WYOMISSING, Pa. — There’s a good reason why Robert “Robby” Pearson wants to give back after he graduates.
“I have always wanted to help people; it came natural to me,” said Pearson, who was born hard of hearing and, with the assistance of his parents and many others, has earned a bachelor of science in rehabilitation and human services (RHS) from Penn State Berks. He will graduate on Saturday, May 4, and begin his career on May 13 at KidsPeace, a private charity dedicated to serving the behavioral and mental health needs of children, families and communities.
A native of Camp Hill and a 2015 graduate of Cedar Cliff High School, Pearson recalled that his parents became aware of his deafness when he was 14 months old and, while walking with his mother, did not react to the loud horn of a passing truck.
“My parents took me to doctors and learned that I was born hard of hearing and came to terms with it," he said. "My parents, Gregg and Karen, are proud of me for graduating, especially my dad who has worked hard to make sure that I have a better life.”
Pearson received speech and hearing therapy to improve his ability to succeed in school. He used a special microphone to understand his teachers until tenth grade, after which he used special hearing aids and read lips.
“My father didn’t want me to use sign language; he wanted me to communicate as much as I could orally," explained Pearson. "In 2009, I received a cochlear implant, which made a tremendous difference," he explained.
A cochlear implant is an electronic medical device that replaces the function of the damaged inner ear. Unlike hearing aids, which make sounds louder, cochlear implants do the work of damaged parts of the inner ear (cochlea) to provide sound signals to the brain.
Another significant improvement for Pearson was getting his service dog, Jennings, in October 2018. The pair has been a familiar sight on campus. Jennings, a Susquehanna Service Dog, complements Pearson’s other devices that may not pick up certain sounds, including fire alarms, door knocks and his name being called.
Pearson came to Penn State Berks largely because many family members, including his sister, Christine, graduated from the University.
“I came here for a tour and as I walked around, it felt like home to me," he said. "It was the only college I applied to and I have had so many great moments bonding with everyone, including being Homecoming King in the fall of 2018. Living in the dorms is great, including being a residence life assistant.” He also made Dean’s List and received the President’s Freshman Award.
Pearson said his being hard-of-hearing did not present any insurmountable challenges nor prevent him from getting the full college experience.
“I had to sit in the first two rows so I could hear the instructors, needed extra time for testing and requested copies of power points," he added. "I knew going to a small campus would allow me to easily interact with students and professors, who will gladly help you get through your challenges and with extracurricular activities."
He found his RHS classes to be challenging and informative.
“I learned a lot about case management, documentation, government rules and laws and ways to build trust with future clients,” he said, adding that one of his best experiences was serving as an intern at the Heartland Hospice, Wyomissing, which provided a lot of interaction with its patients. Pearson’s 15-credit internship included spending 40 hours a week at Heartland for 15 weeks, a total of 600 hours.
He commented that he is looking forward to being a mental health technician, counseling girls ages 11 to 18 at KidsPeace at the Pennsylvania Residential facility at Orefield, Pennsylvania.
“I deeply appreciate what everyone has done for me and I want to be able to help at a place where I am needed most to help others get back on their feet and back into the community,” said Pearson, who plans to pursue his master’s after working for a few years.