University of Arizona alumna Melody Robidoux may live near Seattle, but she continues to invest in the Tucson community, most recently through gifts to the UA School of Government and Public Policy.
Now through the Melody S. Robidoux Foundation Fund, Robidoux will fund the Melody S. Robidoux Foundation Fund Chair, which includes an Innovation Fund.
Brint Milward, director of School of Government and Public Policy and a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration, will hold the chair.
Milward said he is grateful to be the recipient of the chair and to be able to use the Innovation Fund to "continue the school's entrepreneurial tradition."
Since it was created in 2009, the UA School of Government and Public Policy — housed in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences — has grown to be the largest school at the UA, with 2,500 undergraduate majors in four undergraduate programs and three master's programs in addition to a Ph.D. program. The school offers programs in political science, international relations, public policy and public management, preparing students for leadership positions in the public and nonprofit sectors.
"Since the school was created, Melody has been there helping to make a huge difference in what we can do," Milward said. "Her first gift was to create the Melody S. Robidoux Foundation Citizen Engagement Room that turned an existing classroom into a high-tech space that could be used by students and faculty and for community events. Her second gift was to create an endowed student travel fund that assists our students with internships in Washington and study abroad."
The Melody S. Robidoux Foundation Fund Chair will be funded on a year-to-year basis in support of Milward, who researches ways to effectively manage networks of organizations that jointly produce public services such as health and human services. In addition, since 9/11 he has studied illegal and covert networks.
Half of the yearly grant will go into an Innovation Fund, which can be used by Milward to introduce and support innovative projects in the school.
Recently, those travel funds helped send students to Washington, D.C., for the Running Start Program, a bipartisan program for women interested in political leadership.
"Those funding opportunities weren’t available when I was a student," Robidoux said. "I think travel opportunities when you are an undergraduate are really important."
The Innovation Fund already has been put to good use. The fund will help to support the work that School of Government and Public Policy assistant professor Samara Klar is doing as founder of the website WomenAlsoKnowStuff. Klar launched the website to provide an accessible database of female scholars in political science, who often are underrepresented as speakers and media experts. The site, which garnered national coverage, received the Jane Mansbridge Award from the National Women's Caucus for Political Science.
Robidoux's interest in policy is long-standing.
The first person in her family to go to college, Robidoux graduated from the UA with a degree in political science and a minor in history. She went on to get her law degree from the UA.
Robidoux co-owned a local technology company, eventually selling her shares of Artisoft to venture capitalists. With this money, she started the Melody S. Robidoux Foundation so she could immediately begin to work on public policy.
"My interest has always been in policy, often directed toward women's rights, social justice and education," Robidoux said. "My love is in the liberal arts. Anything I can do to help make that study viable and attract top students seems like a worthwhile thing to do."
In 1992, Robidoux co-founded the Women's Foundation of Southern Arizona to foster equity and opportunity for women and girls. Her foundation also funded the expansion into Arizona of Junior State of America, a program that fosters civic engagement for high school students.
"I am interested in developing people who can speak articulately and understand policy and the law — who want to be leaders," Robidoux said. "That starts with my funding in high school and continues with my funding in college."
Robidoux wants to help the School of Government and Public Policy because she believes in Milward and his vision for the program.
"I think Brint has built a really stellar program and I like him," Robidoux said. "He is a really interesting, smart person. When I connect to a department head like that, then I am interested in helping. My goal is to help make SGPP a top program in the country."
Robidoux is a longtime donor to the UA, having given to multiple programs and colleges.
In the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, she created a scholarship in the Department of History in recognition of the impact professor emeritus Richard Cosgrove had on her when she was a student. Robidoux also is a member of the college's donor society, the Magellan Circle, sponsoring several students every year and the Dean's Fund.
"We are so grateful to Melody for her generous support of the College of SBS and her advocacy for policy education, civic engagement and building student leadership skills," said John Paul Jones III, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. "She is someone who listens to what departments need and helps them succeed."
Robidoux also has made gifts to the James E. Rogers College of Law, the Honors College and the Fred Fox School of Music.
"Melody Robidoux is passionate about policy solutions to address issues like social justice and women's rights," said UA Foundation CEO John-Paul Roczniak, vice president of development and chief development officer for the UA. "Her support of multiple areas on campus — and in the Tucson community — shows how focused philanthropy can make a real impact in people's lives."