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RI PowerPlayer: Arnold Robinson

Monday, April 01, 2013


Preservation and planning expert Arnold Robinson helms a dynamic collaborative force at Roger Williams University.

Every Monday, GoLocal shines the spotlight on one individual who is making a large impact on Rhode Island. This week, we sat down with Arnold Robinson, the driving force behind Roger Williams University's Community Partnership Center (CPC) which over two years has partnered with 50 different local businesses and community organizations on community development and Main Street revitalizations initiatives in Providence, Woonsocket and Central Falls, among other areas in RI. Prior to RWU, this historic preservation and community planning expert was a partner at Newport Collaborative Architects (now Northeast Collaborative Architects) and was the Executive Director of the Providence Preservation Society.

Your work at RWU's Community Partnership is gaining real traction in the community. How hard was it to convince folks this was a good idea?

It was not hard at all because there are many community groups that have phenomenally good ideas for what they want to do, but they just don’t have the resources to carry them out. The Community Partnerships Center (CPC) at Roger Williams University is this natural way for organizations to really fulfill ideas that are great but uncommon.

Beyond the community organizations, students and faculty are very engaged in the program. Students are just hungry for the opportunity to practice the skills that they have learned in their first few years of college and to really begin to practice those skills by working with real people on real community problems. Our faculty members completely see CPC as the way to build students’ skills from the theoretical to the real and applicable.

What are your greatest achievements at the CPC thus far? Where do you see the collaboration going next?

One of our greatest achievements to date is one of our very first projects - The Walley School in the town of Bristol. This project was transformational for us. It involved students across multiple disciplines and tackled this community problem, which was this building that had been left unused for almost a decade. Our group of students and faculty worked over the course of a year with local residents to get this building to a point where the town took action and funded its rehabilitation. It is now being offered for reuse through a request-for-proposal (RFP) process. This project is what I call moving out of “paralysis of analysis”, which we are often stuck in as organizations. This incredibly talented team of people moved this project of an unused building in the town common for a small investment of money and time.

In addition to the Walley School, another great achievement is our partnership with the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation. This partnership has given us the ability to serve communities in Rhode Island like Providence and Woonsocket where we might never have been able to build our own partnerships. It has given us the ability to work with professionals in economic development planning, design and community development, which is invaluable for the students.

Take us through a day in your life.

My day always starts at 5:30am, sometimes with an early work assignment or exercise. Overall, my day is a balance of keeping all of the activity with the CPC projects moving forward alongside proactive work of building the program’s capacity for future years and helping other people excel as their jobs within the CPC.

This semester we are managing 30 active projects and each of them requires individual attention to keep them progressing and helping the student staff in the process of accomplishing their goal is a big part of my day. My day is always going to that balance of project development and proactive planning for the growth of the program but it always ends at home for dinner.

What are the challenges to continue the success you've enjoyed?

The CPC is like a startup corporation and we face the same challenges as a startup. Our biggest challenge to continuing our success is to effectively identify good projects but at a higher volume so that we can serve more communities and more importantly allow more Roger Williams University students to experience this kind of learning. Yet, doing so while at the same level of quality that we’ve had to date. We’re helped enormously in that by now having Stephany Hessler join our team as our project coordinator; we’ve essentially doubled our staff.

Tell us something nobody knows about you.

I can recite William Shakespeare’s St. Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V.

Quick Hitters

Role Model: Winston Churchill

Favorite Restaurant: Apsara Restaurant

Best Beach: Second Beach, Middletown, RI.

Best Book You've Read in the Last Year: My annual re-read is Servant Leadership by Robert Greenleaf.

Advice for the Next Arnold Robinson: Trust your student team leaders. They get enormous amounts of work done with an incredibly positive energy. Sometimes you just need to point them in the right direction and get out of the way; they are incredibly motivated.


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