"Hopefully in five years, Greg Robinson will just be a common name leading programs around NASA." - Gregory L. Robinson on the need for more POC in leadership roles at institutions like NASA.
Gregory L. Robinson Portrait Wikimedia Commons Gregory L. Robinson is an American Engineer who is most known for his work on the James Webb Space Telescope Program at NASA. After years of delays in the project, Robinson took over as Director of the program and oversaw the telescope’s launch in 2021.
Greg Robinson was born in 1960 in rural Virginia and was one of eleven siblings. He graduated from Dan River High School in 1978, before receiving a full football scholarship to Virginia Union University to do a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics. He then transferred to Howard University to complete a BA in Electrical Engineering.
In 1989 Robinson joined NASA and soon became the manager of the Goddard Space Flight Center. He then oversaw 114 different missions as the Deputy Center Director of the John H. Glenn Research Center. He also acted as a Deputy Chief Engineer at NASA between 2005 and 2013.
In 2018, Robinson was asked to lead the James Webb Space Telescope Program as acting Director. Enjoying his current job, he was reluctant to take the position and declined. In an interview with Judy Woodruff for PBS News, Robinson explained that his boss, “made a convincing case on how important Webb is to NASA and really to the world. And we really needed to get it over the goal line. So, after reluctance and a lot of time talking with my wife and a few mentors, I agreed to take it on.”
The Webb Telescope project had been in the making since the 1990s, with various setbacks and delays in the years prior to its launch. When Greg Robinson took over as director, he reportedly increased the program’s schedule efficiency from 50% to 95%, managing more than 20,000 involved in the project. Robinson’s supervisor, Thomas Zurbuchen, described him as, “the most effective leader of a mission [he] had ever seen at NASA.”
When asked how he managed to turn the project toward success, Robinson explained there were two key aspects of his process. He told Woodruff,
“One was making sure everyone was aligned, from the lowest person the team all the way up through NASA headquarters, through the administrator, and our stakeholders in OMB and Congress, just making sure everyone was looking at things the right way, asking the right questions, and responding appropriately. That was one piece.
The other one was allowing fresh eyes to come in. There are other smart people within and outside the agency who were not working on Webb. And, sometimes, having those people come in and help you out a little bit, it's important.”
In July 2022, the James Webb Space Telescope began transmitting its first ever set of data. After a 33-year-long career at NASA, Greg Robinson retired. That same year, he was featured on the Time 100 List of Influential People, as well as being awarded Time’s Innovator of the Year and the Federal Employee of the Year, all for his incredible leadership on the Webb Program.
In the PBS interview, Robinson discussed the need for more people of color in leadership roles of major programs like the Webb Telescope. He added, “I shouldn’t be the first one. Hopefully — and I have had this conversation with others — in five years, Greg Robinson will just be a common name leading programs around NASA.” He also spoke about how hard his parents had to work to provide their children with an education, particularly as they grew up in a time when segregation laws were still in place, which posed certain challenges when it came to opportunity.
Gregory L. Robinson is an inspiration not only because of his skills as an engineer, but because of his leadership skills and ability to overcome adversity and achieve great things.
 Woodruff, Judy. NASA engineer honored for work overseeing launch of James Webb Space Telescope. [Online] Available https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/nasa-engineer-honored-for-work-overseeing-launch-of-james-webb-space-telescope.2023.
 Cohen, Ben. The NASA Engineer Who Made the James Webb Space Telescope Work. [Online] Available https://www.wsj.com/articles/nasa-james-webb-space-telescope-greg-robinson-images-11657137487.2023.
 Woodruff, Judy. 2023.
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Last edited 3/11/2023 6:07:54 PM