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CEE Alum Jim Roberts communicates the importance of DEI in engineering

Roberts’ community involvement originated during his time in CEE.

Congratulations to CEE alum Jim Roberts (Civil Engineering, BSE 1983), who recently received the Hispanic Business Person of the Year award from the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. This honor is awarded to a Hispanic individual who has enhanced the Hispanic business community with a significant contribution, or who has otherwise contributed positively to the economic development and business interests of the West Michigan area, and who serves as a positive role model.

Roberts has been active in the Hispanic and minority business communities for more than 19 years. In addition to this recent award, he has received recognition at national, regional and state levels for his contributions to the minority business community and involvement in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) activities. He recently received a Notable Leaders in DEI award from Crain’s Business Grand Rapids. As the head of Jim Roberts Enterprises LLC, Roberts owns a management consulting business, an investment advisory business and a commercial real estate business. He said that he is able to leverage his engineering and MBA education across all three organizations.

Roberts encourages undergraduate students to explore civil engineering as a major. “Civil engineering provided a very sound foundation for me,” Roberts said. Initially, he considered civil engineering as a major because there are jobs available everywhere across the country in the field. As time went on, he appreciated the broader lessons it taught him. “I learned project management skills for planning, and, in fact, I went on and got my MBA in integrated management. I found that the foundation theories and the rigor are the same. Now, I call it financial engineering. I use the same foundation, but I can do it in the business role.”

When choosing where to attend college, Roberts selected U-M over schools such as Stanford and MIT because of U-M’s leading reputation and location. During his time in U-M CEE, he served as president of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) student chapter, was involved with the Engineering Council, and was inducted as a member of the Vulcans engineering society. He also spoke at graduation as president of his engineering class and U-M’s Class of 1983. Today, he calls Saint Joseph, Michigan home, but he still keeps in contact with the lifelong friends he made during his undergraduate years. 

“I think it’s important for students to see that networking, and the relationships, are important professionally, but personally, too,” Roberts said. “There are friends I met while I was in the engineering college that I still do activities with socially today.”

When asked about an important aspect of engineering to address, Roberts noted that DEI is key. “When I graduated from Michigan, there were very few students of color,” he said. “The student body is more diverse now, but we are still not where we need to be. I want kids of all backgrounds to see that there’s an opportunity to start off with a technical engineering education and career path, and then build upon that by pursuing other avenues later on. I really hope that younger students of color can look at that and say, ‘I can do that too’.”


Portrait of Mason Hinawi
Mason Hinawi

Marketing Communications Specialist
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering