At Work — Richard Robyn

Kathryn Monsewicz

Richard Robyn is the director of the Washington Program in National Issues at Kent State. He shares how he became the director and what the stress of 18 years on the job has taught him.

Having gone into the Peace Corps after graduation, I think, was the initial impetus for me to be thinking about, “Oh my goodness, I’m learning so much outside the classroom. Wow. I’m learning a whole lot of other new things here.”

After the Peace Corps, going to France and living in another culture, a different culture and learning and enjoying that so much … all that helped. Then I came back and did my graduate program. When I finished the Ph.D. here, I started teaching full time for a year, and that’s when the Washington Program opened up.

The first time I went was in 1967? Eight? No, 1969. There was an anti-war demonstration going on and Washington was all this whur, and I thought, “Wow, this is a really interesting city.” Everything was closed down because these huge numbers of protesters were coming to the city. So I didn’t really get to see it or experience it, and then I finally went back again. It’s an unusual city. It took us a little time to warm up to Washington.

The funny story, true story, always, is that after the first year (as director of the Washington Program), I came back here, and I told my friends and the chair of the department, “That’s it. I’m not gonna do it anymore.” I made so many mistakes. And then, a couple people talked to me and said, “Are you sure? You know, we need you here. We don’t have anybody else to run this program.”

I think the significant part of stress is, suddenly, you’re faced with something that you’ve never experienced before, or “How do you handle this?” It’s crazy, you know. I never would have predicted that I’d be here 18 years later doing it. It’s not easy for a professor to do this because most of us have family and kids, and you’re focused on research, publication, teaching and raising a family. … That’s hard to do when you are uprooting and going to Washington, D.C., or whatever.

As long as the things were going reasonably well, the university would say, “OK, just kinda continue doing what you’re doing.” Some of the crazy stuff happened early in the program, so I know kind of how the program runs and we have really good students do the program. (Chuckles.) Still want to have fun in Washington, of course, but, you know, they put it in perspective and do a lot of great things in D.C. … that takes a lot of a load off of me.

We have a joke, almost every chair of the department. They’ll see them at the beginning and the end, and the joke that we always talk about is, “What happened to these kids? These kids that were a little bit awkward back at the luncheon, like, ‘Gah, I don’t know what I want to do in life. Gah, I’m excited.’” Then at the end, it’s like, “Hello, Dr. blah blah blah blah blah.” Shake hands. Maybe hand a business card to them and, it’s like, “What?! Who are you?”

All these years of going back again and again and again, you appreciate how much the city has to offer, and there is always something new that I haven’t done that I want to go back and do that now.

Kathryn Monsewicz is a contributor. Contact her at [email protected]