As community colleges again brace for turbulence in the pandemic, Dr. Jermaine Williams seeks to put students first and close equity gaps as the incoming president of Montgomery College (MC), a community college in Maryland.
“I am overjoyed and honored to have been selected by the Board of Trustees to serve as the next president of MC,” said Williams in an interview with Diverse. “The College is harnessing innovation and transformation in ways that are benefitting society. This is a huge opportunity to build off of MC’s successes to help create change for education, the economy, and racial and social justice.”
Since 2019, Williams has been the president of Nassau Community College (NCC), a Hispanic Serving Institution in New York, and brings almost two decades of higher education experience to his new post. He has also taught at two-year and four-year institutions for almost eight years.
As a first-generation student, Williams added that his personal experiences in higher education inform his particular commitment to supporting students from historically underrepresented backgrounds. In the pandemic, many community colleges saw sharp drops in retention, enrollment, and graduation with COVID-19 and the resulting economic crisis disproportionately hitting students from marginalized communities, the very students that community colleges tend to serve. Williams aims to stay attuned to their needs.
“One of my strengths is keeping students first,” said Williams. “That means making sure that, while we’re taking care of an entire community, which includes students, faculty, and staff, our decisions are guided by our students. Because our decisions are guided by a desire to advance society, to leverage higher education to make a more equitable place. I believe in leadership that is unabashedly and unapologetically dedicated to looking at historical and institutional inequities.”
That dedication and vision drew MC’s Board of Trustees to select Williams as the next president.
“Throughout the search process, Dr. Williams impressed both the Board of Trustees and the Presidential Search Advisory Committee with his passion for educational excellence and the shared mission of community colleges,” said Michael J. Knapp, chair of MC's Board of Trustees. “Dr. Williams’s work in higher education has focused his energies on improving access for students, as well as retention and graduation. He has paid special attention to mitigating social inequities for historically underrepresented people. His impressive track record of leadership and achievement drew the Board to him as a leader who would fit the needs of the College in this critical moment.”
Williams will start as president in the first quarter of 2022. Before then, Dr. Charlene Dukes will continue to serve as MC's interim president and will assist Williams in his transition. In his first few weeks on the job, Williams said he plans to listen to faculty, staff, students, and community members to learn about MC’s needs and strengths.
“My top priority is to get to know Montgomery College more,” said Williams. “And when I say that, I think of the College as also serving the county and the communities within it. With all that is going on, with social injustices and Omicron, I plan to take a collaborative and compassionate approach rather than coming in with a preconceived roadmap. How can we learn together to create a path forward?”
Williams earned a doctorate of education in educational administration with a higher education specialization from Temple University. He holds certificates from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education. In 2018, Williams was selected to participate in the Aspen Institute’s Rising Presidential Fellowship. He received the Aspen Institute’s New Presidents Fellowship in 2021.
Becoming the president of a community college has long been Williams’s ambition. After serving as president of NCC, Williams said that that his move to MC only fortifies his belief in the importance of community colleges and his commitment to lead them.
“The historical mission of a community college is to give people access to fantastic educational opportunities that leads to social mobility, that leads to higher family incomes, and that is what I am drawn to as a first-generation student and person of color, someone who knows the impact of higher education and knows how it can transform lives,” said Williams. “Those continue to be the reasons why I remain passionate about community colleges.”
Rebecca Kelliher can be reached at [email protected].