His classes are some of the first to close during registration, not just because many of them end with dinner at T.G.I. Fridays. Students line up to take a class with one of journalism’s premier professionals and one of GW students’ most beloved School of Media and Public Affairs professors, Steven Roberts.
Between appearing weekly on CNN’s “Late Edition” and PBS’s “Washington Week in Review,” serving as chief political analyst for ABC radio, writing a weekly syndicated news column with his wife, political analyst Cokie Roberts, and recently co-authoring a New York Times best-selling book with her, Roberts takes extraordinary measures to affect the lives of his students, who he said largely impact his own life.
Junior Brooke Gosin who is currently taking Roberts’ feature writing class said she looks forward to going to it every week.
“He helps me to build confidence in my writing style, he is really good at pointing out what you do well,” Gosin said. “I am taking his class next semester because I like him so much.”
Roberts, a 30-year news veteran, began as an adjunct professor at GW ten years ago while writing for U.S. News and World Report as a senior political writer.
He now works full time as a SMPA Shapiro professor, an endowment that brings in news professionals to teach at GW.
Roberts teaches two classes a semester. His courses include Press and Public Policy, Feature Writing and the New News Business. Most years Roberts has taught Press and Public Policy in both the fall and spring semester, and each of the other classes once a year. But demand for his Feature Writing class was so high this year that he taught it both semesters.
Roberts said he prefers working as a full-time professor because it allows him to get more involved in his students’ lives.
“I love it here, and as years have gone by (this position) has become more and more important in both my professional and personal life,” Roberts said. “I like being recognized at supermarkets, but there is another whole way of approaching it – gratification comes from helping others shine.”
And his students are shining. Roberts said hardly a day goes by that he does not receive a phone call or e-mail from one of his past students. He said it is especially fulfilling when he is able to work professionally with them – which he does fairly often.
Two former students worked with Roberts and his wife when they wrote a book about their marriage, This Day Forward.
Tracy Moren, a 1997 GW graduate and current op-ed editor for USAToday.com, commissioned Roberts to write a series of commentaries during the election.
Journalism has been a part of Roberts’s life since the age of 14, when he began writing for his local newspaper in Bayonne, N.J. While studying government at Harvard University, Roberts served as editor of the Harvard Crimson for two years. In college, Roberts was also hired as a New York Times stringer for the university, which Roberts described as being a part-time sports reporter. Roberts made his professional debut during his undergraduate years when he had three articles published in Nation magazine.
After graduating from Harvard, Roberts said he got what he called “the best job in American journalism.” He was hired for one year as a research assistant for James Reston, the Washington Bureau chief for the New York Times. Roberts said Reston was one of the most important American journalists of the time.
“Everyday, no matter what he had to do, he took time for me,” Roberts said. “He would go over pieces I wrote, tell me about his day.”
Reston also helped Roberts get a job with the New York Times, where he wrote for 25 years. While working for the Times, Roberts served as bureau chief in Los Angeles and Athens, Greece. He spent 12 years as the Washington Bureau’s chief correspondent to Congress and the White House.
Roberts said he tells his students on the first day of every class about Reston and the influence he had on his life. He instructs his classes, “If you get something out of this class, all I can ask is that you do it for someone else.”
Roberts said his past students often help aspiring journalists at GW when they graduate. Many former students call Roberts when there are job openings where they work to see if he can recommend anyone for the position.
Last month about 60 of Roberts’s past students gathered at T.G.I.Fridays to celebrate his 10th anniversary teaching at GW. Nine of 18 students from his first class at GW attended the event, which follows a tradition Roberts began the first semester he taught at GW. He said he takes his students to dinner after class in order to get to know them better and continue class discussions.
Roberts said his students have made quite an impact on his life, even giving him some of the inspiration to write This Day Forward.
In his Feature Writing class, Roberts often asks students to write about themselves. How divorce affects a family is a commonly chosen topic, he said. Many students also approached him outside class to find out how he balances a successful career with a happy family life. Roberts said he felt there was a tremendous yearning by students to learn about strong marriages.
“I wanted to write a book that was for my students and others like them,” he said.
During the last 30 years as a journalist, Roberts has met almost every famous person in D.C. and many others all over the world. He has enjoyed all of it, but said the real payoff is to see others do well and know he helped them to do it.