Robert Muilenburg: Journalism’s “lucky idiot”

Phil Boulware, Staff Reporter

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By Phil Boulware | Staff Reporter

Robert Muilenburg, Del Mar College faculty adviser, jokingly refers to himself as a “lucky idiot.”

“I grew up on a farm. I come from a small town in South Dakota where the city’s population was 500. I was troubled as a kid,” Muilenburg replied.

Robert was raised in Alexandria, SD, where he attended Hanson High School with a graduating class of 27 students. His grandparents owned the phone company in Alexandria for nearly 50 years before selling it. His family would also later sell their farm.

In addition to his role as faculty adviser, he also holds the position of associate professor and director of student media. With help from his lab assistant, Scott Beckett, they are the school’s publications advisers.

Muilenburg often reflects on his life and experiences to attest to his perseverance. He joined the Army in 1989 while finishing up his senior year in high school.

“I remember being a 25V (Combat Documentation/ Production Specialist) and being in basic training after graduation.” he said.

“I was sitting on my duffel bag with my orders in my hand waiting to go to Advanced Individual Training (AIT). My drill sergeant looks at my orders that say destination: Lowery Air Force Base in Denver, CO. Drill sergeant says how the hell did you get that place,” Muilenburg said, and according to him, he replied, “I’m a photographer, Drill Sergeant.’’

He was the only photographer in his company. After his six months in AIT, he was stationed in different locations such as South Carolina, Colorado, Seoul, South Korea, where he spent two and a half years attached to the 524th Military Intelligence Battalion.

He found amusement in his times there as he would get himself out of many troubling situations due to his affiliation with secret agents in his battalion.

‘’It was a great experience. I’d be only one of five guys in uniform. The rest of the guys were in suits. We would just get dropped off during field operations in obscure places,’’he said.

It was in South Korea where he had the option to end his Army contractual obligation early due to his job classifying him as a non-essential member after the Gulf War ended.

After his time in service, he worked several jobs such as freelance photography, bartending, and construction. He decided to use his G.I. Bill to attend A&M-Commerce, where he studied photojournalism.

“I later transitioned onto the art program for the last 2-3 semesters,’’ he said.

He also received a journalism degree from Del Mar College as well as a graduate degree from University of Tennessee. Although he credits Manuel Flores, former adviser at Del Mar, for helping him find a teaching position at the institution, he thanks TIPA president and A&M Commerce adviser Fred Stewart for keeping him on track.

“Fred gave me a more usable approach to advising. He’s just a great guy.’’ he said.

When Muilenburg isn’t raising his daughter, who turns 18 in November, he tries to encourage his students’ progression.

“If you find something fulfilling and it feels like work, but you enjoy it, then I’d stick with it.” he said. “I encourage students to move on once they’ve gotten all the tools from us.’’

 

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