Donelle E. Roberts: First-class performance as GSU valedictorian

Actuarial science is the study of the financial implications of uncertain future events. Actuaries study how to quantify and manage risk, primarily in the fields of life and health insurance, pensions, employee benefits, and investments. 

Grambling State University senior Donelle E. Roberts has invested the past seven semesters majoring in mathematics and physics with a concentration in Actuarial Science and has turned a truly first-place performance in doing so. 

When GSU held commencement exercises last week, Roberts became the first member of her family to earn a college degree, the first graduate to earn a degree with a concentration in actuarial science from Grambling, and she did so in first place as the 2021 fall semester valedictorian with a 3.98 GPA. 
The native of Marigot, Dominica (pronounced Dom-ih-NEEK-ah), said that one of the things that helped in her GSU journey was quickly becoming a member of GramFam. 

“From the first week, things were quite easy for me, largely because people were so friendly,” Roberts said. “The first people I met were very helpful in showing me things like where the International Student Office was. I soon realized, much to my surprise, that there were many more students here from Dominica than I had thought there would be. So that was a really good feeling early on.

“But it wasn’t only the students from Dominica — it was everyone. People here are so friendly, doing things like opening doors for you and just asking if you’re doing good. There really is a special, family-like atmosphere here and that made my transition an easy and good one.” 

Roberts said her relatively quick journey to a bachelor’s degree was due to an unlikely combination of purpose and then unexpected circumstances. 

“From the get-go, I knew that every semester I was going to try and take seven courses,” Roberts said. “That would allow me to graduate in two-and-a half years. I remember my first and start of my second semester being quite hectic because I was taking seven courses and then I was helping to do practical and theoretical research on laser treatments of Samarium Cobalt to try and create smaller, stronger magnets with one of my physics professors, and was also doing quite a bit of on-campus tutoring for the Office of Retention. So I was really busy. But that also taught me to prioritize my time, build great habits and stay focused on my goals.” 

Then that unexpected circumstance hit in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“When the pandemic hit, classes suddenly went fully online, and that made managing my time easier because I didn’t have to race from one building to another, and try to grab a quick snack in between just to try to handle everything I had taken on.

“The pandemic hit and slowed things down and just seemed to make it all a little easier. It helped make it easier to focus on classes because that’s pretty much all that was going on at that point.” 

Roberts admits she had never considered actuarial science before coming to GSU. 

“At first I didn’t know what I wanted to major in,” she said. “I knew I wanted to do something big, something important, but I really didn’t know what major would help me obtain such a broad goal. But I did know that I love math. So as I was scheduling it was suggested that I major in math but look at actuarial science, too. I was the first student to go into that program because GSU had just started it. The physics courses involved with the degree were tough but I still got the grades I wanted. I just went with actuarial science, and it’s been wonderful. I enjoy it very much.” 

A member of  Grambling State University’s Office of Retention, International Association of Black Actuaries, International Student Organization, STEM NOLA, National Science Foundation undergraduate research, Thurgood Marshall College Fund, and National Society of Black Engineers, Roberts has been honored as a Thurgood Marshall College Fund Scholar (2020-2021), Goldman Sachs HBCU Leadership Scholar (2020) and has been on the President’s List every semester since she’s been at GSU. 

The youngest child of Ruth and Jeffers Roberts, she was the first person in her family to graduate from college. 

“I have two older brothers and a sister, and I’m the youngest but the first to graduate, although my sister is taking a fully online course of study and is close to graduating, too,” Roberts said.  She’s told me I’ve given her inspiration, and I appreciate that.” 

Next up for Roberts is to continue studies to take and pass actuary certification classes. 

“I’m studying for the first two right now for the Society of Actuaries,” Roberts said. “Then hopefully finding a job, maybe in the insurance field,  or beginning work on a master’s in mathematics. I’m taking the road to my future one step at a time, but I have loved the journey so far and have loved the role Grambling State University has played in all of it.” 


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