Jaison Robinson, ’03, credits his father for putting him on the path to the Farm. As an alum himself, his father encouraged the young water polo player to choose Stanford in favor of the Air Force Academy, Naval Academy, and other options. “My dad said there was only one choice,” he says, laughing.
Robinson is now preparing for his 20th reunion, and he’s commemorating his own Stanford experience with a gift in honor of his father.
Together with his wife, Jamie, Robinson is establishing two new scholarship funds for undergraduate students, including one named for his father, Dr. Jim C. Robinson, AM ’72, PhD ’74. The scholarships will be awarded with preference given to African and African American students pursuing majors in STEM.
“We wanted to start where there was underrepresentation,” Robinson says. “We hope that this will help students broaden their horizons to see what is possible.”
Because of Stanford’s Fast Forward matching program, the couple’s gift was eligible for a match from the university, resulting in two endowed scholarships as well as 10 expendable Stanford Fund scholarships, which will provide financial support to two students per year over five years.
It's a fitting legacy for a family with such a strong affiliation with and love for Stanford. Robinson’s younger sister, Makeda Robinson, MD ’10, PhD ’20, is also an alum and teaches courses in infectious diseases at Stanford University School of Medicine.
“This is our father’s favorite place, and I have always wanted to do something for him here,” says Robinson. “He feels as though Stanford gave him an opportunity for a better life in a world that was much more difficult than it is today.”
Robinson says both of his parents instilled in him the importance of education and giving back. His mother, Doris, graduated from Howard University, participated in the March on Washington in 1963, and was present when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. She went on to serve as an award-winning public school principal in Long Beach, California, and now runs a California State University math collaborative program that helps African American men prepare for college through STEM education and college preparatory curriculum.
Robinson’s father, Jim, pursued higher education in order to climb the economic ladder—having grown up in the era of Jim Crow in Mississippi, he can still vividly remember the challenges of poverty and racism at that time. His family, like many during the Great Migration, moved north to Michigan and later to California. He attended California State University Long Beach and later transferred to Stanford, which he credits for changing his life.
“He was part of a generation where they were the first Black everything,” says Robinson. “He and the friends he met at Stanford, they went out and tried to will into existence what W.E.B. DuBois called the Talented Tenth.”
Robinson’s father became professor of African American studies and dean at California State University Long Beach, served on the state board of education, and used his earnings to invest in real estate. Robinson was taking part in the family real estate business by age 11, sweeping up neighborhood alleys after soccer practice. By the time he was attending Stanford, he was helping his father teach informal classes about investing in real estate to Cal State students—many of whom used what they learned to invest in properties and decades later are still thanking him for that, and for what it has allowed them to do for their own children.
After graduating from Stanford and completing his JD at the University of Chicago, Robinson took over his father’s company, where he continues to run the family office. He also serves as partner and cofounder of Dream Variation Ventures together with his wife, Jamie, who has worked as an advisor for large philanthropic and civic organizations. The company has grown under their leadership, and so has their interest in and commitment to giving back. Last fall, Robinson was elected to the NPR Foundation Board of Trustees.
“We have always believed that philanthropy should be hands on,” says Robinson. “We are fortunate to be in the position we are in, and hopeful that we can do something that actually matters.”
Robinson’s forthcoming reunion isn’t the only noteworthy event on his horizon. On May 20, 2022, he will fulfill a lifelong dream when he travels aboard Blue Origin’s fifth crewed spaceflight.