Ally for discovery

Roberta Settergren has spent more than 50 years working at the University of Missouri. Learn how her behind-the-scenes work is helping researchers solve mysteries and create meaningful change.

Oct. 10, 2023
Contact: Deidra Ashley,
Photo by Abbie Lankitus

In the shadows of the University of Missouri’s bustling campus, where minds collaborate and discoveries unfold, one woman has yielded her silent power for more than half a century.

Meet Roberta Settergren — the university’s own mystery solver.

“As a child, I particularly loved the Perry Mason mystery series,” she said. “I never wanted to be Perry Mason, though. I wanted to be his secretary, Della Street … a woman in the background helping solve the case.”

And that’s exactly what Settergren has done in her 55-plus-year career at the University of Missouri.

Settergren currently serves as the program and project support coordinator in the Division of Research, Innovation and Impact. There, she works quietly behind the scenes helping ensure a smooth operation for MU’s more than $432 million in research expenditures.

As Mizzou investigators make discoveries in everything from cancer treatment to food security, Settergren acts as an ally, providing critical support to create meaningful change in Missouri and across the world.

A lifelong journey supporting Mizzou

Settergren grew up on a farm in Hartsburg, Missouri — a brief 25-minute drive to campus. In 1960, she landed her first job at the MU; working in the personnel office and planting the seeds of a lifelong career supporting the university.

Her passion for Mizzou and administrative work led Settergren to enroll as an MU student in 1961. After pursuing a certificate in secretarial proficiency, she also took on a full-time job in the School of Medicine’s Department of Anesthesiology.

“I’d go to classes from 7:40 to 11:30 a.m., then I’d walk over to the School of Medicine and work there from noon until 5 p.m.,” Settergren said. “I’m a first-generation college student, and this was a great opportunity to grow my talents in the classroom and in my profession.”

After graduating, Mizzou remained a staple in Settergren’s life and was the place she eventually returned to in 1975 after getting married and starting a family. She spent 43 years working in the School of Medicine’s dean’s office — building relationships with faculty and orchestrating seamless operations — before moving to the Division of Research, Innovation and Impact eight years ago.

“Mizzou has been my whole life,” she said. “It’s the place where I did my growing up, the place I returned to for my husband to teach and do his research, the place where my children were educated, and the place where I continue to learn something new every day. I feel so lucky to work with people who are making an impact on the world — and to be a part of those discoveries through my work as an assistant.”

A humble excellence

Like many in behind-the-scenes work, Settergren shies away from compliments and consistently tries to push the focus toward others. Her commitment to excellence, though, has not gone unnoticed.

“I appreciate everything Roberta does for the university, for the division and for me daily,” said Tom Spencer, vice chancellor for research. “MizzouForward is one of the university’s top priorities right now, and Roberta has been a huge help coordinating those hires — with candidates consistently talking about how much they appreciate her efforts and meeting her. Roberta’s humble excellence is what makes her one of Mizzou’s greatest assets.”

In addition to being loved by her co-workers, Settergren has a long list of accolades including being inducted into the MU Medical Alumni Association (something typically reserved for Mizzou doctors), and, most recently, being given a 2023 Chancellor’s Outstanding Staff Award.  

“I’ve always been content being behind the scenes,” Settergren said. “I just want to get my work done and do it well. The mystery, to me, is their work. And to know that they feel like I’m helping them get better means the world.”

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