Currently serving as the President of Service Year Alliance, Robert is a nationally recognized scholar and expert on issues of diversity and equity in higher education and K‑12, Dr. Simmons has shared his expertise throughout the United States. As a member of the diversity and equity collaborative Edchange, Robert has been asked to comment on issues of race and equity on numerous media outlets including CNN. Prior to joining Service Year Alliance, Robert served as the Vice President of Strategy and Innovation for the Campaign for Black Male Achievement (CBMA) and Chief of Innovation & Research with the District of Columbia Public Schools. While at DCPS, Robert was the chief architect of the nationally recognized initiative--Empowering Males of Color. Under the framework established by the White House’s My Brothers Keeper initiative, the work associated with Empowering Males of Color in DCPS developed a pre‑K through 12 approach to supporting African American and Latino boys in Washington DC. As a result of this work, Washington DC was recognized, along with Detroit and Oakland, as one of leading cities working to improve the lives of males of color. Prior to joining the DC Public Schools, Robert was the founding director of the Center for Innovation in Urban Education, a tenured professor of urban education and science education, and associated faculty member in African and African American Studies program at Loyola University Maryland. Additionally, Robert had a joint appointment as a research associate at the Baltimore Education Research Consortium at Johns Hopkins University.
A former middle school science teacher in the Detroit Public Schools, his teaching & administrative career in Detroit, Minnesota, & the Dominican Republic, included being nominated twice as the Walt Disney National Teacher of the Year and once for the Whitney and Elizabeth MacMillan Foundation Outstanding Educator Award. Throughout his career Robert has led community organizing efforts to support urban schools and young people. Robert has been part of a team of educators who started a STEM focused middle school for boys, a board member at one of the few public Montessori schools in an urban community, and the founder of a mentoring program for African American boys in Minnesota. Robert has been a fellow with the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Foundation where he conducted environmental research in the rain forest of Costa Rica, and participated in the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund where he studied the Japanese education system with a particular focus on lesson study. The author of over 40 publications, including the co-edited book, Talking About Race: Alleviating the Fear (2013), his research has focused on the experiences of African American boys in public and Catholic schools, science education in urban schools, African American male teachers, urban education, and the role of race in understanding the social context of schooling. Robert's next book, Interrupting the School to Prison Pipeline: African American Males as Critical Scholars and Intellectuals, is part autobiographical reflecting on his fathers' incarceration while offering insights into the educational experiences of African American males.
As a contributor to obtaining over $4 million in grants during his career, including serving as a co‑PI on an NIH funded project designed to support the development of virtual science labs for K‑12 students and teachers, Robert has delivered workshops and lectures throughout the United States and Europe on his research. Robert is a renowned motivational speaker who openly shares his life experiences in Detroit during the height of the crack cocaine epidemic, the mental incarceration he experienced for much of his life due to the physical incarceration of his father, and the significant challenges he faced leaving his childhood home in Detroit to being one of the few African American students at an elite Jesuit high school. Robert continues to serve the community on boards with ScholarCHIPS, the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and as the national chair of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion advisory board for FIRST.