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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

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Retiring Professor Counsels the Counselors

Walter Roberts plans to focus on volunteer work.

2017-05-17
Kristine Goodrich, Mankato Free Press, 5-17-2017

Roosevelt Elementary students each got to pet Murphy and Prairie.

But first they learned how the golden retrievers visit schools, senior facilities, the airport and other sites to help people feel less stressed.

“They are designed to let people be who they are so they can feel better about themselves,” Walter Roberts recently told a class of kindergarteners.

Roberts soon will have more time to volunteer with Murphy, Prairie and his therapy dog in training, Tchoupitoulas Rose.

He is retiring next month from teaching at Minnesota State University, Mankato in the Department of Counseling and Student Personnel. For 24 years he has taught and mentored future school counselors.

While he’s decided it’s time to leave academia, the departing professor will continue, and in some cases expand, many other pursuits enhancing people’s mental well-being in the Mankato region and beyond. He’s perhaps best known across the state for his expertise in bullying prevention. Roberts came to Mankato from Arkansas in 1993 after teaching for 10 years and serving as a school counselor for nearly five years.

Roberts often talked of his own experiences in the field, recalled former student Matt Ringhofer, now a counselor at Dakota Meadows Middle School. Roberts is notorious, the 1998 Minnesota State Mankato alum said, for having a personal example to share in response to any question and to demonstrate every common ethical conundrum in the school counseling field.

“He was such a storyteller. He had a story for everything,” Ringhofer said.

West High School counselor Amanda Bomstad recalls Roberts often emphasizing that counselors sometimes are the only advocate a student has during a time of need.

“I do not know of another educator who is as passionate about the role that school counselors play in the development of youth,” she said. “He is a champion for school counselors and all that we do to serve the mental health, academic, and college and career needs of all students.”

Like many former students, Ringhofer and Bomstad still call their former teacher for advice on perplexing cases.

He gives guidance but lets his former students come to their own decision while encouraging them to focus on “what’s really best for the student,” Ringhofer said.

Bomstad called Roberts one of her biggest supporters.

“There are people you cross paths with in life who make a profound impact on all of those around them,” she said. “Dr. Roberts has been that person for so many professional school counselors, as well as the hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, of students all of those school counselors have had the privilege of serving.”

Roberts said he will continue to make himself available to former students in need of advice. “Consultation is so important in this field,” he said.

Roberts also has been a frequent visitor to St. Paul, lobbying lawmakers to invest more funding for student support services and to shape policies and counselor credentialing requirements.

While he believes Minnesota’s education system is outstanding my most measures, Roberts said the state lags in providing student support beyond the classroom. He notes the state has one counselor for every 743 students — the second highest in the country and triple the ratio recommended by the American School Counselor Association.

His most recent successful lobbying effort was $12 million in matching grants awarded this school year to help districts add a counselor or social worker position. Mankato was among the four area districts to benefit. Ringhofer, who previously divided his time between two buildings, now gets to dedicate his time to a smaller group of students at a single building.

Roberts joked that lawmakers shouldn’t sigh in relief about his retirement from Minnesota State Mankato. He has no plans to cease lobbying. With more free time, he said he might actually increase his efforts.

Roberts was appointed by four different governors to serve on state boards and task forces. He currently leads the Minnesota Board of Behavioral Health and Therapy. The entity sets license requirements for a variety of counselors, issues licenses, and investigates complaints against counselors and issues disciplinary actions He said he is most proud of co-leading the Task Force on the Prevention of School Bullying. The group developed recommendations that became the basis of legislation passed in 2014 requiring school districts to adopt stronger antibullying policies.

“It helped make schools safer places for kids,” said Roberts, who has written two books about bullying.

The task force was a politically divided group, and while he didn’t agree with all of the group’s recommendations, he is satisfied with its outcome. “It required a lot of compromise and in my opinion that is the way good government works,” he said.

While he has relished molding future counselors, Roberts said he’s decided to retire from Minnesota State Mankato to focus on volunteer service with his therapy dogs and with the American Red Cross.

He plans to make his visits to a few area schools, nursing homes, St. Peter Security Hospital and the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport more frequent. He helped establish the volunteer therapy dog programs at the Security Hospital and the airport.

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at www.mankatofreepress.com.

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