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Awards and Recognition: Distinguished Alumni Award 2011

Adam Robinson Jr.

Adam Robinson Jr.You wouldn’t guess it from his position as the Navy’s surgeon general and chief of medicine and surgery, but Vice Admiral Adam Robinson actually came to IU to sing.

The Louisville native and 2011 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient was once a soloist with the Jefferson County Youth Choir. He so enjoyed singing arias that he chose the university for its musical excellence, thinking he would study voice. Once here, however, he realized he was unwilling to limit himself to just one area of study. “It became clear to me very quickly that I would have to devote myself exclusively to music in order to succeed in it, and I didn’t want to do that,” he says.

Instead, he majored in Political Science, but also completed pre-med requirements in Chemistry, Biology, and Physics. He took classes in Anthropology, and indulged in Comparative German Literature, which he says “felt like a vacation.” He enrolled every summer, not only to reduce his load but also to bask in the intellectual environment all year.

“The education that I received at Indiana was truly the sort of very broad liberal arts education that you can’t duplicate readily,” he says. “It gave me the opportunity to experience a broad spectrum of activities, and to interact with a very diverse student body that represented the entire world.”

Robinson was accepted to IU’s medical school, but as one of five children pursuing higher education, he didn’t want to burden his widowed mother with an additional expense. So when he encountered a Navy lieutenant outside Kirkwood Hall, he asked him about a flyer he’d seen advertising military scholarships. As luck would have it, a new program was starting that would put recruits through medical school.

With the help of the Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship Program, Robinson finished medical school and a surgical internship at Southern Illinois University. His first Navy assignment was to Fort Allen, Puerto Rico; he completed his residency at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. “At the end of my residency I was pretty much hooked on the Navy,” he says. “My training was phenomenal, and the people I interacted with were sensational.”

Robinson rose steadily through the ranks, serving in a number of medical leadership positions in Virginia, Florida, Japan, and on aircraft carriers in the naval fleet. Along the way, he earned a great many decorations including the Distinguished Service Medal (twice), Legion of Merit (twice), and Meritorious Service Medal (three times). In addition to the College’s Distinguished Alumni Award, this year he is also receiving IU’s Distinguished Alumni Service Award.

Robinson’s current role, which he has held since 2007, centers on serving as “the face and pulse of Navy Medicine” through presentations, Pentagon meetings, and oversight of all Navy medical operations. He is also heavily involved in international humanitarian assistance efforts, particularly in Asia and South America.

And, whenever he gets a chance, he’ll still turn up at the World Doctors Orchestra to belt out an aria or two.