Robert Bell accepts congratulations after receiving an associate of arts degree from Kenai Peninsula College during the school's commencement ceremony earlier this month. For more graduation information see the 'B' section of today's paper.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Twenty-five years after he last cracked open a book in school, 40-year-old Robert Bell found an eighth grade education just didn’t cut it anymore and decided it was time to earn his GED. Bell’s return to school, however, would take him much further than he originally anticipated.
“Two days after graduation, I was sitting in my first college class,” Bell said.
Once he got started, Bell fell into academics like a bowling ball into a well.
In the two years since he decided to earn his GED, Bell has not only earned it, but has graduated Summa Cum Laude with an associate’s degree from Kenai Peninsula College and has been named a New Century Scholar for Alaska and to the All-USA Academic Third Team for community and junior colleges. He was also one of KPC’s two valedictorians.
But even with all of this academic success behind him, Bell is already looking to the horizon for more.
Next fall, Bell plans to attend the University of Alaska Anchorage to pursue a bachelor of science degree in medical technology with the ultimate goal of earning a master’s degree in public administration.
Bell’s academic career, however, might not have begun had his fortunes not taken a turn for the worse.
“I was scared to death,” said Bell, who lives in Kasilof. “It all started because logging died ... No one would hire me and I couldn’t figure out why. So I went to the job center and they had me fill out some paperwork and said, “Well here’s why. You don’t have any education.’”
Bell was born in Kodiak and raised in Ninilchik until his early teens. But he and his family left Alaska to live in the Lower 48, and were living in Oregon when he decided, at 15 years of age, to try to make it on his own and left his parents and school.
From that point on, Bell took opportunities as they presented themselves and moved throughout the Lower 48 working mostly short-term jobs.
“I just rode the cycle of whatever was booming at the time, kind of like my dad had done,” Bell said.
And it was not until shortly after Sept. 11, 2001 that Bell decided to return to spend the rest of his life in Alaska.
As an experienced logger, a skill passed on to him by his father, Bell depended on the trade to earn his living after his return. But within a couple of years the logging business began to tumble, and Bell was forced to look for employment elsewhere.
That’s when Bell learned the how valuable it would be to pursue additional education and realized he wanted to do more than just chase after the next job.
“I’m not after a job anymore, I’m after a career,” he said.
Bell passed his GED tests easily and was quickly encouraged to do more.
“I came in here looking for a GED and apparently my scores were high enough that people around here thought I had potential, so they made sure that I at least gave (college) a shot,” he said.
Bell credited a learning center coordinator at KPC for giving him the nudge that motivated him to pursue more education, he said.
“She convinced me that if I did not at least give college a shot that I would be making a horrible mistake,” he said. “She felt that with as high as my scores were that I had potential to become something more than just a bum looking for a job.”
Although he waited many more years than most to continue his education, he said he appreciates school more now than he probably would have years earlier as a young partier.
“I think it would have been wasted on me back then,” he said. “I’m glad that I waited, I just hope that I didn’t wait too long to actually accomplish something. Because life’s half over. It sort of gives me a sense of urgency.”
But Bell said he believes that if you want it, education can make a valuable change in anyone’s life, no matter how old.
“It’s never too late to go back to school and KPC is a great place to start,” he said.
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