Purdue News

November 16, 2006

Purdue history professor honored as Indiana's top educator

Randy Roberts
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A Purdue University history professor has been named the state's top professor by the only national ranking specifically designed to recognize excellence in undergraduate teaching and mentoring.

Randy Roberts, a professor of American history who as been at Purdue for 18 years, will be recognized Thursday (Nov. 16) as the 2006 Indiana Professor of the Year. The annual award program, which takes place at noon at the Willard Intercontinental in Washington, D.C., is administered by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

Roberts is the ninth Purdue professor in the past 20 years to receive this award. The council recruits judges within higher education to choose finalists, after which a panel of Carnegie Foundation judges selects the winners based on "extraordinary dedication to undergraduate teaching." Nominations contain testimonials from students, professors and administrators.

"I know that many of my students have had a bad experience with history during grade school or high school," Roberts says. "Many think of history as a list of names, events and dates to be memorized for an exam then quickly forgotten. Sometimes they have no expectations for their college history course and are fairly certain that it will be their most boring course of the semester.

"This is where my job and challenge begins. Given just a sliver of a chance, I am certain that I can convince the doubters, the questioners and the just plain bored that history, in all of its complexity, is endlessly fascinating, always relevant and, in the best sense of the word, entertaining. I have been lucky to be at a university and work under two department heads, John Contreni, who is now dean, and Doug Hurt, the current head. Both of them support teaching and realize that what we do at a state university is to try to educate a lot of students well."

Before coming to Purdue in 1988 as an associate professor, the Pennsylvania native taught at the University of Houston, Sam Houston State University, University of Maryland and Louisiana State University.

Roberts is the author or co-author of 13 books on topics such as John Wayne, the Vietnam War, Jack Johnson, the Pittsburg Steelers, Oscar Robertson, Boston sports, the Alamo and Charles Lindbergh. He even taught history to prison inmates at night when he was on faculty at Sam Houston State University in the 1980s.

At Purdue he teaches about 500 students a semester in American history courses including modern American history and World War II. Roberts also has been recognized as Teacher of the Year in Liberal Arts in 1997 and by the Society of Professional Journalists in 1993. Roberts was named one of Purdue's Charles B. Murphy Outstanding Teachers in 1991, which is Purdue's top teaching honor.

"While carrying a heavy lecture load, professor Roberts maintains close contact with individual students through his ongoing participation in the Dean's Freshman Scholar Program and the Honors Program, as well as mentoring a number of graduate students," says Michael Morrison, associate professor of history and the 1998 Indiana Professor of the Year.

Roberts has taught thousands of Purdue students since 1988.

"Despite teaching more than 350 students per semester, he gives each student individual attention and mentors many of them after they graduate or move on to other classes," Morrison says. "Many remain in contact with professor Roberts after they leave Purdue, even requesting further guidance and counseling about career and graduate school opportunities.

"That is the hallmark of a caring teacher when you go the extra mile, and I think our students sense that immediately. Professor Roberts not only reaches hundreds of Purdue students each semester, but he also educates non-Purdue students through his many history readers, textbooks and publications."

In a recent course evaluation, one student wrote that Roberts is "an educator that remembers that without students, education and learning fail. He remembers to put the student first. Roberts is interesting, informative, entertaining and knowledgeable. His dedication and involvement with his students is outstanding. He really cares, and that's not easy to find."

Many of his students also know him from his multiple television appearances as a history commentator. He has made more than 50 appearances on television documentaries and films in the past 20 years for the History Channel, ESPN Classic, HBO, BBC, PBS, E!TV and the major television networks, ABC, CBS and NBC. As a pop culture historian, Roberts often is quoted in national media and appears on nationally syndicated radio shows. He is a regular on History Channel's "Reel To Real," and he also served as a consultant and on-camera expert for the Emmy-Award winning series "10 Days that Unexpectedly Changed America" and the award-winning Ken Burns documentary "Unforgivable Blackness."

The Department of History has had two professors named Indiana Professor of the Year. Purdue's seven other previous award recipients represent departments in engineering, physics, medicinal chemistry, entomology, chemistry, philosophy and biological sciences.

The Department of History is housed in the College of Liberal Arts.

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, (765) 494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

Sources: Randy Roberts, (765) 494-0040, rroberts@purdue.edu

Michael Morrison, (765) 494-4140, mmorrison@purdue.edu

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu

Related Web sites:
CASE (Professor of the Year)

Randy Roberts' books

Related news releases:
Professor writes about Boston – a city no longer 'darning' its Sox

Playing with numbers is baseball's No. 1 problem

Scholar appears on History Channel to explain what's 'Reel to Real'

Randy Roberts, Purdue professor of history, was named the 2006 Indiana Professor of the Year. Roberts, who is a pop culture historian, teaches large lecture classes including "United States History Since 1877." He is the ninth Purdue professor to receive the award from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. (Purdue News Service photo/David Umberger)

A publication-quality photo is available at https://www.purdue.edu/uns/images/+2006/roberts-class.jpg


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