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Roberts’ newly endowed scholarships are an investment in education, future educators

July 9, 2024

Ellen Roberts standing alongside a railing in front of a window.

Although she retired in 2019, Dr. Ellen Roberts’ 32-year career as an educator and administrator at Columbus State University continues to leave an indelible mark. That is especially true in the College of Education & Health Professions, where she taught physical education and wellness. Today, she’s deepening her legacy by establishing two new endowed scholarships that will, for generations to come, benefit current and aspiring teachers.

The first of these scholarships honors her parents, George and Norma Roberts. It also pays homage to students who, like Roberts, are first-generation college students. The George and Norma Roberts First-Generation Undergraduate Scholarships will award $2,000 each to two students annually, with preference for those pursuing bachelor’s degrees leading to teacher certification.

The second scholarship pays tribute to Roberts’ devotion to graduate education—a devotion that marked her 32-year Columbus State teaching and administrative career. The Ellen Roberts Graduate Scholarship will annually award $3,000 to a graduate student.

Margie Yates and Ellen Roberts seated and posing for a picture“Scholarships supporting our future teachers are truly an investment in the power of education,” explained Dr. Margie Yates (pictured with Roberts), the college’s dean, herself a graduate student at Columbus State during Roberts’ tenure. “Fostering the professional dreams of just one of our students promises better educational opportunities for the thousands who will call that student ‘teacher’ in the future.”

Roberts hopes these scholarships support students who feel called to enter the high-demand, but frequently understaffed, teaching profession.

“It will be gratifying to see these scholarship recipients well-prepared for the teaching profession and excelling in their chosen careers,” she said. “We have a history at Columbus State University of producing high-quality graduates. We have high standards for our students and high expectations for our graduates, who continue to make us proud of their successes.”

Establishing these scholarships has allowed Roberts to reflect on her career as she navigates retirement. She doesn’t see retirement as an end to the ways faculty and staff might support the university. She said mentoring students, assisting with special projects, and serving on committees are just a few means that come to her mind; donating to Columbus State is surely another.

“We should ask ourselves and decide, ‘How can I give back? How can I support CSU and make lives better?’ Certainly, giving financially is one of them; it’s valuable to those students who might not otherwise receive the education they’re seeking unless someone gives them a hand,” she said.


After completing a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education from the now-Mississippi University for Women in 1969, Roberts left her native Gulfport for Huntsville, Alabama. There, she began her eight-year career as a high school health and physical educator, which included coaching gymnastics and volleyball and later developing and coaching girls' teams in track and cross-country.

As a self-proclaimed lifelong learner, the appeal of earning a master’s degree led Roberts to the University of Alabama at Birmingham. There, her love of teaching deepened as she discovered movement education for children in addition to the exercise science, sports medicine, and athletic training that were the intended focus of her master’s work. While directing UAB’s Preschool Motor Development Program, which taught basic motor skills, swimming, and gymnastics to children 2-and-a-half to 6 years old, she also fell in love with teaching the littlest of learners.

“Teaching preschoolers was exciting, and I loved it,” she recalled. “From the minute you see them, you know how they feel. They come running to you with their arms out and wanting a hug—or they’re dragging and empty. There’s no guessing because they’re an open book at that age. Doing research on their skills and fitness was quite interesting, and it also informed our teaching.”

Once she completed her master’s degree in 1978, Roberts remained at UAB for five years teaching, directing the motor development program, and coordinating women’s intramurals. Having come to love college-level teaching, a doctoral degree was the next logical step in her career. She enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro—nationally renowned at the time for its elementary physical education/movement education doctoral program. She hadn’t even finished her dissertation before then-Columbus College recruited her to its faculty.


Tom Hackett presenting an award to Ellen RobertsRoberts officially joined the Columbus College faculty in 1987. While juggling her teaching duties, she completed her dissertation and doctoral degree, and she soon added developing a graduate program to her duties. For the next 16 years of full-time teaching, undergraduate and graduate students benefited from the knowledge and zeal she brought to the classroom. She later brought that same zeal to her administrative responsibilities, which included serving as the college’s associate dean and interim dean.

“[Ellen Roberts’] leadership during a time of transition for the College of Education & Health Professions has embodied the highest traditions of selfless servant leadership,” then-Interim Provost & Vice President for Academic Affairs Tom Hackett said in 2011 of Roberts’ service as interim dean (Roberts pictured with Hackett receiving the 2011 Thomas Harrison Leadership Award). “I continue to value her steady dedication to the mission of the college and university and her valuable advice and counsel.”

Roberts’ influence expanded beyond the college level and into the university ranks as she accepted new roles. Those appointments culminated in serving as associate provost & vice president for academic affairs, through which she continued her focus on graduate education as director of the Graduate School.

Margie Yates and Ellen Roberts seated and having a conversation“Ellen has had such a profound impact on graduate education here at Columbus State,” Yates said (pictured with Roberts). “Through her efforts, we expanded graduate degree offerings and created a community for our master’s and doctoral students. Without Ellen, graduate education at Columbus State wouldn’t be where it is today. It’s a foundation upon which we continue to build.”

