When Melinda Roell received her Master of Public Administration degree, she defied unimaginable odds.
“Life has a way of surprising you,” Roell said as she recounts her early days, from Flagstaff, Arizona, to when she started college. Life took unexpected turns with marriage, motherhood, a military relocation, back to Arizona, and finally to Georgia for a divorce. To Roell, it didn’t matter. “I’ve always believed in the power of education, no matter what life throws at you.”
Roell’s academic path at Georgia Southern started in 1994 as a transfer student, but her trajectory was far from linear. Balancing single parenthood and family responsibilities, she persevered, earning a bachelor’s degree in public relations. She married a Georgia Southern history professor, Craig H. Roell, Ph.D., and became a permanent member of the Statesboro community.
“I found myself working in the nonprofit world, learning the ropes of grant writing and graphic design,” Roell shared. A chance encounter with a MPA professor client advising her to go to grad school proved pivotal.
“I decided to explore the nonprofit sector further, and that led me to pursue a master’s degree in public administration with a concentration in nonprofit management,” Roell recounts.
Little did she anticipate the tumultuous year that awaited – 2020, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic while pursuing her second degree at Georgia Southern.
As the pandemic raged on, Roell faced a formidable adversary – cancer. “In the midst of a global pandemic, my personal life took a couple of devastating turns,” she recalls.
Further tragedy struck when Roell’s husband suddenly passed away in the midst of the pandemic, just weeks before her first cancer surgery.
“It felt like life was testing me at every turn,” she said.
Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation remission, relapse and remission became part of her routine, but she persisted in her academic pursuits.
Undeterred, she continued her studies while navigating the complexities and side effects of chemotherapy and learning to live alone.
“Education became my anchor,” said Roell. “It was the one thing I could control amidst the chaos.”
Through these trying times, Roell discovered the support of the Georgia Southern community. “My professors and fellow students became my pillars of strength. They provided empathy and compassion and supported me during my struggles.”
Roell’s resilience carried her through, and she completed her master’s degree graduating in Fall 2023.
“It wasn’t just about the degree; it was about proving to myself that I could overcome anything.”
Now, as Roell embarks on a new chapter, she reflects on the profound lessons learned.
“Life is unpredictable, but education gives you the tools to face it head-on. It’s not just about acquiring knowledge, it’s about discovering the strength within yourself.”
Georgia Southern University, for Roell, is more than an alma mater. “It’s a place that saw me at my lowest and lifted me higher than I ever thought possible. It’s a community that believed in me when I struggled to believe in myself.”
Melinda Roell can’t attend the ceremony, but as she watches Freedom’s Flight from her home, she knows that her degree is taking her on a similar trajectory, thanks to Georgia Southern.