Elderly Exhibits Tech Thrives at COSI

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Despite dour talk about the economy and unemployment, there are many Central Ohioans working some in jobs one might not expect. WOSU’s Marilyn Smith found one man working in a job in a place that might seem highly unusual and filed this report.

Four mornings a week, Jim Robison rises early and drives from his home in Worthington to his job downtown. Jim Robison is one of nine exhibit technicians at the COSI the Center for Science and Industry. There Robison is expected to operate state of the art machinery. Wade Born heads the Exhibits Operation Department and is Jim Robison’s supervisor. He says knowing his way around the shop is just one of Robison’s duties.

“We do everything from plumbing to electrical to pneumatics to hydraulics, it can get really crazy sometimes.”

Robison begins each day performing daily inspections required on some of COSI’s exhibits like the outside centripetal rotator which creates static friction that holds riders to the wall and the high wire unicycle that spans 84 feet towering over COSI’s lobby.

Born says the critical testing conducted each day is work Robison is aptly suited to do.

“Jim is really good at preventative maintenance and following check lists.”

Jim Robison has degrees in Electrical Engineering and Accounting and a Master’s degree in business. About ten years ago, Robison retired after a long and took on a full time job at COSI.

After a few years it got to be too much and he took a leave of absence. Then in 2005, he came back four days a week 6 hours a day. Today, at age eighty-one, Robison says friends often ask why he doesn’t quit for good. His response: Why would I do that.

“I tell them, ‘You pay money to go the the gym and work with a personal trainer. I come here, get exercise and get paid for it’”. Robison readily admits some new technology is difficult for him to grasp. He’s okay with e-mail but the surfing the web can be troublesome. The internet as far as researching products that are available and where to get a product, I do have trouble.”

Not so difficult are the simple but critical repairs to popular exhibits that sometimes take the brunt of enthusiastic use.

“Like a button for starting the operating of an exhibit from the pounding that it receives will eventually fail and have to be replaced. And some exhibits are actually fractured and we have to go in a rebuild partitions and reinstall them.”

Supervisor Wade Born says among his staff of full and part time techs, ranging in age from twenty-three to eighty-one there is an easy balance between one’s weakness and another’s strengths.

Colleague and fabricator John Fair says Jim Robison is a great asset to the department and a person from whom he’s learned a lot.

“Patience.” Jim has a lot of patience which is something a lot of younger people don’t have.”

That kind of admiration is one of the things that keeps Jim Robison coming in to work each day.

“The young people really treat me with respect.” In his spare time Jim Robison likes making improvements to the house where he and his wife of fifty-seven years live. He recently built a deck in the backyard and has plans to re-model the kitchen. For fun, he says, the couple enjoys going out to dinner to a show and dancing.

Asked how long he plans to continue to work at COSI, Jim Robison doesn’t need time to reflect. He answers right away.

“I tell my supervisor it’s the day you read about me on the obituary page.”

When pressed the eighty-one year old COSI exhibits tech says “It’ll be when I detect that I am so far behind that I’m not carrying my weight here anymore.”

Marilyn Smith WOSU News