Commencement speaker Robyn Tomlin found her path to success at Durham Tech

robyn standing in front of newsroom with arms crossedTomlin, a Durham Tech graduate, to be the featured speaker for the College’s 2019 Commencement ceremony on May 14.

When Durham Tech alumna Robyn Tomlin first came to the college in the 1990s, she was still searching for the key components she needed to pave her path towards a successful future.

Tomlin now serves as McClatchy’s first regional newspaper editor for North and South Carolina.

On May 14, she will share her story with future alumni as the featured speaker for the 2019 Durham Tech Commencement ceremony.

“(This is) going to be a wonderful opportunity,” Tomlin said. “It really is such an honor 25 years after I left that cocoon to be invited back in. … I’m really excited.”

Tomlin, who grew up in Chapel Hill, attended Chapel Hill High School in the 1980s. She admits she wasn’t the best student in high school and questioned if she ever could be. In fact, she said she didn’t truly feel she could even be successful until she came to Durham Tech.

“It was a small environment, a community where I really felt like I was supported personally and also academically in a way that I was really able to grow,” she said. “It was a few years there where I really had to find myself, and I think Durham Tech was a key piece of that.”

Her confidence in both herself and her capabilities continued to flourish when one of her Durham Tech instructors pointed out a valuable skill she possessed. He noticed that Tomlin had a knack for distilling and delivering information in an effective, meaningful way.

“Somewhere along the way he said, ‘Hey, have you ever considered journalism?’, and I had not,” Tomlin said. “Just having someone who was looking at my work and thinking about it and also thinking about me as a person enough to suggest it was a really important moment for me.”

She later helped start the Tech Tribune, a short-lived student newspaper of Durham Tech. The initial staff consisted of less than 10 students.

“I just remember there was a lot of excitement about going out and trying to tell people’s stories,” she said. “It was just a fun project and really a fun way to try out something that several of us were interested in.”

While she further explored her newfound passion, Tomlin was also caring for her young son and working as an administrative assistant for the College’s developmental studies program.

“(It was) a lot of juggling,” she said. “It is always tough. I think for any parent whether they’re on their own or whether they have support, it’s a lot to juggle, but I think your focus and your determination and your resilience is a lot higher when you know what’s at stake, which is really your child’s future.”

Tomlin graduated Durham Tech with an Associate in Arts degree around 1994 and continued her studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, where she became an editor at The Daily Tar Heel.

Her first professional gig was as a police reporter in Pittsburgh. She later went on to hold editor positions at numerous publications, including the Asheville Citizen-Times, the Star News in Wilmington and Digital First Media’s Project Thunderdome, a national digital news hub based in New York City where she acted as founding editor. She also served as the chief digital officer and vice president for communications at The Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C.

Her most recent position was as the vice president and first female managing editor of The Dallas Morning News, according to a letter from the publication.

She has served in her current capacity since last February, managing eight newspapers in North and South Carolina including The Herald-Sun in Durham and The News & Observer in Raleigh.

A few months ago, Tomlin returned to the Durham Tech campus to talk to students in the C-STEP program, a guaranteed admissions pathway to UNC, and to meet with President Bill Ingram.

“Starting out at Durham Tech is really an opportunity to find your footing,” she said. “Having to work your way through school, having to raise a child while you are going to school, … being able to have to work harder to get (to your goal) gives you a perspective on the world and gives you a perspective on your community that is really valuable.

I remember for me it felt like I was coming in (to Durham Tech) with a lot of disadvantages, but the reality is I was coming in with a lot of advantages. All those experiences really helped make me a better journalist.”

The Durham Tech 2019 Commencement ceremony will begin at 7 p.m. at the Durham Performing Arts Center, or DPAC, in downtown Durham. Doors will open at 6 p.m. for guests.

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