President, Nemertes Research Group Inc.
The Gareiss family tree has deep roots at Illinois. Thirteen members of the family over three generations have either graduated from or are currently attending the university. And there are more on the way. Robin Gareiss’ oldest daughter, Layne Waleski, earned a BS in Molecular and Cellular Biology this spring, and her daughter Madelyn Waleski, will earn a BS in Animal Science in spring 2015, and is applying to the College of Veterinary Medicine.
Although the majors of the Gareiss' family graduates range from engineering to business to biology, Robin always knew she wanted to be a journalist. She was a curious child, and liked to learn and then share that information. She also was blessed with a really great journalism adviser in high school, who made the subject fun and intriguing. And though he is now retired, he is still a good friend of the family.
At the time Robin was choosing where to attend college, the family ties didn’t mean as much as they do now, as the number of Illini family members grows. She chose Illinois not only because it was close to home, but also because it was a top-ranked school.
Robin said, “I felt it was the best option. A big school gave me the chance to live in a city with people who were all my own age.” A big school also offered choices. “No matter what you ended up majoring in — even if you changed your major — it would result in a respected degree from a world-class institution.”
She remembers her father, John Gareiss ’58 ENG, telling her and her sister Dawn ’85 JOURN: “No matter what happens in your life, no one can ever take away your degree. And having a degree from Illinois is impressive.”
The Daily Illini was a big part of Robin’s college experience. She worked as a reporter her freshman and sophomore years, campus news editor her junior year and editor-in-chief her senior year. “The newspaper was all-encompassing," she said. "Your entire schedule was wrapped around your position.” She also worked as a correspondent for The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Newsweek.
As a junior, Robin was selected by Dean James Carey to attend the Poynter Institute for Media Studies' weeklong course in journalism ethics. “It was a great experience. I learned a lot and met very inspirational people,” Robin said.
The Poynter Institute invited her back as an instructor for a similar course. She participate in a morning graduation ceremony and flew to St. Petersburg that afternoon. “Being selected for that program was very rewarding,” Robin said.
Robin’s first job out of college was with The Daily Southtown, where she was a reporter for two years. A unique opportunity emerged to try technology journalism with Communications Week, so she gave it a try. By 1991, Robin became pregnant with her first child. She didn’t want to make the commute to Chicago and try to raise a family, so she decided to quit. Her editor didn’t want her to leave and suggested she work from home. She has ever since!
Four years later, she went to work for Data Communications Magazine, a job she still considers one of her favorites. The publication was high quality and the team — and Robin — won many awards, including two Jesse Neal Medal of Honor awards and Technology Journalist of the Year. After four years, the McGraw-Hill publication was sold and shut down a year later. She then went to work for Information Week. All of these jobs had a few things in common — they were for business technology publications and she not only worked as a reporter, but also became an editor and joined the management team with each.
While at Data Communications, Robin worked with editor and engineer Johna Till Johnson. Johna left to become an analyst and tried to entice Robin into joining the technology analyst ranks. Although intriguing, Robin wasn’t willing to be away from her family for the travel an analyst’s job required.
Johna didn’t give up, and in 2002, the two joined forces to launch Nemertes Research. As a technology research and consulting company, Nemertes uses unique methodologies to inform and advise primarily Fortune 500 clients on emerging technologies. Robin still uses her interviewing and writing skills in this challenging environment. “Every day is something new, and I love the creativity it affords me.”
She also admits that she wishes she had taken a few advertising and marketing classes while at Illinois, which leads to her advice for today’s students: Take a broader variety of classes in the field. Journalism majors should take an advertising class or get their PR certificate. Advertising students should take a journalism class to improve their interviewing and writing skills.
Another word of her advice: Get an internship. “That experience is vitally important when you’re looking for your first real employment,” Robin said.
Robin also is supportive of the new push behind computational advertising. Knowing how to analyze large data files is important for journalism majors, as well. Digging through and understanding data can help a journalist uncover or better report on stories.
One last word of advice from Robin: “Don’t be so dead set on where your career is going to take you. Take some risks. When doors open for you, don't close them because of some preconceived notion. What you learn in college you’re going to use in other careers. I can’t think of a career where I wouldn’t use these skills.” For example, her research shows those hiring for technology positions now require candidates be able to write and communicate effectively.
Throughout her career, Robin has served as an active volunteer for a number of organizations and feels strongly about giving back. “Time is the most valuable commodity we have, so use it wisely. To me, that means carving out whatever you can give for a variety of volunteer work. I have volunteered a lot with my church over the years, so being able to branch out and devote more time to the College of Media has been incredibly rewarding. I am encouraging my own kids to stay involved with Illinois alumni activities from Day 1 and not wait too long to reconnect.”
She currently serves on the College of Media’s Leadership Council, providing strategic leadership for a number of fundraising and advocacy initiatives for the college.
“Organizing and connecting with alumni has shown me how instrumental we can be at helping today’s students become tomorrow’s leaders, through networking, donating and simply participating.”