Roberta Kelly hangs up her educational cap

Communication professor spent years as assistant dean, won several teaching awards

Roberta Kelly, Edward R. Murrow College of Communication professor, will say goodbye to teaching as she retires this semester.

Courtesy of Roberta Kelly

Roberta Kelly, Edward R. Murrow College of Communication professor, will say goodbye to teaching as she retires this semester.

SYDNEY BROWN, Evergreen reporter

As senior undergraduate students finish their own last semester at WSU, so will some instructors. After nearly 35 years in the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, a prominent communication professor packed her office and prepared to retire.

Roberta Kelly, a communication professor from the Bronx in New York City, has officially retired from the college of communication. Kelly is not scheduled for any classes in the fall but will remain as an adjunct professor. She said she will likely do freelance editing and will assist with anything her former students ask her. 

Kelly spent 15 years in different scientific fields. She twice served as president of the Board of the Pacific Northwest Association of Journalism Educators and is currently a member, according to her staff page. From 2006 to 2011, Kelly was the assistant dean of undergraduate studies in the Murrow College. She was inducted into the President’s Teaching Academy, and in 2015 was given the Arete Award of Faculty Member of the Year. Kelly also has won several Outstanding Mentor Awards.

Murrow dean and professor Bruce Pinkleton said he knew Kelly best for her commitment to accuracy, even if this did not align with what students wanted.

“She insists on teaching students how to write well,” Pinkleton said. “Even if it’s painful, and it oftentimes is, and even if it ruins their GPA, as it oftentimes does in their minds.” 

Growing up, Kelly said several family members of hers worked in the back shop of the newspaper publishing industry. She would wait anxiously for her local library to open so she could check out the next book. Years into her career at the veterinary med school, she knew she would need solid writing skills no matter what she did. 

“The one thing that I’ve learned over time is that if you take care of the language, the language will take care of you,” Kelly said. 

Most students in Murrow will know Kelly for spearheading the intensive writing in communication course, COM 300, but junior public relations and risk communication double major Katie Duncan said she knew Kelly for her fierce commitment to Associated Women in Communication (AWC), a networking organization for both men and women to gain career experience as undergrads. 

“The backbone of her personality is just doing everything to the best of her ability,” Duncan said. 

Pinkleton said he meets Cougs, especially Murrow grads, who “nine times out of 10, maybe 10 times out 10,” share a story of Kelly’s impact on their education. He recalled when Kelly line-edited his email and returned it and how Kelly opposed using technology to make the writing course easier, like spell-checking tools.

“When you learn to double-check things, you realize how important it is to be right and how many things out there are wrong,” Pinkleton said. “Honestly, I wish my own kids could have had Roberta, I really do.”

Duncan said she respected how involved Kelly became in every AWC auction, fundraiser or event. 

“I just remember her being so consistent and really wanting us to succeed in this for both ourselves and also for the organization,” Duncan said.

Kelly said she learned attention to detail and discipline from the private Catholic school she attended as a child, which emphasized grammar and reading comprehension skills. 

“Being the weenie I was, I wasn’t about to get beat up for not learning stuff, so I was like, ‘yeah, OK, I can learn that,’” she said. 

Kelly said she wanted to teach her students, especially those working in today’s journalism field, how to be accurate first. As news seems to prioritize “scooping” the story, Kelly believes traditional and extensive fact-checking is essential. 

She said that as she enters retirement, she is excited to go through family artifacts and start to reorganize her home. She said she desperately wants to paint her barn and kitchen and spend more time with her five barn cats, two dogs and a horse. As a communication professor, Kelly said she loves the quiet of living in a rural area where she has land for her animals. 

However, Kelly said she will miss teaching and the interesting students she saw every year. 

“You get to meet new people all the time, [so] you don’t have repeat kids, you can keep telling the same old jokes,” Kelly said. “It works like a charm.”