SMPA Professor Establishes Fund to Help Students Affected by COVID-19

The Cokie Roberts Tuition Relief Fund will be available to SMPA students experiencing financial hardship.

September 14, 2020

SMPA Professor Steven V. Roberts. (William Atkins/GW Today)

As members of the George Washington University community grapple with financial hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Professor Steven V. Roberts has created a swift, accessible fund to help in-need students at the School of Media and Public Affairs continue their education. The J.B. and M.C. Shapiro Professor of Media and Public Affairs established the Cokie Roberts Tuition Relief Fund this week in honor of his late wife, the groundbreaking broadcast journalist.

“My wife spent her entire life mentoring and helping young people—that was a huge part of her life and value system and something we shared very deeply,” Mr. Roberts said. “So I knew that she would be very enthusiastic about this project, and because we are facing this crisis right now, I tried to make a difference as quickly as I could.”

The $100,000 fund is for immediate student use, not investment, Mr. Roberts emphasized. It will be awarded in grants of approximately $5,000 with the goal of helping the largest possible number of SMPA graduate and undergraduate students. Students were notified about how to apply before the first deadline, which is Sept. 14.

Mr. Roberts has a long history of philanthropy at the university, establishing the Dorothy and Will Roberts Prize for SMPA students in honor of his parents and a major endowment of GW’s student-run food pantry the Store. When COVID-19 closed campuses in March, he worked with the Division of Student Affairs to provide funding through the GW Cares Student Assistance Fund.

“We at SMPA and GW are so fortunate to have Steve Roberts as a member of our faculty,” SMPA Director Silvio Waisbord said. “In addition to his outstanding work in the classroom, he has done remarkable philanthropic work in support of our students, especially those in need. The Cokie Roberts Tuition Relief Fund attests to his incredible generosity and commitment to students’ learning and careers.”

During the recession in 2007 and 2008, Mr. Roberts said, he saw students suffer devastating financial reversals that sometimes meant abandoning their educations. The COVID-19 crisis, he thought, was likely to have similar long-term consequences.

When SMPA produces graduates from a wide range of cultural and financial backgrounds, that means a broader range of stories make it to the national audience, Mr. Roberts said. Those stories are essential to good journalism and good public policy.

“We can only do our jobs well as journalists if we reflect the world we’re writing about,” he said. “Whether our students become journalists or go into politics or public affairs, whatever route they take from SMPA, the more diverse the better. Our contribution to the world is that much richer and that much more important if we’re able to do that. We play a very important role in democracy, and we can’t play that role well if we’re not as diverse as possible.”

Mr. Roberts, who is writing a book about his late wife, said her first priority was always to promote the welfare of others and to open doors that would otherwise have been closed to them.

“She was a very visible public role model, particularly for young women,” he said. “But in many ways her private legacy—her generosity, her goodness, her mentorship—is as important. This is just one version of the model she set: Every day, every single day, you try to do something that improves the lives of others.”