Fueling Dreams for Future Bruin Engineers

Bill & Gail Robinson 3

Courtesy of Bill and Gail Robinson

“If you work hard you can succeed. In our day, you could do it financially by yourself. Now you can’t. That’s why we’re trying to help.” – Bill Robinson ’74, MS ’75

For William “Bill” Robinson, recalling his time at UCLA is thinking about some of the best years of his life. “I look at UCLA as a wonderful, transformative, cultural and educational experience for me,” Bill says.

A Southern California native, Bill chose to get his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in electrical engineering from UCLA for several reasons, including the school’s great academic reputation, its open and social environment, and dedicated student body. He can’t speak highly enough of UCLA during the ’70s — a time when Vietnam anti-war protests were loud and frequent, living off campus was “anti-establishment” and very cool, and students were independent and adept at balancing both their studies and their personal lives. Bill fondly remembers his morning routine — get to campus early, find parking, go to The Coop coffee shop (now Kerckhoff Coffeehouse), read the Daily Bruin and get ready for 8 a.m. classes.

Bill graduated at the top of his high school class in math and science and, as such, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) recruited him to work as an intern in the summer before he began UCLA. That led to part-time employment as a technician and later as an engineer while attending UCLA and Loyola Law School, from which Bill received his Juris Doctor in 1978. Combining technology and law, he went on to a 45-year career as a technology trial lawyer specializing in patent and trade secret litigation at several national law firms. Bill was able to finance both his UCLA and Loyola educations from his JPL earnings.  As Bill says, “While I got out of law school with no money, I also had no debt. Kids can’t do that today by themselves.”

His time at JPL, a place Bill says was “always cutting-edge,” gave him more than just an outlet for his love of science, it opened the door to an interest in patents. JPL was also where, in 1975, Bill met his future wife Gail, who worked in the same building as Bill. Gail began her career at JPL in 1970 while on summer break from the University of San Diego and rose through the ranks while earning an MBA. She oversaw business operations for various interplanetary flight projects and served as the business manager for Charles Elachi M.S. ’83, who earned his doctorate at Caltech and became director of JPL. Elachi later appointed Gail chief of staff. After more than 50 years of service at JPL, Gail retired in 2023, the same year that Bill did.

As such prestigious careers have come to a close, Bill and Gail are looking ahead to what’s next. On the agenda? Travel, hobbies, volunteerism and spending time at Catalina on their 60-foot yacht — named ‘Gail Force III’ — docked in Long Beach. An upcoming safari, golf and guitar lessons, and lots of walks with their dog Skye are just a few of the things they are looking forward to. Additionally, this time in their lives has allowed them to reflect on how they got to where they are, and how they can pass that down to the next generation.

“We both got really great educations that allowed us to get into the world and make our way — it’s much harder to do that now. So many students graduate with debt today, and we want to help them,” Bill and Gail shared. As Gail explains, “Bill and I came from very middle-class families. Middle-class students and their families tend to receive minimal need-based assistance, which means it can be a challenge affording college. They are the lost economic strata for scholarships. So, they are the focus of our scholarship gift.”

The Robinsons are making an impactful and generous donation to UCLA in their estate — $5 million to establish two new endowments: $4 million will establish the Bill and Gail Robinson Scholarship Fund for middle-income students from California. And recalling that Bill’s time as Commodore of the 1974-75 UCLA Sailing Club provided a great balance to his academic demands, $1 million will create the Bill and Gail Robinson Student Clubs Fund, to provide discretionary support for student clubs within UCLA Samueli that enhance the academic experience of its students. All this comes really at the perfect time, as this year celebrates a major milestone for Bill — his 50th UCLA reunion.

UCLA is one of four schools that will benefit from the Robinsons’ philanthropy. As Bill says, “We wanted to help future generations of scientists, doctors, engineers and lawyers,” and Gail wanted to “keep it local, where we grew up.” Thus, the couple decided to focus on the four SoCal schools that have had important roles in their lives, making similar gifts to Caltech, Loyola Law School and USC.

With their gifts, their goal is to give younger generations the chance to experience the transformative and wonderful nature of college; its educational, cultural, social grounding that has allowed Bill and Gail to be successful, in the workplace, as a couple, and in life.

As for future Bruins? As Bill says, “We believe it’s important for the United States to remain the most innovative country in the world, and that we need capital and educational infrastructure to continue to succeed and be at the forefront of cutting-edge science and engineering.” Bill and Gail hope their legacy gift will help strengthen the infrastructure for others to succeed and prosper, and inspire others to leave gifts in their estate that will help future generations of Bruin Engineers.

If you’re interested in learning more about how you can make a transformative gift through your estate plan like the Robinsons did, please contact Jim Loduha, Senior Director of Development at jloduha@support.ucla.edu. Together, we can engineer change for a better future.