Ken Roberts

Dr. Ken Roberts was the Associate Dean of South Mountain Community College. He helped establish many campuses in Arizona, such as Rio Salado Community College, Paradise Valley Community College, and South Mountain Community College. He passed away on February 11, 2023.

Dr. Ken Roberts. Image provided by South Mountain Community College

As a young child, Ken Roberts knew he was going to college. His parents were both heavily involved in the medical field, so he grew up knowing the importance of education. Growing up in a small town in Wyoming was limiting for Roberts. At the time, Wyoming was a very small and rural state with not a lot of opportunities. Wyoming didn’t have a lot of professional education programs since it was a mineral based economy, so it was no surprise that he went to a college out of state.

While in high school, many of his teachers and counselors recommended him to attend Arizona State University. He applied and got in. He started his education at ASU, so he could establish his choice of study, which was Psychology. A couple years later he transferred to San Francisco State University to get his Bachelors in Experimental Psychology. At that time Roberts believed he was done earning degrees. However, when United Airlines offered him a competitive job, he was told he would need a PhD in order to keep it. He ended up going back to ASU to get a PhD in Instructional Design. While there he got a job at the newly established South Mountain Community College. He stayed with the Maricopa District for the next 38 years.

While trying to create the new college was exciting, it was also challenging. Dr. Roberts was responsible for things such as budgeting, creating classes, and managing conflict. One of his biggest challenges was when rumors spread that undocumented students were attending college. In 1984, Immigration Naturalization Services (now ICE) heard about this and decided to raid because the assumption was that SMCC was using federal financial aid money to assist undocumented students. They took many students from South Mountain Community College leaving families without loved ones. Dr. Roberts said it was a difficult time and trying to resettle wasn’t effortless.

Future Video Clip

At South Mountain he started many occupational and vocational programs. As Dean of Instruction he was responsible for creating courses since he was in charge of the instructional program. He later laughs about his role in the college saying “I was the first to do what I was doing, so there was no such thing as the wrong thing!”


The Phoenix area began growing quickly. During this time, college attendance all across the city started to grow, so he ended up moving to different community colleges. In 1985 he was put in charge of community colleges such as Rio Salado and Paradise Valley.

Future Video Clip

Dr. Roberts maintained fond memories of students. These memories vary from students who used to play games on the computers to kids who grew up to come back to work for the college as faculty. His impact remains evident in the makeup of the college itself. SMCC mourned the loss of a beloved colleague and friend when Ken Roberts passed away on Feb 11, 2023. Ever the forward thinker, Ken penned his own obituary.

NarratorKenneth Cumbie Roberts
Birthdate1944 – Feb 11, 2023
Place of OriginWyoming
Place of ResidenceScottsdale, Arizona
OccupationAssociate Dean of South Mountain Community College
Years Active in South Phoenix1978 – 2023
Recording Duration58:04
DateSeptember 24, 2019
LocationSouth Mountain Community Library
Interviewed ByStudent Researchers: Luna Castaneda & Neida Rodriguez Gonzales
Story Written ByStudent Researchers: Luna Castaneda & Neida Rodriguez Gonzales