Opportunity to pay it forward

With a sense of humor to go along with academic advice, counselor Joseph Roberson takes a more relaxed approach when it comes to guiding students in their collegiate careers.

As a former student at Pierce College, Roberson returned to mentor current Pierce students.

Originally from Buffalo, New York, Roberson moved to California when he was 19. He went to a vocational high school to learn carpentry and didn’t have the initial mindset to attend college.

“It’s so odd because I went to a vocational high school and I remember the guidance counselor asking me about college and the PSAT and I clearly didn’t see a college education as being something I would pursue,” Roberson said.

In 1992, Roberson moved to California to experience something different due to a tragic event with a cousin that made him rethink his decisions.

“That just impacted me so severely and made me reflect on those questions about life, and I knew I had to go somewhere and experience something other than Buffalo,” Roberson said.

Once Roberson moved to California, he said the lack of parental supervision was an issue.

“I began to use my own judgment, which wasn’t wise to make decisions, so somewhere in that timeframe I went through periods of incarceration. I got married young and my daughter was born,” said Roberson. “I realized at a certain point even though I was still using poor discretion in many of my decisions, I realized that based on having responsibility for another life, I at least needed to take that into consideration.”

Roberson decided to attend Pierce College in 1996, walked onto the football team and earned a spot. The team struggled during Roberson’s time at Pierce College and had a record of 0-20 during the course of two seasons.

A month before Roberson’s first football season, he suffered a third-degree tear in his MCL that left him physically unprepared to participate in collegiate sports. As a result, he suffered further injuries.

Roberson focused on academics while at Pierce. He said that Karen Latkin, an Extended Opportunity Program counselor, had a strong influence on his life.

“She made me believe that the possibility was there to move forward with my life. She directed me to the appropriate resources and she gave me the emotional support I needed,” Roberson said.

Roberson didn’t receive a football scholarship to a university but since he was academically prepared, Lakin helped him with his application and he later got accepted into California State University, Northridge (CSUN).

“She also taught me the skill of writing for scholarship money, which proved instrumental in my future,” Roberson said.

Lakin kept track of Roberson and recognized he was a mentor to his teammates, but wanted to help him gain direction.

“He was playing football and was one of the older players on the team. He was more of a mentor than he was a peer,” said Lakin. “He’s got a big heart.”

Once Roberson started school at CSUN in the fall of 1998, he approached then-football coach Ron Ponciano and shared his desire to be a part of the team.

“The way coach Ponciano addressed me that day in his office validated my existence. He didn’t look at me with skepticism and acknowledged that I was different,” Roberson said.

Ponciano told Roberson he had the opportunity to earn a scholarship and that the program would love to have him. Roberson then redshirted his first year at CSUN to focus on academics and train his body for collegiate football.

“I was able to earn scholarship money two of my years and it was validating to me because it told me that it could be done,” he said.

One of the benefits of going to CSUN was that there was a preschool on campus, so his daughter, Kyla, could attend school at the same time.

While at CSUN, athletic/academic counselor Mandie McConkey assisted Roberson and took the place of Lakin as a his counselor.

“She took an interest in me as a human, heard my concerns gave me feedback and helped support me through my educational journey there,” Roberson said.

Roberson earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and McConkey suggested he become a counselor because he was great at talking with players on the team. This led Roberson to the thought of attending graduate school.

Roberson applied to CSUN’s graduate program in the fall of 2000 but was not accepted. Right after he was denied admission, the co-chair of the Graduate Program for College Counseling for CSUN at the time, Merril Simon, gave him suggestions and feedback on how to apply again the next year.

In 2001, Roberson was accepted into the graduate program after he finished his football season.

While in the graduate program, Roberson came back to Pierce College and spoke with former President Rocky Johnson to express his desire to be a counselor at Pierce.

“He let me know the opportunity was there for me and since I was a former student-athlete that I could be a benefit to the school,” he said.

A few years later, Roberson met with former Athletic Director Bob Lyons, who encouraged Roberson to apply for the counseling position.

In 2007, he was hired as a part-time counselor and became full-time in 2009.

Recently, Roberson took the position of the athletic counselor at Pierce.

“It has come full circle in the sense of me coming here as a student-athlete nearly 20 years ago,” he said.

Department chair of counseling Rudy Dompe was a part of the committee that hired Roberson.

“I’ve known him before he was hired to teach some Personal Development 40 classes here initially, and my impression then and the confirmation of that now is he’s very approachable, accessible and genuinely interested in helping students,” Dompe said.

Dompe said Roberson makes a major contribution by taking the responsibilities of counseling athletes and following all the procedures and regulations, which are structurally more rigid and strict than those applied to counseling regular students.

“He is a valuable member of the staff, interacts well with everybody and he’s always there,’ Dompe said. “He’s always there. He attends every function and is interested in all the student events and extracurricular activities, so he’s committed to this institution in so many different ways,” said Dompe. “As a chairperson, one of my priorities from the beginning is to create an environment that is conducive to helping students and at the same time a pleasant place to work. Joseph is a member of that team and he makes his contribution accordingly.”

Roberson reminisced of his days as a student at Pierce almost 20 years ago and remembered many teachers he had who still teach at Pierce.

His teachers were David Braun of the Business Department, Betty Odello of the Philosophy Department,  Jeffrey Cohen of the Psychology Department, Pat Siver of African-American Studies, and Noble Eisenlauer, Philip Stein and Diane Levine of the Anthropology Department. Most of them are still teaching at Pierce today.

Roberson’s entire family has a connection with Pierce College. His wife Jasmine and daughter Kyla were students before and his 11-year-old son Jayden has participated in summer camps.

Roberson said that his connection to Pierce goes beyond his job title.

“I have a connection to this school and my identity is affected by this school,” said Roberson. “It means something to my life that this school be successful and that students from here find their goals and dreams in life because I’m a Brahma.”