In 1960, a book was published that would shake the foundations of conventional education. It was Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Child Rearing by A.S. Neill. The book focused on Summerhill School in the north of England, and its novel approach to education and child development that advocated discovery and self-paced learning. When first published, it hardly generated a buzz. By 1970, over 2 million copies had sold, and it was part of the curriculum of over 600 college and university education departments. Somewhat by accident, a young Caron Hobin read Summerhill. It would make her a believer in lifelong learning.
Caron joined the Bay Path community in 1995. We know her as one of the driving forces behind the Women’s Leadership Conference, but her story begins far before her tenure at the Longmeadow campus.
A native and a current resident of Great Barrington, MA, Caron attended George Washington University in Washington, DC. She majored in government and Russian studies. After graduating, Caron’s first job was at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
She learned a wise lesson from the experience: “I often say this to students, ‘You hope to find out very early in your career the things you know you don’t want to do and get them out of the way.’ My first job pointed out how true that statement was for me, and probably for others, too.”
Knowing that working in the government was not for her, Caron did an about shift and entered a management training program at Jordan Marsh, at one time the largest department store chain in New England. From then on, she built on each of her experiences and began a professional journey that would lead her to that intersection where her personal strengths and passions converged within the perfect job.
From retail, she moved on to challenge herself in Boston’s booming commercial real estate industry, and was a project manager and liaison for a startup launched by two brothers. As a woman in a male industry, she had to develop her confidence and find her voice. “I learned to be a jack of all trades. One day I would be in court and the next day going over details with contracting crews. I had to hold my own with them.”
While in Boston, Caron eventually married and had a son. “My husband had his own locksmith business. I thought it would be great to work from home, help with the business, and take care of the baby. I thought it would be idyllic, but be careful what you wish for!”
After five years, Caron needed a change. A neighbor shared a position opening at Simmons College. At the time, Caron was taking advanced studies courses at Radcliffe College, and wanted to pursue an MBA. The Simmons position would take her out of the house and she could earn her graduate degree. She applied and got the job. In time, she received her MBA, and, in a twist of fate, became the interim admissions director for the MBA program at Simmons.
“Simmons had just selected a new president, and I volunteered for the inauguration committee. Carol Leary led the committee. Yes, that is how I met her! I admired her immediately. She was a great leader, visionary, and kind.
“When they announced Carol had been made president of Bay Path, I honestly didn’t know where Bay Path was located. But I kept my eye on Carol and Bay Path. Then I noticed the opening for the Dean of Continuing Education at Bay Path. It would be a step up and I would be closer to my family in the Berkshires.
“I submitted my portfolio and interviewed for the position. When Carol learned I was a finalist, she called me to make sure I wanted this step in my life. I was sure.”
In her first year at Bay Path, President Leary asked Caron to develop and stage the first Women’s Leadership Conference (WLC), similar to Simmons Women’s Conference, in western New England. No one knew what to expect.
Incredibly, it sold out with over 800 participants and created a traffic jam in downtown Springfield. The keynote speaker was Elizabeth Dole, the head of the American Red Cross. At the time, Dole’s husband was running for President of the United States and the WLC attracted a high level of media attention, including CSPAN. For the next 24 years, the WLC would elevate the Bay Path brand while creating an environment for women and men to come together to learn and be inspired.
Although many people associate Caron as the brainchild of the WLC, the truth is otherwise. “The WLC is really Carol Leary’s idea. When she asked me to duplicate the Simmons model, I had to let her know that I had only been on their Conference committee. I didn’t run the show—I was just a volunteer. From the beginning, Carol gave me free rein and I learned on the job. The Conference shook things up at Bay Path. People did not think it was possible, but we did it. It put Bay Path on the map.”
Today, Caron is the vice president for the Strategic Alliances at Bay Path. The WLC is still under her leadership, but her division has expanded to provide customized learning solutions to improve communications, human capital, and the bottom line, among other challenges, for organizations and companies, as well as virtual roundtables on a variety of topics.
In many ways, Caron has come full circle in her life. The work of Strategic Alliances not only reflects the influence and philosophy of Summerhill, but it has extended A.S. Neill’s tenets from youth to adults. In today’s multigenerational workplace, it is paramount to invest in employees and support training. If you want a flexible, responsive, and innovative workforce, companies and organizations have to support learning and encourage curiosity.
Curiosity is also what drives Caron Hobin: “I believe that if you truly are curious about everything in life, then that is the fountain of youth. It drives personal and professional success.” And it is curiosity that drives Caron’s passion for lifelong learning.