An education born and developed in Brownwood has gone on to impact nations spanning the globe.
A 1981 graduate from Brownwood High School who obtained an undergraduate degree from Howard Payne University, Sha Ragsdale Robinson and her husband, Johnny, have created a non-profit business that is benefitting countries in need of clean drinking water.
Sha, a microbiologist, and Johnny, a chemist — residents of Silsbee in southeast Texas — had the backgrounds necessary to bring Water-4-Nations officially into existence in 2011 in an effort to provide safe, sustainable drinking water for all.
The initial idea for Water-4-Nations was formulated in the summer of 2005 when the Robinsons first visited Steve and Carol Thompson of Global Outreach Missionaries in the Andes Mountains of Central Ecuador.
“We went on a mission trip to Ecuador and saw a lot of people sick,” Sha Robinson said. “They had plenty of water, but they were sick all the time. The water they were drinking wasn’t clean. It’s not that they need people to dig wells, they need someone to clean up the water they have. We came home and talked about it and we knew how to do this, my husband has a background in chemistry and mine is in biology, how to clean it up. That’s how it started.”
In 2008, Johnny Robinson began a new job with Hach Company, which focuses on water quality analysis. After the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti resulted in an international water crisis, the Robinsons decided it was time to take action.
The autumn months of 2010 saw the Robinsons reach out to the Thompsons and return to Ecuador where they provided chlorine disinfection systems to new church plants, as well as existing churches and schools in their ministry area.
A regional water laboratory was also established at Campamento Bautista Chacauco in Ecuador. Thanks to a donation by Hach Company, the capability exists to test drinking water quality in accordance with World Health Organization standards. E. coli testing was added in March 2012.
As of September 2012, eight chlorine disinfection systems had been installed in the mountain and jungle areas of Ecuador serving more than 1,000 people.
Water-4-Nations is now turning its attention to the Republic of Zambia, located in southern Africa.
“Africa is new for us,” Sha Robinson said. “We were contacted by a missionary couple, Sherrie and Jerry Avery, who heard we do this kind of thing. They have kids at their school who are sick and asked if we could help them. The equipment is ready and we have a shipping container with chlorinators on the way. It will probably be the summer before we can get there and set something up.”
The Robinsons are open to assisting anyone in need in any country throughout the world, but they need assistance.
“We hope this grows and grows, but people have to contact us and ask for help. We do it as we can. We’re a 501 © (3) tax exempt company totally dependent on donations from other people. We don’t have the funds to do this on our own.”
When not working on Water-4-Nations projects, Sha Robinson is employed with Helena Laboratories, which manufactures and sells clinical diagnostic tests for hospitals and reference labs.
“I work in Research and Development, developing new tests and troubleshooting any problems we may have with manufacturing or that customers may have using our current tests,” Robinson said. “It’s not exactly what I got my degree in, but I use a lot of the skills I learned in my job now. I really enjoy what I do. I enjoy creating the new tests and automating tests we already have, and working with engineers to create equipment and create tests. It’s a fun job.”
Robinson inherited her love for science from her father, Bennett Ragsdale, who was a professor at Howard Payne. Her mother, Sue Ragsdale, was a principal within Brownwood ISD, and the couple now resides in Voss in Coleman County.
“From a really young age I was always interested in the sciences,” Robinson said. “It was always something I knew I wanted to do. My dad worked at Howard Payne University and I was always drawn to professors and their classroom. There wasn’t one particular event that got me hooked, but I knew science was what I wanted to do.”
Upon graduation from Brownwood High School, Robinson attended Howard Payne and attributed her desire to dig deeper into the sciences to professors Jack Stanford and Geraldine Boyd who, “all had a big impact on my life. They made we want to go to graduate school.”
“Some of my professors at HPU had a big influence on my life,” she said. “The professors there really encouraged me. I wouldn’t have gone on to get my Ph.D. if it wasn’t for them.”
The next step in Robinson’s journey was Texas A&M, where she attended graduate school.
“I enjoyed graduate school because I got to focus on what I really wanted to do,” Robinson said. “I learned a skill set that I get to use in my job now. The job I have, there’s a lot of research involved and I get use to all the skills I’ve learned. It’s more like play than work, really.”
She also met her husband, Johnny, there, and the couple have two sons, Ben and Sam.
“After graduate school I taught some at UTSA, but I wasn’t there a very long time,” said Robinson, who began working at Helena in 1993, but left from 2002 to 2010 to return to the classroom. “I did take off for a period of time and went back and taught physics when my boys were in high school. I wanted to be with them and it was a break from working in the lab all the time. I really enjoyed it and really enjoy kids.”
Though she had no original idea where her love of the sciences would take her, Robinson is extremely pleased with the path her life has taken, and with the opportunity she has found to help others in need.
“When I set out in college, I didn’t know where I was going,” Robinson said. “What I thought I wanted to be was a clinical chemist. I couldn’t have predicted I would be here or that I could use all the biology I’ve learned, put together with chemistry, and end up in such a good place.”