As one of the few African-American women in her computer science program at Clemson University during her undergraduate studies, she started to sense the expectations placed upon her. Teshia Roby has continuously felt the need to prove she’s qualified in a male-dominated field.
Cal State Fullerton’s new associate dean of the College of Education, Roby, Ph.D., has made it her mission to create a sense of belonging among students because of her experiences as an undergrad studying computer science.
Roby said she believes problems still persist regarding education because young girls are often discouraged from enjoying math and science in school. Without the pressure to conform to traditional gender roles, female inclusion in the STEM fields would be boundless.
“I think if we remove that as a factor, as a cultural expectation that girls aren’t going to do as well or girls shouldn’t like (math or science), then I think we would have more girls in that space and represented and it wouldn’t be such a surprise to see us there,” Roby said.
Due to these cultural expectations of race and gender, Roby had a difficult time adjusting to the computer science program at school.
“I felt very lonely,” Roby said. “I was very aware of the fact that I had to be someone in the classroom different from someone I was when I left campus.”
One day Roby went with her father to his engineering plant, where she saw how he dealt with the expectations of his job as he accommodated his behavior to both the formal and informal worlds of the office and plant floor.
Although she respects the path her father took, Roby wanted a different life for herself and her students. She recognized that trying to meet the expectations in school could lead to students feeling like they are abandoning their culture and identity, diminishing their drive to graduate.
Since then, Roby has made ensuring success for underrepresented students her lifelong passion.
“I’m here to say you don’t have to check your identity at the door. You belong here,” Roby said.
As former director of the Graduation Initiative at Cal Poly Pomona, Roby worked to decrease the graduation gap for African-American and Latino students.
Throughout her career, she’s seen the different lenses instructors use to view the disparities among students. Until the last decade, most educators focused on the barriers students face rather than the specific actions needed to dissolve those barriers.
“In my work now, I’m focusing on how we can support these students in their success,” Roby said.
This support could occasionally be individualistic, like helping students find jobs on campus and helping them pay for summer courses to help them graduate.
Other times, it can be dealing with larger issues. Working with the Graduation Initiative, Roby discovered a large portion of African-American students did not apply for scholarships, even though they were eligible. When surveyed, she learned most felt they did not know any faculty who would write them a letter of recommendation.
To solve this problem, Roby hosted network sessions between students and faculty to help build community and host workshops to teach students how to ask for letters of recommendation.
“It is the administrator and leadership’s responsibility to make (students) feel like they belong here. It’s not the student’s responsibility to find a way to connect,” Roby said.
Roby’s former colleague in the Graduation Initiative, Terri Gomez, Ph.D., saw Roby’s effort to help people understand the experiences and assets students of color bring with them.
“That was perhaps one of her greatest achievements,” Gomez said. “She didn’t let folks around the table take a deficit view of students of color.”
Arriving at CSUF, Roby was thrilled to get involved with the program Growing Future Teachers, which encourages and supports Latino and black males to enter the teaching profession.
Outside of her position as associate dean, Roby mentored high school girls throughout Pomona Valley through the nonprofit Delta GEMS (Growing and Empowering Myself Successfully).
Tara Johnson, a member of Delta GEMS, witnessed Roby’s ability to inspire those she mentored.
“She often recognizes potential in people that they don’t even know they have, which is super important as an educator,” Johnson said.