As part of our ongoing series Meet Our GDS Faculty and Staff, we are excited to present: Meet Nina Butler-Roberts! Read the Q&A below to learn more about Nina, High School Science Department Chair.
What do you love about GDS?
Our ambition. I have been a part of independent schools my entire life and have also been connected professionally to many institutions where DEI work is important; however, few have seemed to dedicate the resources necessary or the willingness to engage in constant self-reflection in the ways I have seen at GDS.
Why do you teach?
I selfishly love the feeling I gain when a student has an epiphany or sees the world—or even better their ability to access science—in a new way. As a woman of color in a physical science space, I know that mirrors and role models remain difficult to find. Even in independent schools such as ours, BIPOC educators are not routinely found in fields outside of the humanities and languages. That makes my role even more important, if only to show all students that science and math can be taught and learned by those outside of the stereotype of a typical scientist.
A favorite lesson to teach or favorite part of your job?
Doing demonstrations and labs are always a joy! As a person who learns best by doing, this is my preferred way to teach when possible. That said, I also love teaching modern atomic theory, thermodynamics, reaction prediction, and bonding, as these topics go to the heart of understanding the “Why?” behind the content. Lastly, I taught forensics for nearly eight years at my previous school. This was a course that I absolutely loved teaching and hope to make a full-year course here at GDS. The study of forensics allows students to explore all three of the main disciplines (biology, chemistry, physics) with tangible applications to the real world and crime-scene investigation. To me, this is the best course to show science in action.
Your teaching or work style in three words?
Accessible, fun, and functional.
A top hope/wish for your students and colleagues:
I hope they leave the course being able to identify aspects of the concepts in other areas of their life. For my colleagues, I hope that we all continue to find joy in the little things and remember that growth is more important than the grade.
Scuba diving, knitting, cooking, making soap, and reading science fiction and satire brings me great joy. I love traveling and spending quality time with my friends and my family. Lastly my dogs—I love my dogs like they are my children as evidenced by the fact that I have more current pictures of them than my own kids.
Favorite book = any book by Terry Prachett plus The Dark Tower series by Stephen King.
I love to try and recreate recipes from restaurants for my family. I don't really have a favorite, but I just love to cook and play in the kitchen. While I am a child of the 80-90's, my go-to music when I’m looking to relax is classic rock (Queen, Bowie, Syknard—ignoring how racist they are). Still, I love most music from modern to classic R & B. Music allows me to step out of the moment and focus on everything that makes me happy—or sad, if that is what the moment calls for.
Family and pets?
My husband is Eric and my children are Alec (23), Evan (19), and Janel (17), who is a GDS student. I have two dogs named Truman and Jolene.
Some things about yourself your students/colleagues/others probably don't know?
I have read upwards of 1,000 books using Audible. As a child of the early eighties I was raised in part on Saturday morning cartoons and mid-day 60’s & 70’s B-grade horror films and television musicals; all of which I continue to enjoy to this day. When I am trying to relax, my go-to is animated superhero movies (DC over Marvel!). I also love reading comic books and can not leave a comic book store without a pain in my credit card. I have been involved in independent schools for over 40 years as a student, parent, and teacher. I am also a lapsed Catholic/Born-again Quaker.
One thing on your life "bucket list" you've already accomplished?
I don't have a bucket list—I just live life as it comes. For example, I never considered scuba diving would become a passion, but the opportunity presented itself and now it’s become a real passion of mine.
One thing on your life “bucket list” you have yet to accomplish?
[If she had a "bucket list"] To earn my PhD and to travel to one or more or of the seven wonders of the world with my family.
Years at GDS?
One year down and nearly two months into year two!
With a tip from Nina, we reached out to hear what a colleague had to say...
Science department colleague C.A. Pilling said, “I've been blown away by Nina’s ability to jump into the fray of GDS (particularly given that her first few months at school were virtual) without missing a beat. She’s been completely on top of the details of managing a department. Nina is an endlessly warm and compassionate individual, who has taken the time to get to know us as individuals, which has allowed her to tend to and support the needs of each of us. Furthermore, Nina is hilarious and looks for joy in every moment. Her ability to do so—particularly last year—was certainly welcome and no doubt helped us stay on such an even keel during a very challenging (pandemic) year.”