Bill Roberts

Professor of Anthropology

Bill Roberts


I am an applied cultural anthropologist and professor of anthropology at St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM). My love for anthropology and anthropological fieldwork began as an undergraduate at the College of William and Mary. In order to complete my senior thesis, I carried out a seven and a half months study in 1975-76 of the Atelinae (Atelese, Lagothrix and Brachyteles). I began by learning to do primate fieldwork at the Smithsonian’s Barro Colorado Island research station in Panama. I then traveled to Colombia, and flew into the upper Amazon from Bogota before traveling by river and bus to southeastern Brazil. After graduation I joined the Peace Corps and spent just over three years as a public health and rural water supply volunteer in The Gambia (1979-81) and Zaire (1981-82). After the Peace Corps, I began graduate work in anthropology at The American University in Washington, D.C. (1982), and continued to focus my work on applied issues in sub-Saharan Africa. Awarded an IIE Fulbright grant to support my dissertation research in the Futa Jallon highlands of Guinea, I earned my MA and PhD degrees before joining the faculty at St. Mary’s College of Maryland in 1991. At St. Mary’s College I have created service-learning opportunities for undergraduate students as part of the applied anthropology course I teach every other year. Beginning with a public transportation study carried out in 1996 for the St. Mary’s County Department on Aging and Community Services Coordinating Committee, students have worked with an array of county human services provider organizations, including the Departments for Public Health, Social Services, Public Works and Transportation, and the College itself. I have also been extensively involved with creating study abroad opportunities for students. My first program was an intersession study tour to Guatemala in 1996, followed by another study tour to Gambia the same year. The Gambia program has grown steadily since its inception in 1996, and I am currently the director for the St. Mary’s College PEACE program in Gambia (Promoting Educational and Cultural Exchange). When the Gambia’s first national university was created in 1999, the St. Mary’s College program quickly established links with it. Today there is a vibrant and growing student and faculty exchange between the two institutions every semester, and collaborative research projects have begun in the areas of archaeology and cultural resources management. Although Gambia is my primary focus for international education, I have actively participated in programs in Guatemala, Belize, Senegal and Thailand. One of my current research projects focuses on assessing the short-term impacts of international education on St. Mary’s College students’ knowledge, attitudes and aspirations. Another project that began in 2005 with Professor Deborah O’Donnell, uses a culturally modified version of the Yale University Social and Health Assessment survey instrument to study a sample of Gambian high school eleventh grade youth from three senior secondary schools. I am a Senior Fellow of the Society for Applied Anthropology, and recently completed my term (2002-2008) as co-editor of Practicing Anthropology with my friend and colleague, Jeanne Simonelli (Wake Forest University). I have served as the Society’s liaison to the Local Practitioners Organizations, and am past president and current member of the Washington Association for Professional Anthropologists. I continue to be a member of the American Anthropological Association, and belong to the Culture and Agriculture, National Association for Practicing Anthropologists, and Society for Humanistic Anthropology sections. In 2004 The Gambian Embassy in the United States nominated me for the National Order of the Republic of The Gambia. In 2005 President Jammeh inducted me into the order at the rank of (honorary) Commander. Whenever possible I enjoy traveling with my family (Debbie O’Donnell and sons, Adam, Andrew, and Gabriel). Travel invigorates and inspires me, and provides me with an opportunity to instill a love for adventure and an appreciation for natural and human diversity with my family.

Areas of Research Specialization

  • West Africa
  • Gambian Youth
  • International Education

Areas of Teaching Specialization

  • Cultural Anthropology
  • Applied Anthropology
  • sub-Saharan Africa


  • B.A. in Anthropology at College of William and Mary, 1977
  • M.A. in Anthropology at The American University, 1987
  • Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology at The American University, 1991