UW News

May 31, 2007

Pam Robenolt

Pam Robenolt doesn’t look much older than the students she supervises, but her quiet knowledge and confidence make clear who’s in charge — and that her students will perform. She also puts in a ton of hours. For her efforts, Robenolt has won a Distinguished Staff Award.

Robenolt “is one of the brightest, most dedicated, most competent people I have met in my 26 years at the University of Washington,” said Stan Chernicoff, principal lecturer in Earth and space sciences, who nominated Robenolt and was director of Student-Athlete Academic Services when Robenolt was hired eight years ago. She’s now assistant director of that service. According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the UW has the second-highest graduation success rate (82 percent) in the PAC-10 (Stanford University holds top place).

“Pam has an amazing passion for the welfare of these students,” Chernicoff said. Some have gotten by on their charm, academic help from others or sheer athletic performance, he said, but Robenolt knows they will eventually have to perform in the real world. “She gives no quarter; Pam doesn’t go easy on them,” said Chernicoff.

Robenolt came to the UW from two years in the Peace Corps and five years teaching special education in suburban Washington, D.C. She’d already gotten a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Lakeland College and a master’s degree in special education from George Washington University.

At the UW, her accomplishments include a summer course on writing and critical thinking. Geared to give student athletes a running start at the UW, the course was initially offered last summer to 21 students who worked with eight staff members four days a week. Robenolt worked with the English Department on course content and structure but also spent hours and hours studying the latest research in teaching undergraduates.

Word about the course has spread in the UW athletic community, and this summer, 40 students will participate.

Normal days, however, find Robenolt either in her office counseling students, working with them in a study classroom or supervising the freshman football study table, a work session for an hour and a half four nights a week in Conibear Shellhouse.

On top of her work with students, Robenolt is a student herself. This fall, she plans to take written examinations for a UW doctorate in educational leadership and policy studies and hopes to start her dissertation next winter.

Raised in small Wisconsin towns, Robenolt said she learned the desire to help others from her mother and others who didn’t wait for people to ask for help. They were savvy enough to notice need.

Motivating students to learn, then watching them grow, often by leaps and bounds, is the best part of her job, said Robenolt. “Some students, you just wonder how they’re going to make it, but four years later, their grade point average is over 3.0 or they’ve made the dean’s list.”

Mary Patterson, a 21-year-old swimmer at the UW, said Robenolt “has made my life successful. She’s an incredible person.” Patterson has attention deficit disorder, so Robenolt helps her plan and stay organized. Recently, she helped Patterson with an independent study course in sociology which led to a long paper on ADD and how people with such difficulties are seen differently.

Lots of nights, it’s 9:30 or 10 by the time Robenolt leaves the University, and she’s plenty tired by the time she heads for the door. “But when you see how hard students work, how much they give,” she said, “it makes the time worth it.”