Path to Fellow: Ralph Robinson, 2009

by James Cameron on 24 February 2011

We return again with Path to Fellow, a recurring feature here on STC’s Notebook to highlight the rich contributions of our honored members. If you’re a Fellow or Associate Fellow and haven’t been contacted to participate in this feature, please email Kevin Cuddihy.

Ralph Robinson

Ralph Robinson

I am a Fellow of the Society for Technical Communication because of two people: Linda Oestreich, an STC Fellow, and Phil Cohen, an ASTC (Australian Society for Technical Communication) member.

In 1994 I attended my first STC Annual Conference in Minneapolis and was awed by the amount of information and knowledge that was made available to the attendees. I was fortunate that many members of the Toronto STC Chapter also attended this conference and they introduced me to the other side of STC conferences—the social networking side, where I made numerous friendships that would later in life have an major impact on my life. Wow, what an experience!

In 1995 I decided that I wanted to contribute to the knowledge base of STC conferences and, since I had become deeply involved with the development of policies and procedures supporting ISO 9001 at my employer, I investigated the possibility of speaking at the conference on that subject in Washington. I contacted Linda Oestreich, the Program Chair, to discuss this matter and we discussed a single workshop, a continuing workshop of two units, but nothing would allow enough time to fully explore the subject. Now, remember, no one outside of Toronto STC had ever heard of Ralph Robinson!

Linda agreed that a two-unit continuing workshop wouldn’t do the job and had me submit a proposal for a full-day, post-conference workshop as well as indicating what I would have to cut should I get a half-day workshop. This I submitted before the 1 August deadline and then waited, and waited, and waited. When November came I figured that I had missed the cut and moved on. Then came THE CALL. Linda phoned and advised me that the Program Committee had decided to give an unknown individual a full-day workshop on a subject that was becoming important in the technical communication field and needed to be addressed. That speaking opportunity led to my participating for the next 10 consecutive years as a presenter at STC annual conferences. What a trip that was.

Over those years I also contributed at the local Chapter level presenting at education days, local monthly meetings, making up certificates for our publication competition winners, and serving on the coordination committee for the most successful, and only, STC annual conference held outside the United States in 1997 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Was that ever a blast and a memory that I relish to this day.

Somewhere in the late 1990s there was a posting on Tech-wrl list from a Phil Cohen in Australia lamenting the fact that few technical writers were involved in the development of international standards for user documentation. I responded to that message indicating my interest in becoming involved in this work and Phil put me in touch with the Standards Council of Canada. I became a member of their advisory committee to Working Group 2, of ISO\IEC JTC 1 SC 7, the international committee developing standards for software and systems engineering. I attended my first ISO meeting in Washington DC in 2003 and became a member of the STC Standards Council that year. I continued to serve as a reviewer and commenter on documentation standards development until 2000, when I was asked to become the Canadian Delegate to Working Group 2, a position I accepted and currently hold.

Because of my involvement in standards and technical writing, the Toronto Chapter of STC saw fit to recommend me for the status of Associate Fellow in 2006, an honour that was hard for me to comprehend—I was being recommended for membership in a group of people who I had idolized over my years of membership in the Society! Amazingly to me, this honour was granted and I joined this illustrious group. However, even though I was no longer a practising technical communicator, I continued representing Canada at ISO meetings in the development of standards for the development of user documentation. I also became involved with the STC Body of Knowledge committee and continue working in that area to this day.

In 2009 I was encouraged to apply to have my status upgraded to STC Fellow. I was amazed at the encouragement I received from so many fellow STC members to request this upgrade that I did so, not even thinking that such an honour was possible. To my amazement I was bestowed this honour, and in May 2009, accompanied by my late wife, I stood on the stage at the STC Annual Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, and received this highest of honours from one of my dearest friends in the STC—it’s a moment I’ll never, ever, forget.

I guess the STC runs deep in my veins as, even though I’m long retired, I’m still a member of the STC Standards Council, the STC Body of Knowledge Committee, and the STC Membership Core Sub-Committee. I just can’t shake the attachment to the STC, nor do I want to.

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