseled graduates returning for advice because of layoffs triggered by the 1970’s recession. She wanted to understand how some people managed to adapt to major life changes so she could share the information with future clients.

It turned out to be a hot topic for the general public as well, popularized perhaps by Gail Sheey’s best-selling book about life transitions, Passages, which had been published in 1974. Robbins’ research was featured in an article in The Hartford Courant on a Sunday morning shortly after she received her degree.  Within hours she received telephone calls from media outlets around the country. The buzz gave her the idea of turning her research into a book. Successful Midlife Career Change based on her interviews of more than 90 men between the ages of 35 and 50, was published in 1978 and in paperback in 1980 by the American Management Association.

“It was so successful that royalties covered the tuition costs of my Ph.D.,” says Robbins, who worked as assistant director of the graduate school at Fitchburg State College and assistant dean of the Graduate School at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, before successfully switching her own career. After experience a layoff herself during the recession of 1990, Robbins turned to medical editing and, ultimately, writing novels and biographies.

The grant, though small, was pivotal to her career; and this spring, she repaid it, sending a check to the UConn Foundation.

“I always wanted to pay back my grant to ensure that others could benefit as I did,” says Robbins.  She is also in the process of repaying Vassar College for a scholarship for her undergraduate education.

“We were delighted to hear from Dr. Robbins,” says Heather McDonald, director of development for the Neag School of Education. “UConn’s strength has a lot to do with the success of its alumni and their generosity in paying it forward.”