Grand Saline, Texas is a small town with a population less than 3,200 and home to the largest salt mine in the state. Before retiring, Robert Brittain’s father drove an 18-wheeler truck that would be loaded with salt and delivered throughout the country. Though the mine is the town’s largest employer, Brittain and his three older brothers had other careers in mind.
“I wanted to teach biology, but then I watched my first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation and something just clicked, completely changing everything I wanted to do,” says Brittain, a Walden University BS in Information Technology student. “I have been fascinated with IT ever since.”
Currently, Brittain is a computer lab coordinator and part-time computer science instructor for Trinity Valley Community College. He first started teaching basic computer skills, like how to turn a computer on and off, as well as more technical classes on desktop publishing and networking. By teaching foundational courses, he can introduce students to various aspects of IT. Brittain teaches credit and non-credit courses throughout the year to students who come from different backgrounds.
“If you’ve ever taught a person how to use a computer, one quality you develop is patience. My students tend to seek me out because I’m willing to take the time to break concepts down to a level my students can understand. I’m able to show how personable IT can be.”
He enjoys the IT industry because it’s vast and always evolving, but he admits that aspect can also be challenging because technology can quickly become obsolete. Brittain explains it’s important to stay updated in the field because it’s like a revolving door—where you go in on one side and complete one revolution to exit in a completely different environment.
That’s just one of the reasons why Brittain decided to pursue his bachelor’s degree in IT; the other is for job security. He says, “Everyone needs an IT guy.” He believes his BS in Information Technology degree will help him advance in his current career and allow him to continue to give back to those around him.
Brittain was already enrolled in a competency-based bachelor’s program with another online university when he wanted to shift his focus from networking administration to a more general IT program that aligned with his current profession.
“It was the best decision I ever made,” says Brittain. “I love the diversity in my Walden classes. The discussion threads allow me to read faculty and other students’ points of view, whether they agree or not, which adds to what I already know. I didn’t get any interaction from students or faculty at my other university, and it’s clear that it’s an element of learning that I need to stay engaged.”
In addition to being the first in his family to earn an associate degree, he is also the recipient of the 2018 Todd Benson Scholarship for Leadership in Business and Management, which is a full-tuition scholarship offered to new students enrolling in an undergraduate program in the College of Management and Technology.
“I’m definitely grateful for this opportunity because, quite honestly, I wasn’t going to apply for the scholarship,” says Brittain. “I was making up all kinds of excuses thinking that other people with more experience and better grades were more likely to get it. That there must have been someone else who surely deserved it more than I do.”
But, he then remembered what he tells his students when they ask about funding for college: apply for all the scholarships you can. He learned early on from his mentor, Kippi Harraid, the importance of giving back and how there is opportunity out there for all types of people.
“Sometimes it feels unreal,” admits Brittain. “People from my childhood hear about what I do and say they’d never imagine I’d be where I am today. It’s quite a testimony for me to fathom. But, through it all, I’m blessed to have my family, friends, and colleagues behind me 110% and the opportunity to excel in a field that I’m passionate about.”