You could say that Rhonda Rogers is a student affairs practitioner by osmosis.
Though Rogers doesn’t have a degree in the field, she knows how to help students think things through. She acts as their advocate. She knows the language of feeling. And she has a heart for service.
For 45 years, Rogers has been a constant and reassuring presence for Virginia Tech students. Rogers was a new graduate of Wytheville Community College’s secretarial science program when she was recruited for employment at Virginia Tech. Hired in 1973, she was one of the first black secretaries at the university.
In the years since, she has served almost every area within Student Affairs, including student conduct, fraternity and sorority life, the Corps of Cadets, housing and residence life, and the vice president for student affairs’ office. Since 2013, Rogers has been executive assistant in Cultural and Community Centers. This summer, she concludes her career at Virginia Tech with the kind of thoughtful optimism that has marked her career for more than four decades.
“I am frank with students,” she said. “I tell them they are lucky to be in this place. I tell them to be aware of opportunities. Don’t confine yourself to one narrow area or department. Step outside of your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to try new things. So many good things are happening on this campus if you just seek them out.”
During her life, Rogers has seen a spectrum of issues related to race on campus and in society in general. “In Wytheville, it was strictly black and white,” she said of her hometown in Southwest Virginia, which was rigorously segregated when she was growing up. The university, on the other hand, “was a melting pot. It was the best place I could have raised my two children. For a small town girl from Wytheville, Blacksburg was perfect,” Rogers said.
Her current assignment in Cultural and Community Centers has been, in her words, eye opening. “I’ve learned a lot about what happens at this university with regard to underrepresented students – and what still needs to be done,” Rogers said. “I’ve seen racism and divisiveness, yes. It affects students more than people realize – the impact of world events, difficulties finding community, every day struggles of access and awareness. But I have also seen resilience and progress. Students stand up for themselves now and take on the role of activist when they see injustice.”
Foremost in Rogers’ work has been creating safe spaces for students to express themselves and learn. “Students are under a lot more pressure, not just from others, but from themselves. Standards are so high. There is so much stress on them – financial, academic, social. A big school can be overwhelming,” she said.
Despite working through a time when support staff were often treated as second-class citizens within the university organizational hierarchy, Rogers said she has always felt respected. “I have been blessed to work with people who are supportive. I never worked for anyone who made me feel inferior. I was asked for my feedback and it really mattered.”
She said there are many more professional development opportunities for staff than when she started, and more support and appreciation. She herself has mentored new employees. “Support staff members are accepted now as professionals,” she said.
No stranger to accolades and awards, Rogers’ accomplishments are woven into the fabric of Virginia Tech’s history.
- In 1993, Rogers was presented the Student Affairs Heroine Award.
- In 1998, she was profiled by the Collegiate Times for an article that focused on her commitment to students.
- She received the President’s Award for Excellence in 2005 for her outstanding contributions to Virginia Tech.
- An extended interview with Rogers is part of the Black Women at Virginia Tech Oral History Project in University Libraries’ Special Collections.
- She and her husband, Phil Rogers, a 2011 Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame inductee who led the football team in 1975 as the first African-American starting quarterback for the Hokies, are also featured in the VT Stories Oral History Project for the impact of their legacy and service.
- Most recently, Rogers received the MLK Community Service Award from the New River Valley branch of the NAACP.
She said, “It’s the things other people see in you that you don’t” that have made her proud. That and her relationship with students. “They remember me and look me up when they come back to campus. It’s nice to know I have had a positive effect.”
Written by Sandy Broughton