From childhood doodles to designing buildings

Nick Robinson
Degree: Master of Architecture
Hometown: Milwaukee
It’s a fact: A church musician since age 8, Robinson can play tenor and soprano saxophone, percussion, trumpet, cornet, bass guitar and piano.

Nick Robinson was the kind of kid who constantly drew, filling his notebooks with cartoon characters or whatever else caught his interest. When an architect came to visit his third- or fourth-grade classroom on career day, Robinson was blown away: “He gets paid to draw!”

Right then he decided he too would become an architect. By the time he was a senior in high school, he was already interning at Uihlein/Wilson Architects in downtown Milwaukee.

“It’s so dynamic,” Robinson says of his chosen career. “You can really shape the way people live and interact with architecture, and that’s very fascinating.”

Fortunately, Robinson didn’t have to go far to start his own training. He first earned his bachelor’s in Architectural Studies from UWM’s School of Architecture & Urban Planning – on a full-tuition scholarship as a Morgridge Scholar – and then stayed on to earn his master’s degree.

He’s grateful for the incredible experiences he’s had at UWM. As a McNair Scholar, he worked with Professor Mike Utzinger to study the city’s heat island effect and the water retention of the Urban Ecology Center’s green roof.

He also studied abroad for three months in France and Spain. “Paris is a freaking playground for architecture. Even their apartment buildings look like something you’d take a picture of,” Robinson enthuses. Last semester, he went with Associate Professor Gil Snyder to tour Boston’s architecture.

But the past six years have also been a lot of hard work. “I’m most proud of never giving myself an option to fail,” Robinson says. He’ll never forget sitting in one of his sophomore studio courses. He only planned to work for a few hours, but then his cell phone alarm went off, signaling it was 6 a.m. – and he had to go to work at 8 a.m.

Staying up for 36 or 48 hours straight around finals time because he was so immersed in a project wasn’t unusual. “The thing with architecture is you’re never finished,” he says.

Meanwhile, he has continued to intern at Uihlein/Wilson, which is partly owned by UWM alums Del Wilson (’77) and Scott Ramlow (’90,’92). Robinson started by updating product binders, but once his employers learned he knew the AutoCAD software, he was soon updating schematic designs. “Who gets to do that when they’re fresh out of high school?,” Robinson asks in wonder.

And now? “I’m doing a lot of things that actual licensed architects do,” he says. That includes working on construction documents, getting trained on specifications and helping present to potential clients.

“Nick is hardworking, highly intelligent, creative and empathetic,” Ramlow says. “The first three qualities will make Nick a good architect, but it is his empathy that has, and will, continue to make him successful.”

That’s evident in Robinson’s commitment to giving back to the community. For the past six years, he has volunteered for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Milwaukee, and he and his “little brother” recently won the organization’s Match of the Year award. “Now my ‘little’ is interested in becoming an architect,” Robinson says with a smile.

After graduation Robinson hopes to stay on at Uihlein/Wilson. His ultimate dream: To one day own his own firm and to teach part time. So perhaps UWM hasn’t seen the last of him.