Kathleen Robbins ’09

At first look, you might not know that Kathleen Robbins ‘09 spends her days supporting and providing information to F-16 fighter pilots. Yes, you read that correctly, Kathleen is an Intelligence Officer in the United States Air Force.

After applying to ROTC out of high school, Kathleen chose to attend the University of California, Los Angeles. She focused on political science and the Russian language and decided to join the Air Force after graduation. In college, Kathleen saw many people around her heading to Washington D.C. or moving towards think tanks. But she wanted to explore big ideas and employ an understanding of geopolitics and international relations to help others make informed decisions about our world today and our future. Kathleen believes a career in the field of intelligence should be strongly considered by anyone interested in political science or international relations.
 
Where do you live? And what do you do?
 
I have lived in Germany since December 2019 and I am here for another two years. I work at Spangdahlem Air Base, which has been around since the 1950s. My job on this base is to provide intelligence support for F-16 fighters.
 
While my career field is intelligence, there are a lot of different disciplines within that field in the Air Force. This is a unique job in that it is mainly tactical, which means I’m directly supporting the warfighter with information. But it’s also about translating concepts for pilots so I can support them in all their operations and training.
 
How did you get into this work?
 
I didn’t completely know what I was getting into, but I knew the basic strengths I had to offer were an ability to think critically, a little bit of curiosity, and a willingness to learn. I leveraged the amazing education I received at Burke’s and chose this career as a military officer. I started thinking about joining the military at Saint Ignatius High School (SI); service is a large part of their mission and educational philosophy. I had been immersed in a very empowering culture at Burke’s and the Jesuit idea of serving others led me to want to try something that no one else around me was doing.
 
Joining the military felt like an adventure. I saw it as an opportunity that would provide interesting life experiences, and let me engage with problems that need people who will think differently to design new solutions. I didn’t know anyone in the military coming from San Francisco, but I knew that the Air Force was a forward-thinking institution. The Air Force is a team of leaders, scientists, critical thinkers, and problem solvers working to support air operations.
 
How did Burke’s prepare you for your career choice?
 
Burke’s made me confident in my own mind and in my ability to examine the world around me. It also taught me to clearly and articulately share my knowledge and assessments of the world. There is something so special about a Burke’s education. The emphasis on presenting our ideas verbally and in writing began at a young age and carried through each year.
 
No matter what you end up doing, if you can express yourself and think critically, those two skills will open so many doors. Burke’s focused on our academic learning while also supporting our growth as individuals. My time at Burke’s made me a better thinker, writer, and speaker.
 
Who was a teacher you remember fondly?
 
I really look back on third grade with Ms. Auberson and Mr. Davidson and also Ms. Mosheim in second grade. She always took the time to read my poetry scribbles and she would have us meditate (center ourselves) after recess to help us calm down. Mr. Davidson really supported my writing as well. He was a shining example of a teacher who was unapologetically supportive. Ms. Bryant taught me to focus on the game, play hard, and be aggressive. I wouldn’t have been an athlete in high school without her support. We spent so many hours shooting layups outside in the fog! I can still play a pick-up game and set a strong screen because of Ms. Bryant.
 
What is a strong memory you have from Burke’s?
 
Burke’s was a special time when I was surrounded by female friends. Being out in the world post-Burke’s, I can say there is really something to be said for having a community of supportive women around you. That was a time when I was just surrounded by true, caring, supportive friends, and where I felt completely myself.
 
What three words or phrases come to mind when you hear Katherine Delmar Burke School (Burke’s)?
 
Green and Gold, which encompasses all of the sports that were such a huge part of my Burke’s experience. I have strong memories of being on campus until 6 p.m. every day working on my athletic skills.
 
A third word would be “educate,” because Burke’s delivers a fantastic education and it is an amazing place. I really appreciated the way that study skills and organization were valued and how we were taught to be critical thinkers and learned interpersonal skills. I am grateful for the emphasis on reading, writing when we did debates, and how we were trained to engage with advanced concepts.
 
Finally, I fundamentally tie Burke’s to San Francisco, my home. The fact that it’s right on the water and there’s fog all the time and it’s freezing but beautiful - all of those memories are so quintessentially San Francisco.
 
If you were to do it all over again, what might you do differently?
 
I don’t think I would do anything differently. I think in adulthood you are presented with many moments where you think “I should've done this” or “I should have gone on to this.” But as Burke’s students we were guided, helped, and encouraged at every turn. So no, there isn’t anything that comes to mind that I would change about that experience. I am super happy with all of my decisions and my time at Burke’s.
 
What excites you about Burke’s today?
 
I’ve been super excited to hear that we are expanding the idea of what it means to have girls' education. As we should be, we are talking about the education of the whole child. I also think it’s important to identify that women’s education historically has not been a priority and Burke’s is a school that continues to make it a priority.
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