At Vitiello Communications Group, we believe everyone’s story is worth telling. Wonder Women is a blog series that lets me introduce you to amazing businesswomen doing remarkable work. In this series, we amplify the success stories of women who live and work in New Jersey. Their contributions to the Garden State include professional, civic and personal endeavors that enrich our community. Meet Robin A. Walton, Vice President for Community and Government Affairs, Thomas Edison State University. Be sure to catch our new lightning round at the end of the Q&A.
Q: Can you give us a bit of background about your work at the University?
A: I am responsible for managing local, state and federal government affairs, as well as community affairs in the greater Trenton area on behalf of the University. I have a team of two hardworking women who support me. We work with our state legislature and executive branch, in addition to Congress, and the executive branch of our federal government to advocate for issues that affect higher education and adult learners. On the local level, we build and nurture relationships with many not-for-profits, churches, the business sector, the local community, the mayor and council of the City of Trenton, and the freeholders in Mercer County, too. It’s quite a large portfolio for such a small team, but we are all Type A women who work hard to represent Thomas Edison State University and its student population.
Q: What’s the one leadership lesson that has helped you shape your career?
A: The journey is just as important as the destination. I think it’s something we’ve heard, right? As a leader, you work through the process for yourself, but also, and more importantly, with your team to gain their trust and support because they need to be a part of the work and understand the importance of their role in the journey. You learn along the way, that as direction and priorities shift, you have to adjust as a team. In my line of work, some things can take years before they happen. Sometimes you have to go back to the drawing board and start over. For me, that’s been a major lesson in my leadership journey.
Q: What would you advise women aspiring to achieve your level of success?
A: There are a lot of answers I could give, but what is in my heart is “To thine own self be true.” As the mother of two young boys, a wife, an active church member, a community advocate and leader within the University, I’m involved in a lot, so I must remember what’s most important to me at my core. Where can I make a true impact and where is my passion? What are my deliverables and timelines? Who will HELP me and how? It’s so easy to lose your footing and go in the wrong direction. It’s important to take a step back and think, “Who am I? What do I stand for? What do I really need to accomplish right now?” Be courageous enough to say “no” and transparent enough so others know where you stand.
I would also like to tell women, as they find their own paths, to get good advice but trust your gut along the way, because that will impact the path you take.
Q: What are the three vital traits to be a Wonder Woman in your industry?
A: First, you have to have thick skin. You’re dealing with issues where everybody doesn’t always see things the way you see them. Whether people agree with you or not, you have to remain respectful, dignified, clear and concise. Second, you need great interpersonal and networking skills because you engage with so many people and it is critical to build strong and lasting relationships. Third, you must be passionate about what you’re working toward. Can you imagine a community and government affairs professional who doesn’t truly care about the issues? You don’t want that person working for you, trust me! Be passionate about the work, understand your audience, the communities your serve and are located in, the impact of your work from every perspective and what might hold up progress. I will tell you people see the networking side of this work and think “I can do that! That looks like great fun.” This can be tough and intense work, but work that I love and am passionate about because I care about providing opportunity for adult learners at Thomas Edison State University.
Q: How do you use communication to lead and grow your career?
A: I use all kinds of communications to connect with people. I send cards or letters via snail mail to let them know I’m thinking of them. I text or email people when they come to mind, NOT just when I need something. I meet people face-to-face to build and foster relationships. I’m on social media because it is a great way to stay informed in real time. I also spend a lot of time networking at events.
Q: How do you use communication to turn a challenging situation into success?
A: In community and government affairs, there’s no perfect science to communication. It can be different in each case. We balance face-to-face conversations with leave-behind materials stating our position or request, and follow-up phone calls, emails and additional meetings if required. You don’t want to annoy people, but you do need to get your point across. We always have talking points prepared on key issues. And, I make it a habit to usually send a follow-up email after meetings. We use communications to build relationships, educate people, partner with communities and gain consensus. It is critical to the work.
Q: What personal quality fuels your most significant accomplishment?
A: Determination. I am Type A personality driven to accomplish what is set before me. Further, if I believe in or commit to something, I am resolute in making it happen. That determination was instilled in me because of who my mother and my father were — hardworking people who didn’t make excuses.
Q: What woman inspires you and why?
A: My mother. She was such an amazing person. A community advocate, a strong woman of God, and so involved in our church. She worked in management at Verizon for many years. And yet with so much going on, we never felt it. She was always there, always engaged. Also, there are a group of women around me—mentors, supporters, close family and friends—who have inspired and encouraged my journey. Some have told me yes when I wanted to hear no, and no when I wanted yes. Further, there are many women who were Civil Right leaders that I will never have the privilege of meeting who created opportunity for me today. I can only thank them by staying determined to help others on their journey.
New Jersey Lightning Round
From one Jersey girl to another, answer these questions:
Q: Taylor Ham or Pork Roll?
A: Pork Roll
Q: Wildwood or Seaside Heights?
Q: Yankees or Mets?
Q: Giants or Jets?
Q: Giants or Eagles?
Q: Does Central Jersey really exist?
A: Of course!