Out social-work professor and health researcher Dr. Kevin Robinson died earlier this month at age 40. Robinson was found in his home Feb. 8, but a cause or time of death has not yet been determined.
The Montgomery County Medical Examiner has performed an autopsy but said a determination would not be made for at least six weeks.
Robinson, a native of Greenville, S.C., was an assistant professor at Bryn Mawr College’s Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research, and devoted much of his research to the HIV/AIDS field.
Robinson earned his bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from Clemson University and went on to attain two master’s degrees — one in health administration from Pennsylvania State University and another in social work from the University of Michigan — and in 2006 received a doctorate in public health from Columbia University.
Before joining the staff at Bryn Mawr in 2007, Robinson was selected as a W.K. Kellogg Community Health scholar and spent time at the University of Michigan researching HIV/AIDS incidence among inner-city youth.
Dr. Karen Bullock, an associate professor at the University of Connecticut’s School of Social Work and a longtime friend and colleague of Robinson, said he was especially concerned about at-risk communities.
“He had a personal interest in the field because of having known people who are identified as being at greater risk for the disease, and he saw that many of those people go undiagnosed or untreated,” Bullock said. “He knew the importance of getting the information out, especially to communities that are less likely to have that information, so he was particularly interested in working with populations of color and other underserved populations.”
Dr. Darlyne Bailey, dean of Bryn Mawr’s GSSWSR, said Robinson was a strong proponent of community-based participatory research, a type of study that allows researchers to immerse themselves fully in the subjects they’re examining.
“Using that methodology requires someone that is not afraid to not just study a community but also to be part of what you’re studying, and to me this way that Kevin did his research was also the way he showed up in life,” she said. “Everything he did was done in a very inclusive way, and he just deeply, deeply listened to everyone he spoke with.”
Most recently, Robinson had been working with Public Health Management Corporation and The COLOURS Organization Inc. on an HIV-intervention program for bisexually active men of color, which was fueled by a PHMC grant from the Centers for Disease Control.
Robinson was hired as the junior principal investigator for the project and spent several hours each Wednesday for the past year meeting with the other organizers.
COLOURS interim executive director Michael Hinson said Robinson was integral in spearheading the inclusion into the project of such creative tools as photovoice — a technique that allows participants to utilize photography to document the factors in their life that contribute to their behavioral decisions — and life-mapping, which Hinson explained enables individuals to identify stressors in their lives through conversations with a life coach.
“He really brought a lot of innovation to our discussions,” Hinson said. “Some of the strategies we were able to talk about using were based on the ideas he used in other populations and that he found to be successful. He had experience with things like photovoice and brought that to the table, to fit with our overall goal of using strategies other people hadn’t really been using to help people to think broadly about what goes into their decision-making, and to help them develop strategies for making better decisions.”
Lee Carson, PHMC research associate, said Robinson’s outgoing personality was also an asset to the project.
“He was just very warm, compassionate and had a great sense of humor. He and I had a really similar sense of humor, so we’d always have a good time at our meetings,” Carson said. “He was a very open type of person; you could talk to him about anything and he’d listen. He was very intelligent, charismatic and just gregarious.”
Robinson’s character also shone through in the classroom, which Carson said helped students to feel connected to him and to the coursework.
“When you have someone who’s approachable like he was, it’s very important because students can feel like they can come in and talk to you. One of his students who works at PHMC was deeply touched by his death. He had been inspirational to her and she learned a lot from him in just the little bit of time that she interacted with him. He had a profound impact on those who he touched with his intellect and his compassion for the work.”
Bailey said Robinson, who taught such classes as “Social Welfare Policy” and “The Social Determinants of Health and Health Equity,” was an exemplary educator, who focused all of his efforts on the needs of his students.
“We use language about being ‘student-centered,’ and that was how Kevin led his life. He embodied all the best of teaching. His students came first, right next to his family, right up until he passed. He was in touch with his students, working on things for his students, all the time,” Bailey said. “He was the kind of person who really paid attention to you and listened deeply and wasn’t shy about sharing his perspective as well. He was a mentor to so many students and helped them continue on their journeys, and I think he would’ve said they helped mentor him too, as only a very secure and grounded teacher would say.”
A funeral service will be held 7 p.m. Feb. 19 at the Watkins, Garrett and Woods Mortuary, 1011 Augusta St., Greenville, S.C. Robinson will be interred at 1 p.m. Feb. 20 at the Resthaven Memorial Gardens, Highway 20, Piedmont, S.C.
Members of Robinson’s family will join friends and colleagues at a memorial tribute at 2 p.m. March 14 at Thomas Great Hall, Bryn Mawr College, 101 N. Merion Ave. in Bryn Mawr.