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Bobbi’s Place: Professor Bobbi Patterson and Emory as Place

            You’ve probably felt it. If you’ve ever run through Lullwater Park on a Sunday afternoon; listened to the talented a cappella singers serenade friends and classmates on the first Friday of the month; walked with a bounce in your step through Asbury Circle on a Wonderful Wednesday, or waited anxiously in class during Dooley’s Week, for that mysterious skeleton to walk in and release you. It’s a feeling of comfort, excitement, and togetherness– an invisible, vibrant thread running through Emory students and faculty, and connecting us to this amazing place we call home. (Unless you’re that kid who’s thinking about transferring….this doesn’t apply to you.)

            That’s how I felt as I walked to Starbucks to meet one of my favorite professors, adored by faculty and students alike, Dr. Barbara “Bobbi” Patterson. I like to think of Bobbi as my life coach; Though I no longer sit amongst the discussion group in her Religion and Ecology class, we make sure to plan a coffee or hot chocolate date every couple of months, to keep my sanity in check. While our conversation usually revolves around my life, on this specific day, I got the opportunity to interview Bobbi for a change. I’m happy to share with you, readers, the awesomeness that is Bobbi Patterson.

A Typical Day In The Life Of Bobbi Patterson:

  • Wake-up: Before sunrise.
  • Walk and feed the dogs, enjoy a light breakfast, spend time reading traditional texts and practicing sitting meditation.
  • Leave house at 5:25 AM to swim with the Emory Masters Team.
  • In the office by 8 AM, preparing for class, occasionally meeting with one of her committees (sustainability office or financial advisory committee, for example) or meeting with students.
  • Teach Religion 100 class at 2 PM until 3:40 PM
  • Teach the experimental class on Emory As Place at 4 PM, a class of 17 students creating their own projects on place. (Such projects include Lullwater walks, pod casts of the quad about Emory’s involvements during the civil rights era, and a scavenger hunt for first year students!)
  • Tuesdays and Thursdays: Run with her “rescue dog” and lift afterward.
  • Every Wednesday at 5 PM: Lead an open meditation group in the family center of The Winship Cancer Center. (Everyone’s welcome, no matter the experience level.)


            Busy day! This brief look into Bobbi’s daily schedule, however, fails to provide a complete understanding of everything she does for our school. Since her arrival at Emory in 1981, Bobbi has been able to observe Emory from multiple perspectives. Beginning here as chaplain of the university before becoming dean of students, Bobbi Patterson grew to love Emory University long before her position as a professor in the religion department.  She is involved in numerous programs and committees, most of which involve sustainability on campus, including her position as a faculty associate of the Office of Sustainability Initiatives.

Another project close to her heart is the Emory As Place Initiative. According to Bobbi, her commitment to this project comes from her Southern roots: “It’s because I am from the South: Southerners care so much about place. Being part of your community was just so important growing up, the tradition is so strong.” For Bobbi, sustainability began with community-based justice for the communities she had been a part of. Eighteen years ago, she started The Theory Practice Learning Initiative, which became The Office of University-Community Partnerships. She also designed the previously mentioned Emory As Place class. Dr. Patterson appreciates how many courses at Emory offer an opportunity to get involved in the community and apply the ideas we are studying in class to the world around us. She explains, “The complex community has a lot of issues with sustaining itself—if there’s not some love of the place and the people, nothing’s gonna happen to help sustain it.” For Bobbi’s internship class, all of her students work in the community, either in a sustainability organization or another nonprofit. They work a certain number of hours a week and meet with Bobbi in the weekly seminar, which integrates various readings and development of a personal portfolio of their experiences. In this way, Bobbi’s class sustains community partnerships with Emory students. Look for her new internship class in the fall for undergraduates!

      Along with her own efforts, Bobbi told me she sees a lot of students at Emory who are committed to sustainability as well: “Your generation is quite pragmatic. This is one way you all are taking hold of your future. I’m seeing more students becoming politically involved as well, which seems important now. Little, individual good-doing will make a difference, but at the same time you need to be working at the structural level. I notice more and more students are being much more level-headed about political involvement than my generation!”

While we happily agreed that Emory students are committed to the protection of our Earth—considering careers in sustainability, and taking the issue seriously—there is one element of sustainability that may need a little more encouragement on campus, and that’s the idea of Place. Bobbi says developing a connection to the place in which you live and work is important because if you fall in love with your place, you are more likely to sustain it. Every year we have a small team of students and faculty that work on Emory As Place projects. These are people who feel that, here at Emory, we need to restore our sense of place and heritage.

Unfortunately, this is all I got before the conversation switched back to my life, since Bobbi is way too modest to talk about herself for long! This, in a nut shell, is the essence of Bobbi—always putting others before herself. If you don’t know her yet, you really should. She will forever be an integral part of this place that she loves, Emory University. 

-Lauren Borrelli ’12


One Response

  1. I would like to say thanks. My name is Donta you help build my mom sabrina home. I just read your artical. I felt that it was great. I’m 21 now and i work for State Farm agency Amber Brown.

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