Robert L. Sigmon invested a career in building quality experiential education and service-learning. Born in Lincoln County, North Carolina, he grew up in Charlotte, graduated from Harding High School and received a B.A. degree (1957) from Duke University. Following college, he served in West Pakistan as a lay missionary with the Methodist Church where he managed a hostel for 130 Christian boys. Bob oversaw all of the non-classroom life of these youngsters (ages 11-16) who came from the lowest caste families in the Punjab region of Pakistan.
After three years in Pakistan, he studied at United Theological College in Bangalore, in southern India. Returning to the USA, he became reacquainted with Marian, whom he had met in Pakistan when she visited her missionary parents. They were married in 1962 and moved to New York City. Bob completed a Master of Divinity degree in 1964 at Union Theological Seminary, holding a field assignment as a convener of a young adult ministry program at The Riverside Church in New York. During the Civil Rights era (1964-1966), Bob and his wife co-directed a Peace Corps type program in the southeast with the American Friends Service Committee.
Given his work in Pakistan, New York and with economically and racially oppressed communities in the southeast, he became intrigued with the kinds of learning that occur when young people and adults engage in direct service activities with oppressed and marginalized people. For the next 40 years he worked in positions centered on promoting public service based experiential learning, primarily in the southeastern region of America. He helped create the North Carolina Internship Office, a joint project of the Governor’s Office and the Board of Higher Education (which later became the consolidated UNC system) which promoted service based experiential learning throughout the state.
During this time, he was part of a group that formed what is now the National Society for Experiential Education. He designed and managed a student initiated community based practicum for the new School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina (1975-1978) and managed clinical training and continuing education programs for health care practitioners from 1978-1991 in Raleigh.
Since 1991 he has consulted with national, state, and local programs supporting community-based public service based experiential learning. In the early 1990s, he designed and presented workshops promoting servant-leadership through the Robert K. Greenleaf Center. For ten years he served as Senior Associate with the Engaged Community and Campus Initiative of the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) in Washington, DC.
For the Synergist magazine in 1979, he wrote an article, “Service-Learning: Three Principles,” that has been widely quoted over the years. With the CIC, he edited a book, Journey to Service Learning, which highlights the experiences of small private liberal arts colleges in America, promoting engaged community and campus service based learning programs.
The Sigmons “retired” to Buncombe County in 1999, although Marian continued to work from her home for the N.C. Division of Aging until 2001 and Bob continues his consulting business and aspires to become a competent gardener. The family farm has become something of a commune, since both of their daughters and families have homes there as well.