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Point of View with Tom Robinson

Tom RobinsonTom Robinson remembers the early days at UC San Diego, when there were only two colleges and far fewer buildings on campus. He graduated from UCSD in 1968 as part of the charter class at Revelle College, and went on to become a founding member and president of the UC San Diego Alumni Association. He also worked on campus from 1972-1985 in the Planning Department and Resource Management. In this interview, he talks about how the university has changed over the years, what it was like to be a Triton in the 60s and why it’s important for alumni to stay connected with the university.

1. What was it like to be at such a young university and a member of the charter class for Revelle College?

Robinson: I transferred into the charter class as a sophomore and had the privilege of being part of that class through graduation. The number of undergraduates was so small, you knew almost everyone in your class. We were outnumbered by faculty and graduate students, which meant you could get to know them more personally too. We dined with faculty and spent Friday night dinners at the Provost’s house, where we joined our friends to blow off some of the tension from the grueling studies and exams.

2. How often have you visited the campus over the years and how has it changed since you were a student?

Robinson: I worked on campus through 1985 and have not been back that often since then. I knew the campus had grown but was still overwhelmed by the reality of it during a recent walkabout. The changes since graduation in 1968 are huge. As I recall, there were only two colleges at that time and the second had just begun. I think the numbers tell the story. Then, enrollment was just a few thousand students and now that figure is up to 27,000 and on the way to a planned campus enrollment of 30,000 students.

Tom Robinson
The Revelle Class of ’68 bought these large boulders as their class gift. They still sit on the Revelle campus today.

3. What was it like working in the UC San Diego Planning Department, and later in Resource Management, during a time of tremendous growth at the university in the 70s and 80s?

Robinson: Being on the staff in the Planning Department was phenomenal.  So much was happening with the development of new colleges and the expansion of the faculty and budgeting resources.  It was a privilege to staff-planning committees and to get to know a lot of the faculty and administration on a first name basis.

Tom RobinsonResearch Management was a new office when I joined it after my fellowship with the National Institutes of Health.  One of the office’s responsibilities was to assist in the development of new research centers.  I was fortunate to be involved with the development of The Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences (CASS) and Cal Space.  Working with renowned faculty like Margret Burbage and others in CASS, and James Arnold in Cal Space, was very rewarding.  Among other adventures, this afforded me the opportunity to be a “gofer” on an astronomy outing to Lick Observatory.  And later I delivered to NASA the UCSD-led proposal to house the Space Telescope Institute on the west coast. 

4. As a founding member and first president of the Alumni Association, and a current member of the new Alumni President’s Society, why do you think it’s important to keep alumni connected to the university?

Robinson: UC San Diego has left an indelible imprint on most of us alumni. And our assessment of our education increases in value with time. We’re getting wiser. I believe alumni are important assets of a great university. They exemplify the value of a UCSD education in their words and deeds, and this is an important and powerful message. Connected alumni give back to the university in so many ways.

5. How did the UC San Diego Alumni Association get its start?

Robinson: Around 1972, there was a small group of interested UC San Diego alumni and community members who were showing interest in forming an alumni association.  In addition, a number of us from the Revelle class of ‘68 had been planning a reunion, and this seemed to spark further interest in gathering alumni together.  

Tom Ham (UCLA alum, as I recall) hosted exploratory meetings at his Lighthouse restaurant and in the end, we had 20 or so alumni and friends of UCSD that got together and elected officers for the newly formed UCSD Alumni and Friends Association.  I had the privilege of being elected the first Alumni President. 

 Fun Faves

Favorite place on campus: During my student years, the Hut (or something like that) was my favorite place. It was a student hangout where you could really get away from the rush of campus life and have a non-cafeteria meal (pizza to my recollection).

Tom RobinsonFavorite subject in college: The two-year Revelle humanities sequence. We were told that a Revelle education was intended to promote the development of the Renaissance Man. For a math and economics guy, this rounded out my education and exposed me to other worldly matters.

Favorite hobby:
The study and practices of Ornamental Horticulture.

Favorite UCSD tradition/event: The watermelon drop during graduation week.

Favorite UC San Diego memory: Friday afternoons at the SIO graduate students shack where you could enjoy a beer, popcorn and socializing while overlooking the ocean and contemplating the elusive green flash.

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