DU Alumni

Alumnus demonstrates passion for STEM through scholarship gift

Donor and alumnus Robby Robb talks with students at the Denver School of Science and Technology, an institution he helped found. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

Donor and alumnus Robby Robb talks with students at the Denver School of Science and Technology, an institution he helped found. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

The University of Denver’s intensified focus on science and technology makes perfect sense to Robby Robb, a DU alumnus and former engineer who was the founding chairman of the board of the Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST).

Robb (BS ’60, MBA ’61) knew all about the importance of those fields long before STEM (short for science, technology, engineering and math) became a buzzword in the world of education.

“If I look at where the United States is, one of the things we are able to do is to create and develop technology and innovation,” Robb says. “Engineering, science, medical — all of these areas require the basis you will have with a STEM education.”

This year, Robb and his wife, Barbara, did their part to help University of Denver students achieve success in the sciences: They donated almost $2 million to support scholarships for STEM students at DU. The gift gives special consideration to graduates of DSST, a network of charter schools within the Denver Public Schools system that focuses on science education and aims to prepare kids from all walks of life for college.

The Robbs’ gift was partially matched by the University. Those funds will enable the scholarship to be awarded to a student as early as fall 2015.

The gift perfectly complements the University’s focus on STEM, illustrated most dramatically by a new 110,000-square-foot, $60 million building that will house the Daniel Felix Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science and the Knoebel Center for the Study of Aging. Construction began this summer on the building, which is expected to open in late 2015. The expansion also means the University will be able to grow its engineering and computer science student and faculty capacity by 30 percent.

Robb says his own passion for STEM was nurtured at the University of Denver. “My education from DU was the foundation that allowed me to have a very successful career in a number of areas,” Robb explains. “It allowed me to go into design engineering, into systems integration, into computers and a wide range of areas. When I go into something new and different, I find that I draw from the basic education from DU.”

That education also came in handy when Robb was helping to create DSST.

“With DSST, I had the opportunity to make a difference in how we are educating these kids. I think a lot of the problems we have out there are [due to the fact that] a number of the schools just don’t have the discipline or the environment that prepares [kids] for college,” Robb says. “One of the messages that DSST has is these kids are going to be college-ready. That was one of the goals in organizing this, and it’s been very successful in terms of accomplishing that.”

Thanks to his own STEM education, Robb worked for 20 years at Martin Marietta and Boeing in their engineering, production control and computer operations divisions. He then spent two decades working on private ventures before turning his focus to education. It was when he was serving as a University of Colorado Regent that Robb met David Greenberg, who was serving on the Colorado Commission on Higher Education and was just beginning to formulate the plan for the school that would become DSST.

Not long after that initial meeting, Robb was approached by Greenberg — who in 2012 became vice chancellor for institutional partnerships at DU — asking him to be part of DSST. Greenberg envisioned the concept as a national demonstration project “to prove that all public school students, regardless of background and economic status, could succeed at a very high level.

“Our belief was that if the school provided a strong values-driven culture, with high expectations for both students and faculty, great things could happen,” Greenberg explains.

Robb became the school’s founding board member. In that role, Greenberg says, Robb helped write the new school’s charter and bylaws, created strong financial-monitoring systems and “paid attention to all the details required to make things work smoothly years down the road.”

“[Robb] took the long view on everything, and DSST has flourished because of his wisdom,” Greenberg says.

Greenberg says he was especially impressed by the generosity and passion for helping others that he saw both in Robby and Barbara.

“What we didn’t know at the time was that Barbara and Robby Robb were heavily involved in finding ways for low-income students, particularly Hispanic students, to succeed,” Greenberg says. “They did this in a very humble, very effective, under-the-radar kind of way. So immediately Robby was able to share his thoughts and experiences on how we could create an academic climate where students from underserved populations could feel welcome and thrive.”

Today, the DSST network serves close to 3,000 students on six campuses. More than 70 percent are students of color, and more than 65 percent are from low-income families. And every graduate has been admitted to a four-year college or university.

“That’s what I want,” Robb says when talking about the college admission rate. “I want these kids to be successful and actually graduate and have the ability to realize their dreams.

“I’ve always had this personal mantra that I wanted to make a difference that is a difference. It’s even written on a paper inside my medicine cabinet, so I see it each morning,” Robb says. “I see this as a way to help others get the education and the opportunities to make a difference for themselves, their families and, in a larger sphere, the country. Because if we don’t have educated, trained people, we won’t be able to sustain our economic positions. This helps everyone.”


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