37 Countries in 35 Years: An Engineer’s Journey and Gift–Robert Martinson ’65

After a 35-year career that took him around the world managing satellite communications projects, Robert E. Martinson ’65 has been enjoying the quiet of retirement to read as much as he likes and to focus on a life-long hobby – ham radio.

Robert Martinson '65 headshot

Robert E. Martinson ’65

The quiet of retirement has also invited more engagement with Union memories, ultimately prompting Robert to make a gift of $500,000 to support the Templeton Institute and the Union College Engineering and Computer Science Initiative.

The gift will create an endowed fund focused on providing support for student-faculty projects, a speaker’s series, engineering internships, an integrative learning symposium and other opportunities focused on strengthening engineering and computer science education on campus.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Robert applied to Union because of the College’s reputation for excellence in engineering, and he was not disappointed.

“All the professors in the electrical engineering department were top notch, very focused and attentive. I especially enjoyed courses taught by Professor Edward Craig. He was what you would call a ‘regular’ guy, but very smart and always able to get his point across.”

Robert also remembers a course that he and other students called “Instant Culture for Engineers.” The course focused on helping engineers become well-rounded individuals. Elaborating, Robert noted, “One of the invaluable things the course taught us was how to write proposals.”

Despite many fond memories of his time at Union, Robert’s start on campus was a bit bumpy. During his sophomore year, the dean recommended that he take a leave of absence to refocus and prioritize.

Robert had become a bit too involved in the social life available through his fraternity, Phi Gamma Delta, and also the maintenance of the fraternity house. These activities were detracting from his studies.

“If something broke, I was called upon to fix it. If there was a party, I was there,” Robert recollected with a laugh.

After an 18-month hiatus, Robert came back to Union and excelled.

He received a job offer from the telecommunications giant, GTE, before graduation. At the time, there was only one commercial communications satellite in orbit, but Robert would spend his career in satellite communications, working on contracts from the U.S. government and from other governments around the globe.

Robert’s younger brother Terry Martinson explained, “He worked in 37 countries. Much of the work was confidential, and Robert still maintains that confidentiality, but I know that he worked on significant projects in Algeria, the Philippines, Thailand, Morocco and Korea. In fact, his work in Korea allowed the 1988 Olympic Games to be televised in the United States.”

“Robert is reserved and self-reliant but rightfully proud of the work he did during his career with GTE. He was a loyal employee, a hard worker and always 100% focused on his work,” Terry added.

Robert’s two nephews – Terry’s sons – are also Dutchmen.

Andrew Martinson ’00 is senior vice president of A.W.G. Dewar, Inc., while his brother Eric Martinson ’05 is a global product trainer for Karhu, the Finnish company that has specialized in running shoes for over a century and now has a foothold in fashion and streetwear.

Terry, along with his wife Marcia, noted, “Union prepared our sons well for their respective careers. Robert chose to make this gift to Union in appreciation for the education that he, Andrew and Eric received. Union prepared all three of them to be successful in their chosen fields.”

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