Marilyn Roberts receives Msgr. Leon A. McNeill Achievement Award

May 30, 2024
Alumna Marilyn Roberts received the Leon A. McNeill Alumni Award.
Alumna Marilyn Roberts received the Leon A. McNeill Alumni Award.

Every year, four Newman University alumni are selected from several nominations and recognized with distinguished alumni awards.

Alumna Marilyn Roberts ‘03, ‘07, won the 2024 Msgr. Leon A. McNeill Achievement Award.

This award honors graduates who have achieved outstanding success in their personal lives and careers. They have enriched the church spiritually, made contributions to society and demonstrated concern for others. The award is named for the first president of Sacred Heart Junior College, now Newman University.

Roberts (center) surrounded by family members in support at the Legacy Awards Banquet in April.
Roberts (center) surrounded by family members in support at the Legacy Awards Banquet in April.

Roberts was nominated for the award for her willingness to advocate for others, live out her faith and serve others. When Roberts learned she was an alumni award recipient, she felt “very humbled.”

“I don’t feel any more deserving than anyone else,” she said. “God has seen me through tough times and good times just like he sees others.”

From an eighth-grade education to five college degrees

Roberts works as a medical social worker who helps dialysis patients overcome anxiety and depression, and has held many social work positions in her career.

“I’ve done in-home family preservation, which is bringing therapy into the home of those people who need it,” she explained. 

She may be a three-time graduate of Newman University, but a college education wasn’t always in Roberts’ life plan.

Video: The 2024 Msgr Leon A. McNeill Award Winner

As a teen, she ran away from home to avoid an abusive stepfather, and as a result, didn’t finish high school. Later in life, when she decided to attend college, she had to work on earning her GED before she could officially earn her first degree: an associate of arts from Butler County Community College.

“It took me four years to get that two-year degree because I only had an eighth-grade education,” she said. “But then I just got hungry for learning.”

After earning two associate’s degrees, Roberts earned her bachelor’s in psychology, a Master of Business Administration and a master’s of social work from Newman University. As a single mom and nontraditional college student, Roberts was “the carpenter, plumber, nurse, taxi, teacher, cook, entertainer — you name it, I did it.” 

“I remember one time my daughters got kicked out of the campus pond and brought to me in class and were told no swimming was allowed,” she said. “I was a single mom and sometimes when I did not have childcare, I had to bring them with me.”

Roberts in Eck Hall on the "Kansas Newman College" seal
Roberts in Eck Hall on the “Kansas Newman College” seal

Although Roberts struggled to earn her two associate’s degrees due to only having an eighth-grade education, it was at Newman where she finally began to believe in herself.

“I don’t go any direction unless it is by the grace of God, and he brought me here,” she said. “My psychology classes set a fire in me to continue to do everything I have been doing.”

A future of faith, learning and meaningful travels

Now, Roberts is working toward her sixth degree — a Ph.D. in psychology — and hopes to transition into teaching.

In her free time, Roberts loves riding her motorcycle and participating in ministry. She combines these two loves through her involvement with the Christian Motorcycle Association, whose vision is to change the world one heart at a time.

“We have what is called Run for the Son and we support three different ministries,” she explained. “The Christian Motorcycle Association is worldwide and we raised a little over $5 million last year.”

Video: Marilyn Roberts – Acceptance Speech

She loves to travel twice a year if she can, as it fuels her passion for learning and teaching new things.

“I love finding God in all His creations. I have been to the Holy Land, Ephesus, Athens, Greece, Turkey, Asia, Italy, Mexico, Canada, Dominic Republic and so many more places. I am going to Australia in June 2025,” she said.

No matter where her life takes her, Roberts’ faith will always be at the core of who she is.

“God gave me peace that goes past all understanding,” Roberts said. “And unless you have that peace that God gave you, you have no idea what that peace is. Some people say, ‘Well, I’ve got my own kind of peace.’ Well, when you have peace that God gives you, then you know peace.”

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