If you were to ask Robert Young when it was that he first knew he wanted to be a teacher, the answer would be a little tricky. He has always believed in the power of education and for a long time has felt something of a calling to have a role in its delivery.
But as far as serving as a teacher in the traditional sense of the word, Young, an instructor of information technology at MTI College, never really pictured it for himself.
“I just hadn’t really thought of it. I wanted to do theatre. I’ve always loved doing theatre. But at the same time, I love giving away knowledge and the things I know, and performance can be a powerful way of doing just that.”
Most people might hear “performance” and “information technology” and think there couldn’t be a stranger pairing of academic or professional disciplines. But for Young, bridging the two fields makes perfect sense, and it tells the story of his journey to MTI.
Born and raised in Marin County, Young grew up in a time when information technology, at least the way we know it today, didn’t exist. One thing that did exist, however, was the “starving artist”—a phrase that refers to artists, musicians, and performers who try to turn their passion into a way to earn a living, often without luck.
So while he embraced his love for the arts, he also knew he had to be practical. He began working temp jobs in the banking industry, initially in accounting.
“When I first went to work back then, it was a time when a ‘computer’ was this huge machine in a huge room. It was kind of this mysterious thing.”
As Young continued in the banking industry, he impressed his supervisor with his work and started moving up the ranks. From accounting he transitioned to loan operations, which is where he first started working in the information technology field. Eventually, he became a database administrator, a role he served in for several years.
But after 30 years of working in the field, he knew it was time for a change. “After so many years, you just kind of get tired of the keyboard.”
Throughout all of that time, Young never stopped doing theatre. And he had a particular interest in historical and educational theatre. To him, being able to entertain and make an audience laugh while also learning something along the way—whether they even know it at the time or not—was a powerful thing.
So that’s what he did.
Over the years he’s played the role of many different historical figures, from going into schools and performing for groups of students, to taking the stage as Charles Dickens and performing for thousands at San Francisco’s beloved Great Dickens Christmas Fair.
And at some point, it just clicked. Young realized not only that theatre and performance were powerful avenues for educating audiences, but the craft of performance itself offered tools and skills that are essential for anyone to possess and utilize in the professional world.
“It just all of a sudden seemed apparent. There are aspects of performance that will absolutely contribute to the level of success you achieve, no matter what your profession may be. You’ve got to be able to improvise; you need to understand body language and voice, and how to communicate in a way that puts things in the appropriate emotional context.”
This is what brought Young to MTI. He joined the faculty in 2008 and began teaching the Art of Live Presentation, which is a required course at the College. While professional presentation typically conjures images of PowerPoint and other software tools used to actually lead a presentation, the course also is about teaching all of those soft skills that employers look for.
At the same time, Young’s extensive professional background in information technology also made him an obvious candidate to teach courses with an IT focus, such as Computing Essentials and the Microsoft Office 2013 Pro Suite of productivity programs, to students studying business management, accounting, legal, medical, IT, and cosmetology.
For Young, using technology is about more than simply plodding through programs and a series of executions. What he expresses to his students is that technology is something that has a very real impact on the living experience of people everywhere. Being able to connect with people, whether through theatre and performance or by understanding what they need and want from technology, is what drives him.
“From my early days working in the industry, that’s what interested me. How people relate to technology. And I think that’s the unique thing that my background in theatre brings to an IT setting.”
And he’s found the ideal home at MTI.
“The culture here is amazing. Everyone here is really devoted to student outcomes, which is why our students and graduates achieve the levels of success they do. Students here get a lot of guidance and support along the way. What I would say to a student who’s thinking of attending MTI is that you should expect to come out of the experience as an improved ‘you.’”
When he isn’t teaching, Young enjoys traveling to places like New York City—where he once lived briefly—and London. And, clearly, he spends much of his time away from the classroom performing as a way to entertain and enlighten. He enjoys playing the role of Charles Dickens at the Great Dickens Christmas Fair. But he says there’s a unique sense of fulfillment that comes from teaching performance and information technology at MTI and seeing the transformation that his students experience.
“For me it’s about service and being there for students who are motivated to achieve meaningful goals. It’s really great to see people become awakened to these dynamics and gain an understanding of how to apply them to their careers. Knowing that I’ve played a part in that feels good.”