Editor’s Note: This story is part of a series of feature stories that highlight diversity on Florida Poly’s campus and celebrate Black History Month.
Dr. Robert Green’s lessons go beyond the chemistry lab. As an African-American faculty member at Florida Polytechnic University, he makes sure he’s there for students not just to help them with chemistry equations, but also with some of life’s difficult challenges.
“I try to be personable so it makes it easier for the students to learn,” said Green, assistant professor of chemistry. “I tell students about similar experiences within the classroom and how I got through it. You have to fight to crack that code and then you’ve got them learning.”
Green attended Morehouse College, a historically black college in Atlanta, Georgia, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. He then pursued his master’s at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. This transition, he said, represented a challenge for him beyond the classroom.
“I went from a black college where the majority of students looked like me, to an environment where the faculty and students were mostly white at Purdue. It was a big adjustment,” said Green. “When I first moved to West Lafayette, I didn’t see another black person for three days. I wasn’t used to that.”
Through his life, including his career in academia, Green said he has faced painful situations due to the color of his skin.
“Early in my career, I taught a class and somebody called my department chair and said that no black man was going to teach their child chemistry,” said Green, who also earned a doctorate at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina.
“Incidents of racism still happen, but do you cancel your dreams because someone is uncomfortable with you existing? Or do you just move forward? You can see the path I chose. I moved forward,” he added.
Every time Green says he has faced intolerance or disrespect, he’s turned to his work as a source of comfort and reassurance in the midst of hurt.
“You have to make sure the work itself is the number one priority. You get up day in and day out thinking about how important your work is,” said Green, who joined Florida Poly in 2015. “It doesn’t matter where you are. There are always going to be obstacles that you have to overcome. So, your work is what will get you through.”
Green saw a need for more support and camaraderie amongst Black and other minority students on campus, so he founded the National Society of Black Engineers chapter at Florida Poly. He also shares his experiences with those who seek his advice and see him as a mentor and role model. He provides them encouragement and guidance to deal with what he calls “the challenge of simply existing.”
“I tell young Black and Latino students that it’s okay to voice that you’re experiencing some kind of pain or discomfort. Then we can diagnose what’s happening and proceed in a way to help improve our situation,” Green said. “I let them know that somebody before experienced that same thing, and you can come together to figure out how to make things better.”
Green invests time and energy into making sure that all of his students have the tools they need to be successful. He also stresses the importance of networking, exposure, and finding multiple pathways to achieving goals. As a result of his mentoring, some Florida Poly students have earned internships at some of the nation’s most prestigious programs in bioengineering or gained full-time employment at government agencies.
Although Green is proud of the impact he has made since his arrival on Florida Poly’s campus, he says “the best is yet to come.”
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