The liberal arts enable exploration beyond one’s field of study or expertise, in order to provide a fuller grasp of intersections between fields and a better command of useful skillsets that one would otherwise not get. This is true for students and professors alike, and Professor of Psychology Robert “Bobby” Horton stands as testament to that. His daily life involves working beyond Psychology, into community service, retention, and family life, building a harmonious and balanced life based on continuous improvement.
Horton is currently on sabbatical, working on assessing how the College can improve student retention and success, particularly focusing on lowincome, first-generation, and new majority students.
“I am leading an assessment of our WLAIP [Wabash Liberal Arts Immersion Program] that involves some interviews with WLAIP students, a quantitative analysis of the impact of the program, and hopefully some conversations with alums of the program,” Horton said. “I am [also] working on organizing a conference for small colleges that will happen in Indianapolis in the Spring, which will bring together schools that are doing interesting things to support first generation college students, low income students, and students of color. Places like Knox College, Berea College – maybe Albion -, and ourselves [will be able to] trade best practices and challenges with regards to the support of students from underserved populations. And then I’m working a little bit with our admissions folks and [those] at other schools to talk about strategies for recruiting students of color in particular.”
Horton’s work on underserved student retention and success stems from his wider involvement with freshman retention at the College. “So, Preston Bost [current Professor of Psychology] and Cheryl Hughes [current Professor of Philosophy] started the college’s focus on supporting students from underserved populations back in 2009, and, about the same time, I was heavily involved in the freshman program,” Horton said. “I think higher education focuses on the first year, at least partially because the largest percentage of students who leave college do so in or after their first year.” As a result of that overlap with Professors Bost and Hughes’ work, in 2015, upon the College receiving the first Mellon Grant to fund the WLAIP, Horton was named Co-Coordinator of the program based on his work in student retention.
Horton’s professional background is in Social and Personality Psychology, with a specific focus on nonpathological narcissism.
Though his work provides incredible insight into human behavior and student retention, Horton’s greatest professional satisfaction comes from teaching. “From about my second or third year in graduate school […] I realized I wanted to be in a primarily teaching institution,” Horton said. “I do love research, but I really enjoy the mentoring, and I love being in the classroom and guiding students. […] I guess I was sort of fascinated by that process of trying to craft experiences and activities and lessons and stories that would both pique interest and make material relevant and understandable to students,” Horton said.
However, Horton’s main takeaway from teaching has actually been learning and being able to explore topics beyond his field of expertise. “I learn new stuff every time I teach a class, even if it’s a class that I have taught [in the past],” Horton said.
His love for teaching and constant learning, combined with his own liberal arts background, helped Horton be a great fit for Wabash. During his undergraduate years at the University of Richmond, a liberal arts university of about 3000 students, Horton played soccer and was part of a fraternity himself. “[The University of Richmond] was like Wabash in the environment that they created,” Horton said. “It was very intellectual, we had all-college courses, we had lab science requirements. I got to interact with some of the faculty – not quite the way I think our students do. […] I think I’ve grown into Wabash in ways that go beyond just, hey, I was in a fraternity, I was an athlete.”
Horton’s involvement expands way beyond the classroom, through community service and family life. “I coach soccer [in the community] – under-11, under-13 teams typically,” Horton said. “My wife and I live just a few miles from [campus]. We have three kids, so that keeps us very busy. They all swim, and, so, we spend a lot of hours either carting them to swim practice or volunteering for the swim club in one form or another. I’m on the board at the Boys and Girls Club of Montgomery County, so I help run programs and support programs there.”
Still, with all these activities going on, Horton’s life is very much centered around his family. “I love my family, and there’s no set of people I would rather be around than my three kids and my wife, “Horton said. “We have a senior in high-school, who is going to be gone soon, so we’re trying to soak up as much time as we can with him.” In many ways, Horton’s family life and service to the Wabash and wider Montgomery County community represent the main forces that he balances in order to create a harmonious life, filled with experiences from which he can learn.