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Award Winner Wants You to Toot UNLV's Horn Too

A first-generation college student, Barb Roberts is UNLV's Administrative Faculty Member of the Year.

People  |  Jul 5, 2017  |  By Diane Russell
Barb Roberts

Barb Roberts was named UNLV's 2017 Administrative Staff Member of the Year. (R. Marsh Starks/UNLV Creative Services)

Six-year UNLV employee Barb Roberts, director of undergraduate recruitment, programs, and services, was named the 2017 Administrative Faculty Member of the Year.

At a time when she and her staff were preparing for more than 6,000 prospective students and guests to descend on campus over a two-week period, she took a few minutes to answer some questions.

What brought you to UNLV?

We relocated for Scott’s job. (Husband Scott Roberts is now vice president for philanthropy and engagement.) When I came to Las Vegas, I knew I wanted to stay in higher education, but there weren’t a lot of jobs available in late 2010.

So what did you do?

It felt odd. It was the first time I hadn’t had a job since I was 14. I did a lot of soul searching. I considered returning to teaching high school. (She taught social science classes at a high school before joining Kansas’ Pittsburg State University as a student employment coordinator and career counselor.) But again, I knew that my passion had become higher ed. Then a job opened at UNLV that I thought would be a good fit.

What was your first job here?

I was an admissions and financial aid counselor. Both offices needed more people. I would spend one day in admissions and then one day in financial aid. It was super challenging, but I honestly learned so, so much.

Today, as director of undergraduate recruitment, programs, and services, what is a typical day like for you?

There isn’t one! My main job is making sure my staff has the information and resources to do their job. (She oversees a staff of 14.) I do a lot of trouble shooting for them so that they can concentrate on their jobs. I also do a lot of both short-term and long-term planning and assessment. Lately we’ve been planning our out-of-state travel for recruiting trips for next year.

How many prospective students does the office of admissions interact with during a recruitment cycle?

To get a good idea of the number of people that we interact with you have to consider several factors: direct mail, emails, out-going and in-coming phone calls, office walk-ins, campus tours, coordinated events and bus trip for students to come to campus, large scale recruitment events, high school visits, and college fairs both in and out of state. I would estimate between all of that that we likely communicate with more than 100,000 prospective students and a lot of their parents as well — and then high school teachers, high school and transfer counselors, and school administrators. It’s a lot!

What is your favorite part of working at UNLV?

I get a lot of satisfaction from knowing that a lot of our students are first generation and that we are changing not just their lives and their futures, but also their families’ lives. I am a first-generation college student, and I believe in that mission so strongly.

I also love the fact that in its short history UNLV has been through a lot — the growth of Las Vegas, then the recession, then coming back from the recession, and the current expansion period.

I see such opportunity here. So many things are happening at UNLV and I want people to know about them. I think the folks in the valley need to know what a gem they have in their backyard and I believe we have what it takes to become a major player in the national and international markets. 

And I truly enjoy the people I work with. I know it’s trite, but there are so many good people here who really are passionate about being advocates for students and helping them on their way to achieving their life goals through higher education.

What can colleagues on campus do to make your job easier?

The biggest thing is that we need to be better about tooting our own horns. Tell people about the amazing things that are happening here. Also, if you are bringing a group of students to campus, let us know. Then we can help you plan their visit and continue the outreach with students that the university already has invested resources in.

What was your first paying job and what did you learn from it?

Outside of my responsibilities on the farm and at home, my first paying job was working at my aunt and uncle’s restaurant, The Chuckwagon Café, as a waitress. I would often be one of two servers for the 30-table restaurant. I learned from that job how to prioritize, how to deal with people — some who aren’t always happy — and how to chip in where you are needed. I believe that everyone should work in a job that involves customer service at some point in their lives. Thinking back on those days really bleeds in to how I treat people in every situation of my own life, both personally and professionally.

Do you have a favorite book or movie to recommend?

The book East of Eden. It is an amazing study of personalities and family dynamics. The complicated lives and relationships of the characters as they are really striving to figure out who they are but at the same time to trying to gain approval from others is fascinating. It’s definitely a book that causes introspection. If you want a book to read just for fun, then read any Jack Reacher book by Lee Child.

What is something people would be surprised to know about you?

I was born and raised on a dairy farm outside Sarcoxie, Missouri, and I milked cows twice a day until I graduated from high school. My father sold the cows after I graduated because there wouldn’t be anyone to milk them. I was kind of sad when they were sold, but also a little irritated that he waited until then!

Do you miss the farm?

I loved growing up on the farm. We had cows and hogs and crops and a one-acre garden. We were just like Old MacDonald!  It was hard work. It taught me priorities and helped make me who I am. But, no, I don’t miss living there. I visit — that’s enough for me.

Another thing that might surprise people is that I never had lived on a paved road in my life until Scott and I had been married three years and we moved to Pittsburg.

What do you like to do when you are not working?

I love to read and to play the piano and spend time with Scott and the girls (Marley, 11, and Audrey, 9). I also love to cook, but I don’t like to do the dishes.

Who does the dishes?

Scott. Our girls told him that he’s the vice president at home, too.

What the People Nominating Her Had to Say

Laura-Georgiana Jule, admissions services specialist in the office of undergraduate recruitment:

“I admire and respect Barb because of her extraordinary skill, but also because of her attitude toward helping students, staff, and the campus community. Although Barb is responsible for leading the entire recruitment team, she never once hesitates to step in and help when and where she is needed. From speaking with an upset student, to helping in processing an application, Barb always finds time in her very busy schedule to try and resolve issues brought to her at any given time.

“She represents and encompasses what a leader and a role model should be, always making sure her staff is well supported and caring about their well-being and their growth within their professional careers.

“It is an honor to work with Barb every day, because she is somebody who is determined to make a change for the benefit of the students, the higher education community, and UNLV campus. She is the ultimate example of dedication and hard work.”

 

Kristine Shay, executive director of admissions:

“When Barb initially joined the UNLV staff in the office of admissions, she intuitively put initiatives and strategies in place that resulted in a significant increase in both freshman and transfer applications over the years, and an overall increase in enrollment of 25 percent. This is simply extraordinary!

“I would characterize Barb as loyal, dependable, honest, smart, intuitive, insightful, diligent, kind, and genuine. Barb is ‘that person’ that you would want to be in a foxhole with. Barb is a rare breed and a special person and it is truly a joy to work with her and to learn from her.”