Meet Maxine Roberts, SSTF Director

After a national search, we’re excited to introduce our new Strong Start to Finish director, Dr. Maxine Roberts. Since the beginning of SSTF, Maxine has been a thought partner focusing on equity in policy-making. Maxine steps into her new director role with expert content knowledge and an understanding of the complexities of developmental education reforms. Maxine also holds close her personal dedication and passion to make a difference for students, institutional leaders, and state policy-makers. Vice president Brian Sponsler sat down (virtually) with Maxine at our recent Learning Network Convening to discuss her ideas about the work ahead. 

Brian: Welcome Maxine! Could you share what drew you to this position and to the work supporting developmental education reforms, overall?

Maxine: When I entered the field of developmental education in 2012, I began learning so much about classroom environments in higher education and the need to address educational inequities. When you look at the demographic of students in these courses, they are primarily Black and Brown students and students from lower income communities. And in many ways, that’s a part of who I am.

I grew up in New York City without a whole lot of financial means, but my family was very focused on the potential of education. I was a high-performing student in high school, and I remember meeting with a guidance counselor who asked, “What are you going to do after high school? Are you going into the army or police force?” I said, “Neither, I’m going to college.” She thought it was okay to pose that question to a Black student who was earning A’s and B’s, and attending a college preparatory high school.

That experience reminds me to keep my eye on students who are trapped in developmental education. While I’m always attending to all students, I’m also focusing on the students who are either not being served or are the students who people question, “Should they be in college?” 

I’ve seen the great work being done within institutions and systems that are moving this work forward. This new role at Strong Start to Finish is a perfect opportunity to work with people who are interested in learning and making this kind of difference.

Brian: What are some aspects of your prior scholarly work that you hope to bring into this role and can contribute to the network’s continued learning and improvement?

Maxine: My scholarly work focuses on Black students who are succeeding in developmental math courses and their experience in the classroom. It’s important to keep in mind the experiences that these students have, whether they are successful or struggling. What are they saying are the areas of challenge for them within the classroom? What helps them succeed? 

I’m so interested in what we can learn from sites such as the University System of Georgia, which had a 25 percent increase in African American graduation rates. I want to look at both where we are successful and where we are challenged. 

As a practitioner scholar, I also bring the work that I’ve done with faculty to examine their teaching practices and their approaches to student engagement, both harmful and helpful. 

Brian: What are you excited to focus on and support for the SSTF work ahead?

Maxine: I am excited to continue iterating what this work is really about, learn who’s doing it, and where the successes are happening as a network. As we have started to uncover some places where students are not being served, the conversation often turns to, “We see that some students are not being served, but we’ll get to them later.” That happens not just within our network, but in our society.

Well, for me, now is the time to focus on this issue, because if we don’t do it now, when will we? Later never comes. Let’s address it right now. 

The research shows that students who are not being served are overwhelmingly Black, Brown, Indigenous, and Pacific Islander, as well as students from lower income communities and older students. I’m really looking forward to acknowledging the good work that’s being done and then figuring how we get to the next level.

Brian: I love embracing “Later is now.” Is there anything else that you’d like to share with the network?

Maxine: I look forward to when we can all meet in person again, but until that time comes, I’m meeting virtually with those in our network to know more about the work that you’re all doing. I’m looking forward to engaging with our partners at our sites and researchers in the field, and continuing to bring that student voice forward. 

Brian, thank you and the team for your work as original contributors to Strong Start to Finish. It’s made a difference in very meaningful ways. I’m excited to join the team and for our work together!