An Asheville banking executive and longtime champion of economic development in the mountains may have graduated from another college down east, but that has not prevented him from supporting Western North Carolina’s regional comprehensive university – and doing so in many ways.
Robert “Bob” Roberts, regional executive vice president for First Citizens Bank with 38 years of experience in banking and financial services, is currently serving his second term as chair of the Western Carolina University Board of Trustees, having joined the board in 2017.
Roberts and several of his First Citizens Bank colleagues who are WCU alumni recently hosted a summer send-off event to welcome incoming first-year students from the Asheville area to the university family. The event, attended by dozens of new students and their parents, is designed to introduce the newest Catamounts to one another and to alumni who share stories of what it’s like to attend WCU.
In addition to donating time and talent to support the university, Roberts recently launched a new endowed scholarship fund to provide financial assistance to future students from the 16 westernmost counties of North Carolina who want to study in WCU’s College of Business.
Established in May, the $25,000 Roberts Family Endowed Scholarship Fund will provide annual support to students studying in one of the 17 business disciplines offered at WCU, with preference given to students from Buncombe, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Swain, Transylvania and Yancey counties.
So, why does a 1984 graduate of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill with a degree in industrial relations who was a member of the Tar Heel football team do so much to support Western Carolina University?
It is in part because of friends and family connections to WCU and in part because of witnessing the impact that the university has on WNC from his role in supporting regional economic development activities, said Roberts, a past chair of the Mission Health Care System, previous Dogwood Foundation Health Trust board member and former chair of the Economic Development Coalition for Asheville and Buncombe County.
“Growing up in Asheville, I had good friends attend WCU and I enjoyed visiting the campus,” the 1979 graduate of North Buncombe High School said. “My middle child chose to attend WCU after having some minor learning challenges when he was younger. At WCU, he thrived and I attribute his success, both academically and socially, to the WCU faculty, staff and culture. It changed his life.”
In addition, First Citizens Bank employees a large number of WCU graduates, whose contributions to the company and to the communities of WNC are inspiring, Roberts said.
“Western North Carolina is home for me. I’ve had the privilege to live and work in several WNC counties and understand the critical role WCU plays in the lives of our residents,” he said. “It is my hope that the scholarship will play a small role in encouraging students from WNC who may otherwise not have the resources to pursue their education.”
After consulting with his wife and his son, who graduated from WCU in 2018 with degrees in marketing and management, Roberts decided to provide financial support to the university’s College of Business.
“I have a passion for economic development in Western North Carolina,” he said. “We need a prosperous business community in order to sustain our quality of life. Western Carolina University’s College of Business is a quality school producing our future business leaders. It is my hope that many graduating students will remain in Western North Carolina and work or start their own businesses.”
It is impossible to overstate the importance of scholarship support for WCU students, said A.J. Grube, dean of the College of Business. “A scholarship can mean the difference in a student’s ability to earn a degree or not. This degree, in turn, means the student can achieve a career that will improve both the student’s life and the lives of those in our region,” Grube said.
“This means that scholarships directly help both students and the citizens of Western North Carolina. I’m so grateful to the members of the Roberts family. The scholarship they’ve endowed will have a positive impact on our students and our region for generations to come,” she said.
A participant in the Asheville Chapter of the University of North Carolina Education Foundation and UNC Letterman’s Club, Roberts said he plans to continue supporting both his alma mater and the westernmost campus of the UNC System.
“I’m proud to be involved with Western Carolina University,” he said. “My small contributions won’t likely have a huge impact on the success of the university, but I would encourage everyone in Western North Carolina to consider WCU as a top priority for your philanthropic gifts. Everyone pulling together can make a big difference.”
For more information on creating an endowed scholarship fund to help students pursue their higher education goals, contact the WCU Division of Advancement at 828-227-7124 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit give.wcu.edu.