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Richard Robertson: A Lasting Impact

Oceanside CA— Dr. Richard Robertson is all about service to others. The former Naval officer served on the salvage ship Seneca and the aircraft carrier Coral Sea. He’s volunteered in the emergency room at Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside for decades. He’s contributed to his congregation as a longtime elder at the First Presbyterian Church in Oceanside. And for the past 29 years, Robertson has been vice president of Student Services at MiraCosta College.

His MiraCosta College tenure ends June 30 when Robertson, who turns 73 on May 5, officially retires. He is the longest-serving vice president of student services in the California Community Colleges system.

“I have been blessed to work at this incredible college for almost 30 years,” Robertson said. “When I accepted the position in 1987 coming from western Pennsylvania, I had no idea what it would be like. But what I found was absolutely gifted faculty, wonderful students and a great atmosphere.”

Robertson has helped transform MiraCosta College into an economic engine – without losing its focus on the students it serves while striving to ensure it reflects the diverse community of which it is a part.

The year Robertson was hired, there was no Puente Project, no Umoja program and no Summer Bridge – all of which are now thriving in their mission to support student success in underrepresented populations. The year Robertson was hired, MiraCosta College students secured a total of just $600,000 in financial aid, compared to this year’s $26 million in assistance via Pell Grants and other programs. The year Robertson was hired, minorities comprised 29 percent of the student body, compared to the 56 percent today. And the year Robertson was hired, just 100 veterans and dependents were enrolled on campus, compared to the 1,800 today.

The vice president of student services helped secure a seven-year, $7.5 million GEAR UP grant that partners MiraCosta with Oceanside Unified School District in working to prepare middle and high school students to be college eligible. And he was instrumental in establishing an EOPS Book Loan Program, an Academic Proctoring Center, and a Transfer Center.

“It’s been a wonderful thing to watch,” said Robertson.

He credits others for the impact of the departments he oversees.

“The best thing I have done at this college is hire absolutely incredible people who care deeply about MiraCosta and what it stands for and who are committed to seeing that our students succeed,” he said. “My philosophy is to hire great people and get out of the way.”

Those who know him say his leadership is instrumental in MiraCosta’s success.

“He’s always there for the students of MiraCosta College, but the thing is, he doesn’t do it to get attention,” said Naweed Tahmas, the 2015-16 student trustee for the MiraCosta Community College District. “A lot of what he does, he does quietly.”

Robertson’s impact goes far beyond MiraCosta College. Drew Matonak said he succeeded in school and became president of Hudson Valley Community College in New York because of Robertson’s coaching, mentorship and guidance that began when Matonak was a student at Butler Community College in Pennsylvania, where Robertson was the student activities director at the time.

“He challenged me to achieve beyond my expectations,” Matonak said. “I felt like I was his project. He was going to make sure that I was successful in spite of myself…I hope that I have touched half the students during my career as Dick has impacted. Dick Robertson is my idol, my mentor, and my friend. To this day, Dick Robertson is the person whom I aspire to become.”

Adam Frye, a Marine veteran with two combat tours in Iraq who served as president of MiraCosta College’s Associated Students before transferring to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, said Robertson is a master at motivating. “He was strict, to the point, but always very fair,” Frye said. “Even now we still keep in touch because he has been a very influential person in my life.”

As Vice President of Student Services, Robertson’s responsibilities include admissions and records, counseling, student equity, Disabled Students Programs and Services, Extended Opportunity Programs and Services, financial aid, health services, intercollegiate and intramural athletics, the Service Learning Program, diversity outreach, student activities and government, veterans’ services, student conduct, and more. Robertson came to MiraCosta College via Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio. He earned his bachelor of arts degree in political science from The College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio, in 1965; his master’s degree in college student personnel at Michigan State University in 1967; and his Ph.D. in administration and higher education at Michigan State University in 1981.

He served as director of student activities, acting dean of student affairs and dean of students at Butler Community College in Butler, Pa., before he and his wife, Pat, began to tire of the cold winters and opted to move out West.

He promises to be active in retirement, and he has been training with the National Conflict Resolution Center in San Diego to become a certified mediator and is eyeing the possibility of volunteering part time with the group. He vows to continue volunteering in the emergency room at Tri-City Medical Center, lest he lose the opportunity to hold a baby in his arms and sing the Michigan State fight song while the infant’s parent or guardian is being treated for an injury or illness.

“I’m passionate about volunteerism and I’m very pleased that MiraCosta College has such a strong service learning component.”

And Robertson will remain committed to MiraCosta College, where he and Pat have been active in philanthropic causes, donating more than $55,000 to fund various scholarships.

“The biggest joy for me,” Robertson said, “has been to watch the students who come to MiraCosta College reach their potential and move on to becoming very successful in their life and their profession.”