Mendocino College Faculty in Focus: Robert Alto
Professor of Speech and Humanities, Robert "Bob"; Alto, radiates delight as he talks about his classes, his travels, and his 37 years teaching at Mendocino College. "Learning and work give me vitality," he says. "The classes I teach are life changing! Communication - speaking and listening- are skills we use every day of our lives. I love to teach," he declares, "and I love to learn!"
Born and raised in Pennsylvania, Alto came West to attend Brigham Young University, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Speech and Theater Arts. He went on to earn a Master's degree in Theatre and Cinematic Arts. He later earned another Master's degree in Community Education, and still later earned yet another Master's degree - this time from the University of San Francisco - in Marriage, Family, and Child counseling.
Alto muses that it took him 10 years after high school to sort out what his career focus would be. During that time he worked at a number of jobs, including dishwasher, forklift driver, zinc miner, Hostess cupcake route salesperson, department store buyer, library assistant, and eventually, graduate assistant in speech. He served in the Army Security agency on Okinawa from 1960 - 1963, where he got his first taste of foreign travel. He was an actor with the Oregon Shakespeare Theatre in 1970, and has taught "Parenting Apart," a class for divorcing parents, for almost 20 years through the Mendocino Youth Project. He also wrote and taught an interpersonal communication course for struggling parents through the Family Center, a part of the Department of Social Services, for almost 10 years. In addition, he continues to make himself available as a resource speaker for clubs and organizations such as Indian Tribal Health and CalFire.
Alto describes how he happened to end up at Mendocino College as "very oddly." He goes on to relate that while interviewing at another college in Northern California, he learned that Mendocino College was also hiring in his field. He applied, got an interview, and was hired two days later - 37 years ago!
Regarding his boundless energy and enthusiasm, Alto says he simply chooses to be happy and energetic. He loves teaching and learning, and believes the combination keeps him vital. He describes his teaching style as energetic, unorthodox, and caring. He describes his passions as theatre, music, films, and new ideas - being able to connect with creative, imaginative activities, learn from them, then use them to ignite others.
Alto loves all his classes, but for different reasons. He loves teaching public speaking because he sees such radical changes in his students during the semester. He loves teaching interpersonal communication because he enjoys seeing students gain insights into themselves and their relationships. He loves teaching film classes because he gets to introduce students to a medium that is an important part of their lives.
Most people would be surprised to know that despite his public showmanship, Alto considers himself more an introvert than an extrovert. "I like being alone and independent," he says.
Alto is proud of having travelled to 28 countries on all five continents, including Antartica, often leading groups of college and community members. He is taking a group to New York after Christmas this year, and plans to lead a group to Australia next summer.
In closing, Alto shares these words of wisdom:
- Life is a joyful experience!
- Don't pay full price for anything! It ALL goes on sale!
- Take time to appreciate those you love.