Like many Alaska high school seniors, Roberta “Bobi” Rinehart bolted south as soon as she could fling off her cap and gown after graduation. At the time she was college bound, seeking adventure and warmer weather, but 17 years later, she found herself returning to the land of the midnight sun, discovering there’s no place quite like Alaska.
“I moved here with my family when I was five,” said Bobi. “I graduated from Dimond High School in 1988 and attended Scripps College of the Claremont Colleges.” After receiving her undergraduate degree in environmental science, Bobi had no idea where her life path would lead her, and working in the nonprofit sector in development was certainly not on her radar.
“Both my graduate and undergraduate degrees are in environmental science. I didn’t know I was going to go into development,” said Bobi. She found, despite her scientific background, her work continually circled back to development, whether it was through grant writing or raising funds for nonprofits. Her first job out of college, with the City of Issaquah Recycling and Solid Waste Office in Washington, involved raising funds for a new building project. Bobi, despite feeling like she was fumbling her way through the process, helped complete the project with great success.
“I did everything wrong but somehow we raised $9 million and built the building,” Bobi said, recalling the stress of her first time raising funds for a major project. “I guess I was good at it.” From there her career took off, and she realized she’d found her niche in life, a passion for philanthropy, garnering and securing funds for nonprofits through individual and corporate giving.
At Scripps, Bobi fell in love with sailing, and while living in Sitka after college purchased a boat. For the next 10 years, she worked up and down the West Coast, living on and sailing her boat as well as starting her own nonprofit consulting firm before she met her husband. For her, life was yet again about to change, in a big way.
“It all came to a screeching halt when I had my daughter. My husband was not into sailing. He was perfect, except for that,” she said with a laugh. “We sold my boat for $5,000 more than what I bought it for, and that was our down payment for our home in Anchorage.” She and her husband packed up their life in Washington and moved to Anchorage in 2005 to settle down and start life in the last frontier.
After moving home to Anchorage, Bobi served as the development director for a local nonprofit for a year and in 2007, she became the executive director of the prestigious Sitka Summer Music Festival.
“After my experience with the Festival, I was looking for a new challenge and ran into my current supervisor,” Bobi remembered. It was this encounter that encouraged her to apply to the University of Alaska Anchorage and join the development team. She explained in all her years growing up in Anchorage she had never realized the impact the university had on the state and suddenly she had a moment of clarity.
“I have this big university in my backyard,” she exclaimed. Bobi believes her job is exciting every day, and feels honored to work with what she believes to be the best development professionals in her field. Her job keeps her busy and on her toes, but she doesn’t mind because to her UAA is home. She enjoys the challenges that come with her job, describing it as a kind of puzzle, matching public and private donors to make the best fit for the community and the university.
“You need to know a little bit about everything and know what’s going on in each academic area,” Bobi said. She juggles her time between four university departments, conducting research and educating herself in each field to create the most harmonious matches for projects and grants. “It’s really about relationships, and sometimes you find a good fit. It’s about getting a pulse on people and what makes them tick.”
Bobi said donors come to the university for various reasons, whether they are UAA alumni who had a great college experience and want to share that with others, or they are a corporation, like ConocoPhillips envisioning that a strong science and engineering program will benefit students and Alaska’s future. It’s her job to create those linkages between UAA and the community.
Although she may not be the one receiving the accolades for the groundbreaking research, she knows her job is vital to the continuation of the university and the UAA experience. Like Bobi, all members of the university family, from the professors to the administration, really care about UAA, the state of Alaska and providing a high quality post-secondary education.
“Everyone I’ve come across cares about the future of UAA. It’s an exciting time to be here, and every department has its own growth,” she said. “Really what I want is to see people getting involved in the university.”
Bobi’s life may not be dictated by the tide’s ebb and flow anymore, but she has set her sights on UAA, helping the university chart its own course pointing toward the future.