Back in 1997, then-FAMU President Frederick S. Humphries lured Robinson away from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where he was a research scientist and group leader. Humphries appointed him serve as director of the Environmental Sciences Institute and asked to lead the process of starting B.S. and Ph.D. programs in that field.
Robinson and his team had the B.S. program up-and-running in 1998. They got the Ph.D. program off the ground in 1999.
The center received its startup funding from a $12.5M grant from NOAA for 2001 to 2006. NOAA renewed the funding with another $12.5M grant for 2006 to 2011.
Robinson’s work as director of the NOAA Environmental Cooperative Science Center impressed U.S. President Barack Obama, who appointed him to serve as assistant U.S. secretary of commerce for conservation and management and deputy NOAA administrator in 2010.
In 2011, Robinson decided to return home to FAMU. NOAA released the news of his departure one day after it awarded FAMU $15M to continue the NOAA Environmental Cooperative Science Center. At that time, the grant was the largest in FAMU history.
Today, as interim president Robinson is the principal investigator for a new $15.4M research grant that FAMU received from the NOAA Educational Partnership Program (EPP) to establish the Center for Coastal and Marine Ecosystems (CCME). He also serves as the director for the center.
Robinson is an example of the top-flight professors that Humphries recruited to help FAMU move to “R2: Doctoral Universities – Higher research activity” in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. That is the second highest research category.