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A Scientific Approach

A Scientific Approach

Kenneth Roberts

Title: Assistant Professor, Chemical
Engineering, North Carolina A&T State
University, Greensboro, N.C.

Education: Ph.D., Chemical Engineering,
University of South Carolina; M.S., Chemical Engineering, University of South Carolina; B.S., Chemical Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology

Age: 34

As a child growing up in Atlanta, Kenneth Roberts showed an aptitude for math and science. His observant parents enrolled him in a series of summer enrichment programs to nurture his interest.

One pivotal program was DeKalb County’s Scientific Tools and Techniques. Here Roberts learned about physics, astronomy, the life sciences, horticulture and more. An enthusiastic teacher made a long-lasting impression on him and soon Roberts was heading toward a career in chemical engineering.

Today Roberts is an assistant professor of chemical engineering at North Carolina A&T State University, a post he has held since 1997. Over a short time, he has racked up a string of awards and honors: the 3M Non-Tenured Faculty Research Award; the North Carolina Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Outstanding Science; Mathematics and Engineering and Technology Award; the A&T Faculty Mentor Award; the American Society for Engineering Education New Faculty Award — and the list goes on.

Roberts’ interests include catalysis and catalytic materials, development of environmentally benign technologies and processes, emission control technologies and nano-structured materials. His research contributes to the use of molten fuel cell performance as an alternative energy source and the conversion of industrial waste to more environmentally safe solvents.

“Dr. Roberts is an asset to N.C. A&T’s intellectual capital portfolio. He has demonstrated his capacity to support existing research clusters and to spin off his own,” says Dr. Earnestine Psalmonds, vice chancellor for research.

Roberts loves research but he also loves teaching.

Born in Wilmington, N.C., and raised in Atlanta, he comes from a long line of teachers, including his mother and father, his grandmother and his great-grandmother. A refrain from his childhood was, “Be careful, you might become a teacher.”

. “I loved having a feeling of self-satisfaction of achieving a goal, and I love seeing it with my students, too.”

Dr. Joseph Monroe, dean of A&T’s College of Engineering, says it is Roberts’ concern for his students that impresses him the most. He says Roberts particularly excels in working with graduates and undergraduates in underrepresented groups in his research, specifically African Americans and Hispanics.

“He’s brilliant in terms of his approach. He really involves them in their learning,” Monroe says. “I’ve observed him working with students who others have rejected.”

Roberts’ research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Office of Naval Research, NASA, the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Education, the 3M Company and Alcoa.

Roberts also is program coordinator for the NASA-Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) held within A&T’s College of Engineering. The program is for pre-
engineering science, mathematics and technology students from partnering colleges throughout the country.

One of Roberts’ goals is to encourage and steer African American and Hispanic students to scientific fields.

“I’ve taken it upon myself to open doors and keep students interested through collaborative projects with companies and labs,” Roberts says. Many of his former students have gone on to graduate school and one student recently obtained a doctorate.

“I tell my students when choosing a career, find something you enjoy and find something where you can serve others,” he says. If you find that pathway, success and happiness will go hand in hand, Roberts adds.

— By Eleanor Lee Yates

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