Dr. Thomas and Cheryl Ross establish a scholarship at UNCP


From the mountains of West Virginia, Tom and Cheryl Ross came to Pembroke on a hot summer day.

They were sweethearts in junior high school, and after four years in the Air Force and graduate school, they were starting a family and a career. Tom carried a master’s degree in geography, and Cheryl was carrying their child.

Dr. Ross remembered that hot August day in Robeson County.

“We arrived in August 1969,” Dr. Ross said. “Cheryl was pregnant, and we had a brand new car with no air conditioning.”


From left: Cheryl and Tom Ross with Sandy Waterkotte, vice chancellor for advancement.

On another warm summer day in 2006, they signed papers establishing the Dr. Thomas E. and Cheryl E. Ross Endowed Scholarship in Geography at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

A lot of hot summers have come and gone since their arrival. Tom earned a Ph.D., wrote several books, and they reared a family of two children and four grandchildren. They celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary in 2004.

Dr. Ross continues to teach in UNCP’s Geography and Geology Department, which he chaired for 22 years. The family fell in love with the land and its people.

“I became interested in old tobacco barns,” Dr. Ross said. “I suggested to Chancellor (English E.) Jones that they were disappearing from the landscape, and we should move one to campus to serve as a monument to their importance in the economy of the region.”

Dr. Jones, who grew up working in the cotton and tobacco fields of Robeson County, had a different view of tobacco barns, Dr. Ross said with a smile.
 Robeson County, the surrounding coastal plains and its inhabitants would continue to grow on Dr. Ross and result in three editions of “One Land, Three Peoples: A Geography of Robeson County, North Carolina” (2005; Karo Hollow Press). He wrote atlases for Moore and Richmond counties and the seminal work, “American Indians in North Carolina: Geographical Interpretations” (1999; Karo Hollow Press).

The Rosses remember the kindness of their Pembroke neighbors.

“We lived in Pembroke for the first three years,” he said. “On the first day our neighbors brought watermelons. Great people.”

Cheryl remembered their first gardens and an abundance of vegetables.

“A neighbor taught us how to raise cucumbers and sell them at the local market,” she said. ”It was a lot of fun. It was an education for us and the children.”

They moved to nearby Lumberton, N.C., and later to Southern Pines, N.C. They still have a garden, and Dr. Ross is teaching a summer school course on UNCP’s satellite campus at Ft. Bragg, N.C.

Dr. Ross is one of North Carolina’s most celebrated geographers and was named Outstanding Educator of the Year by the North Carolina Geographical Society in 2004. He contributed several chapters to the distinguished “North Carolina Atlas” (University of North Carolina Press, 2000).

He is a nationally recognized expert on Carolina bays, which are shallow depressions in the landscape of the coastal plains. His book "Carolina Bays: An Annotated and Comprehensive Bibliography" (Carolinas Press, 2001) has been widely praised by Carolina bays scholars.

At UNCP, Dr. Ross twice won Adolph Dial Awards for Scholarship and was recipient of the Distinguished Professor Award in 1988. He has also been awarded a UNCP Teaching Award. Since 1980, he has served as faculty advisor for UNCP’s Geography Bowl team. The Rosses have enjoyed their role in the annual competition that has produced several outstanding performers for UNCP.

“I enjoy the Geography Bowl and the students,” Cheryl said. “They are really outstanding young ladies and gentlemen.”

The Geography Bowl and the endowed scholarship are linked, Dr. Ross said.

“I look at the scholarship as an award, possibly for a student who earns a place on the state Geography Bowl team,” Dr. Ross said. “I hope it will help some student.”

“When Tom was in college, he had two jobs, so he knows what it is like to need help,” Cheryl said. “I would pick him up from one job and take him to the other.”

The recipient of the Ross Endowed Scholarship will be selected by faculty in the department. The recipient will be working toward a minor or concentration in geography and maintain a 2.5 GPA. Participation and outstanding performance in the Geography Bowl will be a consideration. There is no requirement for financial need or residency.

Sandy Waterkotte, vice chancellor for Advancement, thanked the Rosses for their generosity and commitment to the University.

“The Rosses exemplify the kind of committed UNCP ‘family members’ who view this institution as far more than just an employer,” Waterkotte said. “Their feeling for this campus runs deep, and luckily for us and for our students, they feel compelled to give back.  The fact that this gift was initiated by both Cheryl and Tom says worlds about the level of commitment that UNCP inspires.”

For more information about the Thomas and Cheryl Ross Endowed Scholarship or other scholarships or giving at UNCP, please contact the Office for Advancement at 910.521.6252 or email advancement@uncp.edu.