Robin Miner-Swartz: A Fresh Start
Robin sits in her office at the newly remodeled Marshall Street Armory building.
For much of her life, Robin Miner-Swartz looked to the movies for answers.
So, it’s likely that as an aspiring film critic when she landed her first full-time gig with the Lansing State Journal, Robin believed she had her happy ending. The End.
But as we all know, life tends to be a bit more complicated and just when we think the director is going to yell “that’s a wrap,” something happens. Turns out for Robin, there was a sequel and it was better than the first.
Growing up in East Lansing with dad Ron, a retired State of Michigan employee, mom Carol, a retired WKAR employee and younger sister Tracy, Robin found her calling as a film critic one night while watching the Oscars.
Although she was sent to bed before the best film of the year was announced, she snuck out just in time to hear Chariots of Fire crowned the winner. The announcement got her thinking. She may not have fully understood the film (she was only 11 after all), but she knew it was a good film. And if she thought it was a good film and the people at the Oscars thought so too, well, she must be onto something. That was that.
“I knew when I was 11 what I wanted to do,” she said. “I wanted to be a film critic.”
Unlike other kids, Robin never waivered. Her desire to review films was so strong she even started her middle school newspaper, just so she’d have an outlet for her work.
After graduating from East Lansing High School, where she was editor of the newspaper, Robin went on to attend Lansing Community College and then Michigan State University where she earned her degree in Journalism.
“To me, that was the path,” said Robin.
Along the way she completed a study abroad program in Britain, studying film. Just as a movie script would have it, began freelancing for the Lansing State Journal.
Given her mom’s career with WKAR Robin was exposed to media outlets her entire life. It was through those connections that she occasionally got to train in film critiquing on a cable access show, co-hosted by long-time Lansing State Journal move and TV critic Mike Hughes.
It was Hughes who connected Robin with a job at the paper, after she called him up one day and asked “Is there a job in the mailroom I can have?” (You see, in movies, journalists always start out in the mail room.) There was no mail room job, so instead Hughes gave Robin her first assignment — review an LCC outdoor Shakespeare production. Robin, CliffsNotes in hand, was in and from there, she was hooked.
Since there were no full-time positions at the journal when Robin graduated from MSU, she supplemented her income by substitute teaching in the Lansing school district.
The experience taught her a lot things — mostly that she didn’t want to be a teacher — but more importantly, it taught her a lot about Lansing. Although she’d lived in the area all of her life, she was in East Lansing. Traveling from school to school in the Capitol city confirmed what Robin suspected — she loved Lansing.
Eventually Robin landed a part-time copy editor position at LSJ, which turned into a full-time copy-editing position. Soon enough she found a way to work movie and restaurant reviews into her schedule and in 1999 was made the assistant feature editor. In 2001 she became the What’s On editor and in 2006 was made the Life editor. And that was that. Robin had made it. “I was waiting for my gold watch when I turned 65,” she said.
But there was no gold watch. In December 2008 Gannett, the company that owns the LSJ, announced company-wide cutbacks. While Robin was spared, most of her staff, friends and perhaps worst of all — her mentor, Hughes — was not.
“I just felt like I got kicked in the stomach,” she said with tears in her eyes.
Within days Robin realized that her dream job was no longer that. “I went home and I said to Betsy ‘I don’t think I can work there anymore.’”
Betsy, Robin’s partner for eight years, could understand. She too had left her career in newspapers, a transition that wasn’t easy, but was necessary. Robin had to follow her lead.
The change started with Robin asking herself, “What the hell else am I supposed to do?” Since doing nothing was not an option, she gave herself one year to figure out her new plan.
Early on in her journey she attended a talk by Jim Tobin, president of Ignite Social Media and author of Social Media is a Cocktail Party.
“I chose to throw myself into the social media pool,” said Robin.
It proved to be a good idea. Using Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook Robin made new connections, including Dave Isbell with MSU Career Services. He worked with Robin to help her discover her true passion. “He taught me how to think about myself differently,” said Robin. “He helped me learn what was important to me.”
For Robin, improving the community right here in Lansing, is what rose to the top.
She began to have meetings with other people in the area who helped the community and grew her network even larger. “I learned a ton,” she said. “I met a bunch of really awesome people.”
Gradually, Robin began to apply for jobs and landed a few interviews — one of which was with the Capital Region Community Foundation. The more she learned about the organization, the more she realized it was the right fit for her. Making the community a better place — “that’s literally what we do … It just sort of clicked,” she said.
As the Director of Communications Robin helps to tell the stories behind the people, organizations and even animals that the Capital Region Community Foundation helps.
“I still have a journalism job,” said Robin, “(It’s) just different.”
Nearly two years into her sequel Robin looks back at her fresh start with pride. Still, it wasn’t always so easy.
“I was scared out of my mind,” she said of the change. But breaking away from her original path proved to be beneficially in a lot of ways. In fact, a few months into her new career, Robin said her mom had an observation telling Robin, “Can I tell you, you’re nicer now.”
Robin encourages others to seek their happiness. Connect with people, ask for advice and follow a passion.
“People don’t turn down a free cup of coffee and a chance to talk about themselves,” she said.
Her new life has also allowed Robin a chance to enjoy family, friends and her community more.
“My love for Lansing just keeps getting bigger,” she said. “This job has really allowed me to relax and enjoy and appreciate a lot, not just this community, but life.”
A member of Lansing’s Young Smart and Global group, Robin serves on the newly opened NEO Center board and is also a co-director of Tedx Lansing. She volunteers with Gift of Life through her partner Betsy and is also a huge supporter of MSU women’s basketball.
Robin also pays it forward when it comes to the help she received during her transition. “I get a real charge out of connecting people now,” she said.
To those making a change Robin advises, “You have to have a good support system,” and maybe most important, “Make yourself a priority.”
Tags: capital region community foundation, fresh starts, Marshall Street Armory, NEO Center, Robin Miner-Swartz, TEDx
Emily Caswell is the Managing Editor of CAWLM. She has a passion for fun, family, friends, shopping sprees, cold drinks and Lansing.