Yates would know. In a way, she followed in Roberts’ footsteps. Yates is concluding her service as dean of the Graduate School as she fully embraces her newest appointment as the college’s dean. She credits Roberts’ early vision and leadership for recent double-digit-percentage upticks in the university’s graduate enrollment and a bevy of newly introduced graduate degree programs. That’s a legacy Roberts now takes pride in.

“I’m most proud of our work elevating graduate studies here at Columbus State,” Roberts reflected. “I loved working with our graduate faculty, supporting their work, and recognizing them for their teaching and research success. I worked with some exceptional leaders like Tom Hackett and David Rock. They allowed me to assist in developing CSU’s first doctoral program and establishing the university’s early collaborative online degree programs. Those graduate programs have helped CSU grow and have enriched Columbus and the region in so many ways.”

Black-and-white image of Ellen Roberts teachingAccording to Yates, Roberts (pictured during her classroom teaching days in the 1980s) continues to be revered for her focus on students, faculty and professionalism. Yates and her colleagues often pose the “What-Would-Ellen-Roberts-Do?” litmus test in their decision-making.

“As an administrator, Ellen was so good at everything she did, whether it was curriculum or checking the facts,” Yates said. “And she’d ask those really hard questions—sometimes the questions we don’t want to hear. She served, and continues to serve, as a role model for us.”

Roberts has role models of her own at Columbus State who continue to inspire her investment in the university.

“Dr. Frank Brown began his service as president the same year I started teaching here, so his model of servant leadership set an example I was able to observe for many years. Dr. Thomas Harrison was the first dean under whom I worked. I will probably never think of the words 'excellence' and 'integrity' without thinking of him,” she recalled.

“Now, with Dr. Stuart Rayfield leading the institution, I am so encouraged about its direction,” Roberts continued. “I want to do what I can to contribute to its success. As President Rayfield has said on many occasions, ‘We’re better together.’”


Photo of Norma and George RobertsHer parents’ spirit and commitment to education are part of what led Roberts to enter the teaching profession and to later create scholarships in their honor. Children of the Great Depression, her parents (pictured) were “great believers in education and were both very intelligent people,” she said, even if they could not afford a formal education for themselves. 

“There was never any question about whether my brother Gary and I were going to college. That was an expectation,” Roberts recalls. “[My parents] didn’t have a lot of money, but they made sure we had a college education.”

Roberts credits her late mother Norma and her 103-year-old father George as her inspiration for making life better for others.

“My father is a man who still believes in serving,” she said, recounting his days volunteering with his church, delivering blood for the Red Cross, refereeing basketball games and coaching Little League baseball. “He did all kinds of things because he believed in service.”

George Roberts with other American WWII soldiers meeting Princess ElizabethOne of nine children whose family immigrated from England when he was three, George Roberts began his military career in August 1942. He was trained as a radio operator and gunner and stationed at Thurleigh Field near Bedford, England. He flew aboard a Boeing B17 Flying Fortress on 31 missions (He is pictured second from right, meeting Princess Elizabeth at the christening of the B17G, “Rose of York.”), including those where his plane was among only a few to return. He has authored several articles about his World War II experiences—service which yielded him multiple commendations and medals, including a Purple Heart. 

Norma Roberts helped shape her daughter’s education starting with her earliest school years. That was especially true of Norma’s homework guidance and her gift for grammar and editing.

“Whether it was written or verbal, [my mom] corrected me,” Roberts laughed. “She was very good with the English language. When she started working as a school secretary, she was known for correcting the teachers’ writing and grammar, too.”

Norma and George Roberts reading to their grandson WinstonRoberts said her mother (pictured with George, reading to their middle grandson, Winston) also modeled the belief that God put us here to help one another. She did that through church work and the Philanthropic Educational Organization (PEO). The nonprofit organization, founded in 1869, continues its mission of supporting women pursuing their educational goals.

“There she was, again not having a college degree, but helping to raise funds and spread awareness of the importance of women being well educated,” Roberts said. “She helped raise money so PEO could award college scholarships to women.”

Roberts admits that her mother’s stroke in 2018 started the clock on her decision to retire. While her status working for the university changed as a result, her commitment to education and bettering opportunities for the next generation of educators remains steadfast.

Ellen Roberts with her father George at her retirement celebration“In a way, teaching has always been and will always be a part of my ministry, my calling,” said Roberts (pictured with her father at her 2019 retirement celebration). “And I always thought of [being an administrator] and advocating for faculty and staff as a ministry, too. If I had to say what was my primary goal here, that was it—helping students become great teachers and helping faculty and staff be successful in their work.”


Like Roberts, hundreds of donors have created endowments at Columbus State, which range from supporting scholarships and academic programs to faculty professorships and research. An endowment can be named for the donor, for a business or organization, or in honor of someone important to the donor. When an endowment is established, the original donation is invested and only the income from the investment is used to support its intended purpose. 

“Following my retirement, I wanted to help further educational opportunities in some way. Providing financial support is one way of doing that,” Roberts said of her decision to create her scholarship endowments. “God has blessed me, and I have felt a need to give to others—especially through this institution for which I was privileged to work.” 

Anyone can make a gift to either of Roberts’ two scholarship endowments online and through other methods. Donors can also create their own endowments with the help of the university’s Development team.

Media contact: Michael Tullier, APR, Executive Director of Strategic Communication + Marketing, 706.507.8729,