Remembering IFSA Founder Tom Roberts

July 19, 2019 10:20 pm
Tom Roberts NAFSA 2018

Always the jokester, Tom shows off his NAFSA name badge along with “First Timer” and “Student” ribbons at the 2018 NAFSA Annual Conference in Philadelphia.

We are saddened to report that Tom Roberts, one of IFSA’s founders and a well-known figure in the field of international education, passed away on Friday, July 19.

Tom joined Dr. David Gray and M. Jean White in founding what was then known as Butler University’s Institute for Study Abroad in 1988, establishing the unique and important partnership that still exists today with Butler University. An irrepressible and energetic extrovert, Tom oversaw IFSA’s field staff and student recruitment from the beginning of IFSA’s existence. Many of the long-standing, trusting relationships IFSA enjoys today are part of his legacy to our organization.

Tom earned his B.A. in political science from Rutgers University, and he did graduate work in English literature at the University of Chicago. He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Pi Sigma Alpha, and Phi Alpha Theta honor societies, and he was awarded an honorary M.A. from the University of East Anglia. Tom began his career in the mid-1960’s, and he was fond of pointing out that “there was no field of study abroad then.” He worked at the Institute of European Studies and Beaver College’s Center for Education Abroad before leaving to help establish IFSA.

In 2002, Tom received NAFSA’s Education Abroad Leadership Award for his dedication to and accomplishments in the field, and was awarded life membership in both NAFSA and AACRAO. After his retirement in 2002, he remained actively involved as an IFSA Board of Directors member and regular attendee at national conferences, where he continued to “work the stand” representing IFSA.

Many among us will miss Tom’s dry wit, legendary stories, and genuine concern for people. His playful humor emerged recently at the 2018 NAFSA Annual Conference in Philadelphia where Tom donned “First Timer” and “Student” ribbons and walked the Expo floor. In his retirement, he put his creative energy toward writing the book and lyrics for “INDY! The Musical” which recently played at the Phoenix in Indianapolis.

Tom profoundly shaped the IFSA we know today and influenced our profession as a mentor, friend, and tireless advocate for international education. While we mourn him, we also owe him a debt of gratitude as the current generation of torchbearers shaping the future of education abroad.

We will update this article with details about memorial services when we have more information from the family. In the meantime, we extend our deepest condolences to his wife, Ursula, their son, Tom Roberts, Jr., and the many international educators whom Tom influenced throughout his life.