Robin Rotman has taken a unique path to becoming an assistant professor at the University of Missouri.
She joined the School of Natural Resources after 10 years of practicing law; first at the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and more recently in private practice in Washington, D.C. Rotman holds a bachelor’s degree from Sewanee: The University of the South, a master’s degree from the University of Oxford, where she was a Rhodes Scholar, and a Juris Doctor from Yale Law School.
Throughout her entire career, Rotman has worked on issues related to energy, the environment and natural resources, which continue to be her focus as an assistant professor at Mizzou.
Rotman found a passion for teaching while serving as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. It was while working in private practice that Rotman was hired by Georgetown to develop and teach an environmental law course for undergraduates. She cares deeply about students and building a foundation for their success.
“I feel very strongly that part of our role as faculty is to prepare our students for the workforce and the jobs that they want,” Rotman said. “I’ve worked in a variety of sectors and have a wide array of experiences that I can share with students.”
Rotman began teaching at MU during the spring 2019 semester, teaching two courses. One course, Environmental Law, Policy, and Justice, is a small, writing-intensive seminar.
“My goal is for it to be a pre-law class taught through the lens of environmental justice,” Rotman said. “Students read cases, participate in a mock trial and a negotiation simulation, and attend proceedings at the Boone County Courthouse.”
Students from across MU (CAFNR, College of Arts and Science, School of Health Professions, and Trulaske College of Business) participated in the course this year.
“All of their work culminates in a student law journal,” Rotman said. “In law school, getting published in a journal is extremely competitive. In this class, my focus is on encouraging participation and building the students’ confidence, so anyone who produced an article that met the standards, which was everyone this semester, got published.”
Rotman also taught Natural Resources Policy and Administration in spring 2019. This is a larger, lecture-style class required for natural resources science and management students.
“A big part of that class is convincing students why they should care about policy,” Rotman said. “Most of the students want to work in a scientific or technical capacity. I try to show them that, while they may not want a career in policy, the future jobs they take will inevitably deal with policy in some form. They need to have a basic understanding of the policy process in areas like natural resource rights and public lands management.”
On the research side, Rotman also takes a pragmatic approach.
“I’ve been in the trenches, so to speak,” Rotman said. “In my legal practice I’ve seen the problems faced by government and faced by industry. I have worked with many different stakeholders on energy, environmental and natural resource issues. I think that experience can inform academic research and vice versa.”
Rotman grew up in suburban Chicago and traveled to Tennessee to attend Sewanee: The University of the South. She earned her bachelor’s degree in geology in 2004.
“Sewanee really laid the foundation for me,” Rotman said. “It was the right college for me at the right time. There’s a strong emphasis on teaching and developing the whole person. I was also really tired of the snow, honestly.”
It was during her time at Sewanee that Rotman developed a passion for water quality work and environmental science.
“With the internships I had, I kept seeing that the science was ahead of the law and policy,” Rotman said. “The summer after my freshman year I got a job with the EPA working on an Indian reservation in rural northeastern Nevada. We were doing water quality testing. There were a number of abandoned mines surrounding the reservation, which hadn’t been properly remediated, resulting in acid mine drainage. I was instantly interested.”
Two years later, Rotman was part of the National Science Foundation – Research Experiences for Undergraduates summer program at Furman University in South Carolina.
“That work was looking at the effects of urbanization on watersheds. That project solidified my interest,” Rotman said.
Rotman was selected as a Rhodes Scholar and chose Oxford’s master’s program in water science, policy, and management.“I feel very strongly that part of our role as faculty is to prepare our students for the workforce and the jobs that they want. I’ve worked in a variety of sectors and have a wide array of experiences that I can share with students.”
“We were 15 students from all over the world, approaching water issues from different perspectives,” Rotman said. “It was amazing to be with other students who were also devoted to thinking about water issues nonstop. We were a very close cohort.”
When Rotman returned to the United States, she enrolled at Yale and completed her Juris Doctor in 2009.
“Yale Law School has a great reputation, but I was especially drawn to their strong clinical program in environmental law,” Rotman said. “They gave me a chance to get hands-on experience early on. I describe Yale Law School as a ‘choose your own adventure’ school, where you can specialize in the area you want.”
Rotman served as assistant general counsel and special assistant to the director for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources for two years after finishing her law degree. She provided strategic environmental law and policy advice to the department director and other senior officials.
“This appointment was a mixture of traditional legal work and policy, politics and public outreach,” Rotman said. “It was a great way to get to know Missouri, as we traveled throughout the state to meet with stakeholders. We got to see the issues they’re facing – particularly the agricultural community.”
With Rotman’s new faculty position at Mizzou, she has been able to reconnect with past coworkers and collaborators across the state.
“I’m so glad to be back in Missouri,” Rotman said. “Columbia is such a special place. I’ve had such a warm welcome to MU. In SNR, we’ve had a strong group of junior faculty come in, and our senior faculty have been so willing to share their experiences with us. I’m looking forward to building relationships for academic collaborations.”