A Drexel degree, more than 30 years in the making

Last year—years after her mother’s passing and decades after she last opened a textbook or sat in on a design studio—
Scheller finally made that dream come true. And Scheller, now an official alumna of Drexel, says she could not be more proud of her accomplishment—or more pleased for her late mother.

“My mother, who was a wonderful woman, always wanted her daughters to go college,” Scheller, 81, says. “She couldn’t go herself because she was working to put her brother through medical school. But she always wanted us to go.”

As it turns out, Scheller wanted to go, too. After graduating high school, she enrolled at the University of Connecticut, where she began to study design. But after she met her husband, Ernest “Ernie” Scheller, she ultimately decided that family would come first. She and Ernie got married and both began working in the real world; Ernie went to work for Silberline Manufacturing Co., where he currently serves as chairman emeritus, while Scheller got a job in New York City, working for Condé Nast Publishing.
Later, the couple started a family. But after her youngest child left for college, Scheller decided the time had finally come for her to go back to school, too. And despite the fact that she was living in Central Pennsylvania at the time, more than two hours from University City, Scheller decided she would pursue her studies at Drexel. The reason was simple, she says: The school’s reputation in interior design was unmatched.

From 1975 through 1979, Scheller would endure that lengthy commute time and time again. She organized her class schedule to limit the back-and-forth trips, and sometimes would spend the night in Philadelphia in order to get as many classes in as possible. It wasn’t always easy, she says. But it was worth it.

“I had some wonderful courses,” she recalls. “We were working with actual architects on actual buildings in the city. We were doing design work in lofts and row houses that actually existed. You worked in the craft shop with actual tools. It was just a really interesting curriculum.”

Scheller would spend the next several years at Drexel. Ultimately, though, that tough commute—and an untimely illness—forced her to leave school behind. She left without regrets, she says. But she also left without a degree.

Decades passed, and Scheller struck up a rather fortuitous friendship with College of Medicine Dean Dr. Daniel Schidlow, whose wife is Scheller’s first cousin. After Schidlow learned of Scheller’s unique Drexel experience, he asked the staff at the College of Medicine to check Scheller’s records and find out if she had accumulated enough credits to qualify for a degree. They found that she had.

Which is how it came to be that, during a ceremony personally hosted by President John Fry last summer, Scheller was presented with a Bachelor of Science degree from Westphal, College of Media Arts & Design.

Her years of hard work had paid off. Her mother’s dream had come true.

“It was very, very nice,” Scheller says of the ceremony. “It was also very exciting. … When I got my degree, I looked up to heaven and said, ‘Finally, Mom!’”

Roberta Scheller says her mother always dreamed that, one day, one of her daughters might earn a college degree.