Investing in the future


By Scott Robertson

I recently had one of those life-affirming experiences that can make one square one’s shoulders against life’s winds and move forward with a renewed sense of faith and confidence. I served as a regional selection committee member for the Roan Scholars program at East Tennessee State University.

The Roan is a rare, and in my opinion, wonderful program that fills an important niche in the marketplace of higher education. Like many merit-based scholarships, it is not about financial need. Any student who fits the criteria is eligible to apply, regardless of financial standing.

But unlike most merit-based scholarships, the Roan is not purely an academic scholarship. Certainly academic performance plays into an applicant’s chances of earning one of the eight spots in the class each year, but the Roan is more about providing opportunities for young leaders.

Think about the leaders you know in this community, whether it be in your business, your government, your church, anywhere there is a need for someone to step up and show the way forward.  Those leaders may not have had the highest grade point average in school. They may have come from any socio-economic background. But successful leaders uniformly have the qualities that allow them to help move people and organizations from where they are to where they need to go.

It’s those people whom the Roan Scholars program benefits during their college years. They are the students who already show some combination of the traits that are the pillars of the program:

Character.  Compassion, Determination, Generosity, Humility, Integrity, Maturity, Moral Courage, Responsibility.

Intellectual Curiosity.  Leaders are learners with a true thirst for knowledge – and the desire and ability to apply what they learn. Roan Scholars value and are committed to their own self-development and interested in expanding their world.

Physical Vigor.  A demonstrated commitment to an active lifestyle; a dedication to fitness and regular physical activity. Tenacity matters as much as (or more than) ability in this area; individual endeavors are considered just as much as team sports.  Roan Scholars understand that leaders need to take care of themselves emotionally and spiritually, as well as physically, and have a sense of how to do that.

Leadership.  It’s about more than titles or the number of activities; it’s about excellence and impact. Roan Scholars set the example, daily. They identify (problems or issues) and initiate. They inspire. They influence and encourage. Above all, they impact, making a positive difference for those around them.

Those things aren’t quantifiable in one’s GPA, but as has been said about another topic, you know them when you see them.

For the class of 2021, there are 98 nominees for the eight Roan Scholarships. They come from 27 counties in Northeast Tennessee, Southwest Virginia and Western North Carolina.

Several regional selection committees met over the last few weeks with around a dozen scholarship applicants each. We were looking for not only the traits listed above, but, as Scott Jeffress, director of the Roan Scholars program told us, “We ask our regional selection committee members to identify those students with not just the greatest capacity to excel as leaders but who also possess an unquenchable desire and drive to pursue excellence and to make a positive impact on the world around them.”

Each of the eight scholars to be named in early February will receive not only the scholarship to attend East Tennessee State University for four years, but also a wide range of leadership training opportunities. They will learn not only from the faculty at ETSU, but also from leaders throughout the region.

For the life of me, I don’t know why this kind of scholarship doesn’t exist at every college and university that offers financial aid of any sort.

Just as it is important to foster great minds in virtually every field of academic endeavor – just as it is important to foster competitors with character as we do with athletic scholarships – so too it is vitally important that we foster the leaders of tomorrow.

I would submit that the last year has shown how much America needs well-trained individuals whose character, intellect, vigor and ability to make a positive impact are the core of their identities as leaders.

The Roan Scholars program, I believe, is of such great importance because it is an investment not only in the young individuals who receive the scholarships, but also in the future of our own communities. Jeffress summed it up well when he said, “We look for students who will not only excel at ETSU but continue to learning, leading, and making a difference after college – in their professions and in the communities where they live.”

Meeting the nominees made my month. These young people all showed the qualities the program seeks to foster. They inspired me. There are great young people out there, eager to seize the chances life will offer. For their sake as well as our own, we should encourage them.


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