Joe Roberson and his wife, Barbara Perry Roberson, liked to say that they’d never met another couple who could beat the six U-M degrees between the two of them. Both had deep connections with education and U-M, in particular. Joe attended UM-Flint, where he received his undergraduate degree, and then went on to earn a master’s degree and doctorate at UM-Ann Arbor. After a stint in baseball’s minor leagues, Joe returned to the University to serve as the associate vice president for development, the director of the $1 billion Campaign for Michigan, and finally as its eighth athletic director.
Barbara also had a lengthy history at U-M. She served as a teacher and received her A.B. in education at Michigan in 1957. That’s also where she and Joe met. They were happily married for 34 years, during which time they had two children, Kimberly and Marvin. When the children were old enough, she returned to Michigan, earning a master’s in 1969, along with an education specialist degree in 1972. She hoped to someday earn a Ph.D., too, but life got in the way.
“Barbara was a tremendous wife and mother,” says Roberson. “We had few unfulfilled dreams or needs, except for her goal of obtaining a Ph.D. in psychology. The combination of society’s expectations of women and her devotion to her family kept that from happening.”
Sadly, Barbara passed away in 1989. Wanting to honor her sacrifices and dedication by helping other bright young women achieve their educational aspirations, Joe created the Barbara Perry Roberson Fellowship in her memory. Through a planned-giving vehicle and an upfront expendable gift, Joe established the endowed scholarship specifically for women graduate students in the Department of Psychology.
“When Barbara passed away, I thought that the best way to honor her was to create opportunities for other women to pursue their degrees. It's a tribute to her sacrificing her goal of a Ph.D. for family, and a way to pay her back,” says Joe.
Over the years, the Barbara Perry Roberson Fellowship has been awarded to over a hundred emerging female psychologists, helping them to complete their studies and pursue their educational and career goals.
One recipient is Sarah Huff, who was awarded the scholarship in 2016. Huff studies how people manage different identities and how that relates to situations of conflict, and she hopes to become a professor so she can share her knowledge and continue her important research.
“The Barbara Perry Roberson Scholarship was especially appreciated during the summer months when our stipends are reduced,” says Huff. “In previous years, I have worked over the summer to support my living expenses, and this ultimately takes away from my ability to conduct research. I was very grateful that I was able to focus solely on my dissertation research during the summer without the distraction of finding other income.”
For another recipient, Maria Galano, a fourth year Ph.D. student studying clinical psychology, the scholarship allowed her to charge full speed ahead on research critical to her dissertation. Her work focuses on the long-term effects of early childhood exposure to intimate partner violence on children's mental health.
“I received this scholarship when I was working with my advisor to begin a multiyear study that would provide data for my dissertation,” says Galano. “Receiving this award had a huge impact, as it gave me enough support that I was able to focus all my attention on my research in order to launch the study in the summer of 2015. I am now nearing the end of the data collection process and am working on writing up the results in my dissertation.”
Like Huff, Galano hopes to continue to develop her work into the future as a professor at a research-centered university. For both women, receiving the Barbara Perry Roberson Fellowship has brought them another step closer to achieving their goals, a goal Barbara herself had shared. Joe’s gift in memory of Barbara is proof that our dreams—and our impact on the world—can live on long after we are gone.
“My mother spent a great deal of her time helping people achieve their goals through education,” says daughter Kimberly. “It feels very right to me that her life be recognized by scholarships that continue to do the same.”
Thanks to the generous bequest and upfront expendable gift from Joe Roberson, the Psychology Department has been able to help rising women scholars achieve their goals for several years now and will be able to do so for many years to come.