Gail and William “Bill”
Robinson with their dog

For more than 87 years, JPL has opened doors to the universe. For Gail and William "Bill" Robinson, the famed lab managed by Caltech opened doors of opportunity. 

From 1970 to 1977, Bill was an academic part-time employee at JPL, first doing technician work and later engineering design work. Bill enrolled at UCLA in 1970 and received his bachelor of science in electrical engineering in 1974. 

Bill used his JPL earnings to finance graduate studies at UCLA and Loyola Law School, receiving his master’s in electrical engineering in 1975 and juris doctor in 1978. Combining technology and law, he went on to have a 45-year career as a technology trial lawyer specializing in patent and trade secret litigation. 

JPL also offered Bill another benefit: the opportunity to meet Gail in 1975. The two have been married for more than 40 years. 


Gail took a clerical job at JPL while on break from the University of San Diego in the 1970s and, after graduation, joined the lab full-time as a secretary. She rose through the ranks while also earning her master’s in business administration.

"I never felt that I couldn't get ahead because of my gender,” Gail says. “JPL had a lovely collegial environment. I was well respected as a team member, and my voice was heard.” She is also proud of her role as a mentor to young women at JPL.

In the 1980s, Gail oversaw business operations for several missions and was business manager for the Mars Directorate and the Space and Earth Science Directorate. After those directorates merged, she worked as a business manager for Charles Elachi (MS ’69, PhD ’71), who became JPL director in 2001, and his successors. When NASA mandated a chief of staff position at each federally funded research and design center, Elachi appointed Gail to that role at JPL.

After more than 50 years of service, Gail retired this year. 


The Robinsons reached the point in their lives where they needed to make decisions about their estate, which had grown over the years. With no children of their own, they decided that the best use of their money was to provide scholarships for middle-class students. 

“We want to support the next generation of scientists, engineers, doctors, and lawyers,” Bill says. “I got out of law school with no money, but also no debt. You can’t do that today. We want to help kids with their education costs so they can get on with their lives after graduation.”

Gail agrees. “Engineers from middle-class families are saddled with student loan debt,” she says, adding that middle-class students and their families receive minimal need-based assistance but cannot cover the total cost of tuition. “When they graduate, they cannot afford a house in Pasadena or even a family. We saw this situation all the time at JPL, and it affected our recruiting.”

The couple’s $5 million bequest to Caltech will endow the Gail and Bill Robinson Scholarship, which will support middle-class students who qualify for financial aid. The Robinsons are establishing similar endowments at UCLA, USC, and Loyola Law School.


Caltech students graduate with less debt than their peers, $16,787 compared to $37,338. Still, Caltech wants to do better. The Institute recently launched the Initiative for Caltech Students, a fundraising campaign to raise an additional $100 million in student scholarships.

Robust financial aid packages free students to follow their curiosities and passions while on campus as 
well as after they graduate, says vice president for student affairs Kevin Gilmartin, the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of English and holder of the Allen V. C. Davis and Lenabelle Davis Leadership Chair. 

“Gail and Bill understand the challenge that recent college graduates face and want to help,” Gilmartin says. “I am deeply grateful for their scholarship fund, which will advance Caltech’s goal of eliminating institutional student loans.”