Dan Roberts will collect a master’s degree from Clemson University on May 11 exactly 50 years to the day after receiving his bachelor’s degree from the same institution, and the 72-year-old grandfather of six isn’t done yet.
Roberts is planning to stay at Clemson a few more years to pursue a Ph.D. in human-centered computing.
“Coming back and being involved with and contributing to Clemson was a life goal,” he said. “I spent a career doing application development and software development and traveled a lot so I wasn’t able to do as much as I wanted locally. But I said when that slows down and my kids are grown, I want to work for or get involved with Clemson.”
Roberts’ first Clemson graduation was on May 11, 1973, when he received a Bachelor of Science in mathematics with a concentration in management science. This year, he will graduate with his Master of Science in computer science. As a master’s student, he earned straight A’s in his classes.
Roberts’ path to a master’s degree showcases how a dedicated alumnus has continued to embody the University’s values and spirit throughout his life and underscores Clemson’s commitment to lifelong learning and welcoming all students regardless of age.
Between degrees, Roberts built a career designing cutting-edge software applications for major businesses on a global scale, giving him a front-row seat to the rise of the information age. In his time, computers have gone from mainframes that run on punch cards to pocket-size phones that can connect with the world at the touch of a screen.
Roberts has carved out a reputation as the consummate volunteer, helping preserve the Upstate’s history and natural beauty. His volunteerism also had a hand in bringing the Drive minor-league baseball team to Greenville.
“He is totally selfless,” said Brad Wyche, founder and senior advisor of Upstate Forever. “He is always looking for ways to help people and organizations. He has a heart of gold and just wants to help in any way he can.”
Roberts is Tiger orange to the core. In his job with Clemson Athletics, he can often be found in the visitors’ section of football and basketball games.
“It’s event management, but it’s also a little bit of selling Clemson,” Roberts said. “I tell guests why we run down the hill and why we wave with the alma mater. With Clemson’s recent success, there are a lot of people who want to learn about it now.”
For his master’s degree, Roberts was advised by Carrie Russell, professor of practice and coordinator for the Master of Science in computer science. Roberts is a member of the HATlab, which is co-directed by Kelly Caine and Bart Knijnenburg, both associate professors of human-centered computing.
“I’m inspired!” Caine said. “I learn more from him every time I talk to him. One thing I learned is that if you stay connected and you stay involved, you can do more than anybody might expect. It’s amazing all the projects he has volunteered for and all the different things he’s accomplished. I look forward to the research he does for his Ph.D.”
Roberts said it felt weird at times to walk into classes where he was old enough to be the professor’s father and most students’ grandfather but that he ended up making friends, including with Ananya Gupta.
“I never felt awkward or anything,” said Gupta, who is now pursuing a Ph.D. in human-centered computing. “He’s a very good friend of mine. Whenever he needed help, he texted or called me, or when I needed help, he helped me.”
Also among Roberts’ classmates was Max Fisher, a goalkeeper for the Tigers’ soccer team when it won the 2020 ACC Championship. Fisher, who is on track to receive his master’s in computer science this week, said he and Roberts bonded over sports, worked together on a research project and have stayed in touch since Fisher moved to Nashville for a job with Infor.
“He was engaged and asked a lot of good questions during the class,” said Fisher, who also holds a Master of Science in mechanical engineering from Clemson. “After coming from practice and going to class, it can be hard to pay attention. But if Dan is there, and he’s asking questions and is interested, I’ve got to be ready to go.”
When Roberts first decided to return to Clemson, he started with the Institute for Engaged Aging, where his work included helping with a memory and cognition research project. The research he saw while at the institute inspired him to apply to graduate school.
For his Ph.D., Roberts plans to research how technology such as smart homes and wearable devices can help keep older people socially engaged. His advisor will be Brygg Ullmer, professor and chair of the Human-Centered Computing Division.
While Roberts had opportunities to move over the years, he chose to stay in the Greenville area, where volunteer activities have put him at the heart of civic life.
As a volunteer for Upstate Forever, Roberts helped upgrade the organization’s computer system and served as volunteer coordinator, helping match volunteers with projects. Wyche said, “Over the years we’ve had some terrific volunteers, but none better than Dan.”
Roberts was on the committee that attracted the Drive minor-league baseball team to Greenville, and he worked with architects to put the team’s downtown stadium in historical perspective. The stadium, opened in 2006, went on to play a central role in the rise of the West End, creating a bustling economy of restaurants, bars, hotels and condos.
Roberts helped start the Upcountry History Museum and wrote town profiles for one of its exhibits. He was instrumental in launching the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum and Library and has dressed up as Jackson for community events.
He has also helped inspire the next generation of baseball players as a volunteer for Greenville Little League and various travel teams.
Roberts, who is originally from Spartanburg, now lives in Travelers Rest with his wife, Darlene. They have two grown children, a son, Adam Roberts, and a daughter, Rebeckah Macfie, both Clemson alumni.
He is a Clemson Tiger to the heart who has left his mark on his alma mater, his hometown and his family– and he is still going.
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