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People on Campus: Nina Roberts

April 20, 2007

Photo of Nina Roberts from her trip to India as a Fulbright ScholarNina Roberts, assistant professor and project director for the Recreation and Leisure Studies Department's Pacific Leadership Institute (PLI), has a passion for revitalizing young people's interest in the natural environment. "Right now that means getting across the idea that there is just as much adventure outdoors as there is in computer games," she said. The outdoors, she maintains, is the best place to discover one's personal strengths.

Born in Queens, N.Y., and raised in several towns and cities along the eastern seaboard, Roberts became enamored with the great outdoors at an early age. Eschewing the more girlish pursuits of her two sisters, Roberts spent most of her time with her brother and his friends building forts and playing outdoor sports.

"When I was a kid in Massachusetts, we'd visit this quarry all the time and I still feel the excitement when I recall grabbing onto a rope hung from this huge oak tree, swinging over the water, then letting go!"

In addition to her work at SF State with the PLI, Roberts teaches classes in leadership in recreation, parks and tourism, collaborative leadership, urban recreation and research methods. Throughout her 25-year career she has conducted research and consulted in the areas of outdoor programming, youth development, gender issues, and ethnicity and culture.

At the heart of Roberts' research is an examination of the reasons why more ethnic minority youth are not involved in outdoor recreational programs. She has published and lectured widely on the topics of minority recruitment and training, as well as the development, uses and relevance of regional, state and national park programs for people from diverse cultural backgrounds.

In 2004 Roberts was appointed special assistant to Director of the National Park Service (NPS), Fran Mainella, to develop "NPS Diversity Connections," the first formal opportunity to unite ongoing diversity efforts implemented throughout the national parks. Roberts continues to consult with the NPS, most recently with the IYEL (Inspiring Young Emerging Leaders) program at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area's Crissy Field Center in the San Francisco Presidio.

"What really feeds me is working with youth in a community… understanding them, learning about them and how I can engage them by using experience in the natural world to help them gain leadership skills," Roberts said. "Although I have less direct interaction with kids than I used to, I try to stay connected with them in some capacity. It is a professional necessity for me."

Roberts maintains that her own mixed heritage informs all of her work. Her maternal grandparents emigrated from Madras in East India and St. Lucia in the West Indies. Her father is from England. In 2006 she went to her mother's ancestral homeland as a Fulbright Scholar. With the sponsorship of the U.S. Educational Foundation, she conducted research in the Indian States of New Delhi, Himachal, Pradesh and Rajasthan.

Visiting schools and private organizations, she evaluated the effectiveness of the National Green Corps, the Indian government's first efforts to establish a nationwide environmental awareness and protection program. Roberts collected the information for India's Ministry of Forests and Environment and will also share her findings this fall at the annual conference of the North American Association for Environmental Education.

Earlier this year Roberts and Drew McAdams, PLI's program manager, had the honor of presenting the PLI's youth leadership development model at the annual National Recreation and Park Association conference. Roberts will address an international group of her peers in November as the recipient of the 2007 Kurt Hahn Award. Named in honor of a pioneer in youth outreach and development, it is the top award given by the Association for Experiential Education.

Roberts received a Ph.D. in Recreation Resource Management from Colorado State University. Before joining the SF State faculty she was assistant director of the National Urban and Diversity Program for the Student Conservation Association. She has also taught at Colorado State, George Mason University and University of Maryland and served on the governing boards of non-profits including GirlVentures in San Francisco, Girls Outdoors in Colorado and the Association for Experiential Education.

When she is not working to fortify the outdoor experience of others, Roberts enjoys hiking throughout the Bay Area with her partner, Michele Laskowski, a forester and arborist. Indoors, she loves a stimulating game of chess. Roberts plans to set down roots in the Bay Area. "Obviously, the multicultural environment is nourishing both personally and professionally," she said.

-- Denize Springer


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Last modified April 20, 2007 by University Communications