The Roanoke City Council has named Dr. Robert H. Sandel, President of Virginia Western Community College as its Citizen of the Year for 2013. Mayor David A. Bowers and City Council officially awarded the honor to Sandel at a ceremony during the grand reopening of Elmwood Park on Oct. 19.
“As someone who is not a Roanoke native, the ways in which people have been so continuously welcoming to my family and supportive of Virginia Western has truly made it home for me,” said Sandel, who has been a Roanoke City resident for 13 years. “I hope my impact upon the Roanoke Valley is to help make higher education more accessible and affordable to generations to come.”
Sandel follows Reverend Carl T. Tinsley Sr. as the Citizen of the Year, an award that has been handed out by City Council annually since 1981. The honor recognizes people who have given unselfishly of their time and energy to impact the community's quality of life.
“Bobby Sandel is very deserving of the selection by Roanoke City Council as the 2013 Citizen of the Year because he is a true ‘community’ leader,” said Bowers. “Not only is he the popular and revered President of our community college, Virginia Western, but Bobby is also a trusted and wise community advisor to the political and civic leadership of our entire Roanoke Valley community. I'm grateful for being able to call on Bobby Sandel for advice, but I'm even more proud to call him my friend.”
In a time of dwindling state resources, Sandel has made it a priority to provide Virginia Western students with the means for success. In 2012-13, the College took great strides to make college possible for any student. The Horace G. Fralin Charitable Trust committed $5 million over five years to create an endowment for scholarships in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and healthcare (STEM-H). The Community College Access Program (CCAP), which provides a full two years of tuition to area high school graduates, went region-wide. Students from Botetourt County, Craig County, Franklin County, Roanoke City, Roanoke Count and the City of Salem are all now eligible to participate.
Additionally, Sandel oversaw extensive new construction at Virginia Western in 2012-13. The new Fralin Center for Science and Health Professions opened for classes in Fall 2013. The state-of-the-art facility features labs and equipment that will prepare students for the healthcare industry in the Roanoke Valley.
A native of Orangeburg, South Carolina, Sandel is a Roanoker at heart. He has been actively involved in the community, serving on numerous local and state boards including as chair of the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce, chair of the Pre-K Committee for Smart Beginnings and president of the Board of Trustees for the LewisGale Medical Center. He has served as the chair for the VCCS Achieve 2015 Strategic Planning process for the entire 23-college system.
“In my time in Roanoke, I have seen first-hand the passion residents have for education,” Sandel said. “In my opinion, providing educational opportunities is the greatest thing we can do as a community to enhance quality of life for individuals as well as to create a robust local economy. I feel that my work at Virginia Western has been a strong part of doing just that.”
Sandel earned his bachelor’s degree from The Citadel, his master’s degree from South Carolina State University and his doctorate from the University of South Carolina. Prior to joining Virginia Western, he was president of Mountain Empire Community College in Big Stone Gap and he has been a community college educator for more than 30 years.
Sandel’s wife, Jane, is also an educator, recently retired from teaching at Salem High School. They have four children and 10 grandchildren together.