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Professor "Robby" Ratan: the man behind the skateboard

September 7, 2016

Attending 8 a.m. lectures can be tough, especially if it's a topic that you're not very interested in. However, assistant professor Rabindra "Robby" Ratan, who teaches Intro to Media and Info Tech 101 in Wells Hall has changed the game when it comes to teaching his 8 a.m. lecture, simply by skateboarding.

“I started to stand on my board while I was teaching, probably in 2014,” assistant professor Ratan said. “I realized it made me have more fun while I was teaching.”

Ratan’s passion for skateboarding was sparked one evening while walking with his family on the Venice Beach boardwalk in Los Angeles, where he was working on getting his doctorate degree.

“There was a new skate park there and we were watching these kids cruising, doing jumps and kick flips,” Ratan said. “I was like, I want my kid to be able to skateboard.”

Though his son wasn’t as interested in skateboarding, he decided to take up the hobby and connect it with his teaching.

“I think if I can show students that I’m not trying to trick you into being interested in this stuff, you can actually enjoy liking it and you can even do it while you're enjoying it,” Ratan said. 

Though it’s entertaining to skateboard during lectures, Ratan has more to offer than just his skateboarding abilities.

Ratan grew up in New Jersey and decided to move to California to attend Stanford, where he completed his undergraduate studies.

"Stanford is where I learned to embrace my inner nerd." Ratan said.

At Stanford he studied the evolution of hip-hop music in relation to the technology of music production. From Stanford, Ratan went down to the University of Southern California to the Annenberg School for Communication, where he worked on his doctorate. 

"That's where I started the skateboarding, that's where I had my first son and that's where I eventually applied for and got this job," Ratan said. "I came straight from my graduate program to Michigan." 

At MSU, Ratan's main research is about avatars in video games, virtual worlds and social media. Ratan said he focuses on how his research can be used to improve education, reduce gender stereotypes or the negative effects of stereotypes. 

Ratan's research has a connection to his love for skateboarding and his main focus, technology. 

"Sometimes it's hard to be interested when you have to go to a class when you have to get a grade and wake up," Ratan said. "In MI 101, we're talking about the psychology of video games effects. That's great to me."

Ratan said he is currently interested in using video games to help increase the proportion of women who are more likely follow a science, technology, engineering or mathematics career path.

Ratan standing on his skateboard, scooting around and having fun during lectures is his way of showing students he genuinely is interested in what he is teaching, he said. 

"It all comes full circle, this idea that you can follow your heart, follow your passion and have fun with your job," Ratan said. "Don't focus on grades, focus on learning and focus on what really gets your heart pumping and you'll live a happy life."

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