Chief of Staff Nina Robinson reflects on her UC career path
Nina Robinson believes that everything happens for a reason.
So why did ReadyTalk malfunction at her Women We Admire talk on April 1, meaning the event would not be archived for posterity?
Well, let’s just say it was an April Fool’s Day snafu. But since Link was there, for the record, we’ll provide a little taste of what the UC President’s chief of staff had to say.
The talk was part of the ongoing series sponsored by the President’s Advisory Committee on the Status of Women (PACSW), which brings women to UCOP from around the UC system to share insights about their careers, workplace challenges and work–life balance.
Robinson opened by admitting to some discomfort at being up front and center to talk about her life’s path and the lessons she’s learned from it. For moral support she brought her daughter, Ellen Cushing, whom she introduced as “the most important person in the room.” She also brought some props, including the sampler pillow she keeps in her office that was made by longtime friend and former OP colleague Sue Wilbur; it says, “Hold to your principles and keep your wits about you.”
The hour was full of personal stories, from the dislocation caused by her parents’ divorce when she was 12, to meeting her husband while teaching a film class at UC San Diego, to stashing her infant son in an office file drawer to sleep.
Appointed the president’s chief of staff in June 2012, Robinson previously served as interim (2011–12) and deputy (2010–11) chief of staff. She joined OP in 2002 as director of Policy and External Affairs in Student Affairs, and previously worked for 15 years at UC Berkeley in admissions and enrollment, institutional research, campus planning and, finally, as executive director of public affairs.
Prior to that she held a variety of jobs, from being an office manager for an Alameda County public policy agency to a private sector marketing job in the long-gone era of three-martini lunches and worldwide first-class air travel.
Robinson is a fifth-generation Californian and third-generation UC alumna who likes to joke that she was “raised in the church of the University of California.” She was born in the Sierra foothills and moved to Monterey before starting college at UC San Diego. She later did graduate work at UC Berkeley and, although she loved being there and being a grad student, her decision to get a Ph.D. in English was not a good fit.
But it was at Berkeley that she was introduced to public policy, a field she later returned to for more graduate work. And that was where she first encountered UC President Mark Yudof, when she worked as a research assistant on his textbook, Educational Policy and the Law. (It was an association that he had forgotten and that Robinson did not reveal until after she was hired in his office).
Through what she calls her meandering path, with little direction in the beginning but lots of opportunities, good luck and a heavy dose of persistence, Robinson professed her belief in sticking to your principles, not selling your soul and acting with optimism and purpose in everything you do.
“Some of the most important and positive decisions I’ve made were a combination of fate giving me an opportunity, but also my recognizing the opportunity and being willing to take a risk,” she said.
She closed by passing out a handout with some of her favorite words to live by, ranging from Shakespeare’s St. Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V, to the not-so-famous words of Jasper Friendly Bear (from CBC Radio One’s Dead Dog Café Comedy Hour): “Stay calm, be brave, wait for the signs.”
You can find recordings of most of the Women We Admire talks on PACSW’s Women We Admire website.