First of the Fab Fours – Robin Keller Mayne ’69, American studies

Published: May 20, 2010
Black and white photo girl sits on arm chair
(headshot of robin Mayne)

When Robin Keller Mayne ’69, American studies, graduated from UMBC, she wore no robes and no mortarboard. There was no crowd to cheer her across the stage. In fact, there was no stage.

It was 1969, just three years after the university opened its doors, and one year before its first official commencement ceremony. So instead of publicly turning a tassel – or even giving much thought to her pioneer status in UMBC’s history – Mayne quietly collected her books and resumed her daily life as a mother and teacher.

“I feel as though it was just an accident that I was UMBC’s first graduate. It just happened,” said Mayne, who now lives in Fort Worth, Texas, where she works as fleet administrator for Jacobs Engineering. “For a while I was neck and neck with another girl… but I finished classes in December 1968, and that was that.”

Mayne began her undergraduate study at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, then transferred to the brand-new UMBC in 1966 in order to attend daytime classes. With her daughter in daycare, Mayne commuted to UMBC, working part-time as an administrative assistant in what was then known as the social sciences department. She made coffee and typed syllabi for professors – many of whom were not much older than their students.

“Some of my dearest memories are from working there,” said Mayne, who was drawn in by the spirit of intellectual curiosity on the new campus. “It was the ’60s – everyone was questioning everything. Our professors were so young and excited. They pushed us. They didn’t want you to just accept what anyone told you.”

Without a true student union – or even a separate library – UMBC’s first 700 or so students hung out in the cafeteria, discussing their classes across disciplines. Mayne’s favorites? A course discussing “The God is Dead Movement,” another on the American novel, and a class focusing on social psychology.

“My classes dealt not only with subject matter, but also issues, real issues that were stirring in all of us during the ’60s,” she said. “I was being confronted with complex questions which demanded soul-searching answers. No longer could I just absorb material and spit it back on a test. I was being forced (sometimes dragged) into thinking critically.”

Many of UMBC’s earliest grads – sometimes referred to as “The Fab Four” – speak wistfully of the university’s first days and the “three buildings and a pile of mud” at the center of what was originally an orchard. Mayne recalls a similar landscape – one of pure potential, as much for intellectual philosophy as bricks and mortar.

“I would arrive on campus at 7 a.m. You’d have the fog lying on the hill and I swear you’d see deer crossing,” she said. “It was really quite wild…It’s so hard (now) to imagine it was ever like that.”

Following graduation, Mayne left her native Maryland. She worked in Nashville as a Head Start teacher, then moved to Germany with her first husband. She also made a stop in Missoula, before arriving in Fort Worth, where she started a career in information technology and made a life with her current husband, Jim.

“Nobody had degrees in computing or IT then,” she said. “They’d determine you had an aptitude for it, and then they’d train you.”

A few years later, in 1991, Mayne earned her master’s degree in software design and development from Texas Christian University. And more than twenty years after her departure from her first alma mater, the mother of two finally got to turn her tassel.

“I got to walk across the stage and do the whole nine yards.”

— Jenny O’Grady

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