Delaware State University President Harry Williams’ efforts at improving the university’s image have earned him the fifth spot among HBCU Digest’s top 10 most influential college presidents.
Williams said he was humbled by the recognition and attributes it to the success of the Historically Black College and University.
“It’s just nice to see Delaware State get recognized like that,” he said. “Without having a strong institution that recognition wouldn’t mean anything.”
When Williams first became president in 2010 increasing enrollment was one of his priorities. His plan included making it more attractive to high school graduates in Delaware.
This led to the creation of the Inspire Program, which pays up to $3,000 a year for Delaware students. In order to be eligible, students must graduate from high school with a 2.75 grade point average and contribute 20 hours of community service each year to the university.
“Before that program we were losing Delaware high school students to other state institutions and there was not a program in place to stop that bleeding,” Williams said. “Once we got that program, it created an opportunity for us to be on a level playing field with the other institutions in the state and that shifted our instate demographics. It was a game changer for the university.”
University spokesperson Carlos Holmes said they are working on expanding the scholarship to pay for four years as opposed to three.
“We have been working with the legislature to get that expanded to four years, but we’ll see how that goes,” Holmes said.
Williams said he has met with incoming Gov. John Carney to put that on the agenda this year.
In recognizing Williams, HBCU Digest highlighted Williams’ résumé since he took the helm. The school’s growing presence in Science Technology Engineering and Math areas contributed to the recognition.
Williams said he’s especially proud of the Optical Science Center for Applied Research. The new building offers students and faculty the chance to conduct scientific research relating to high resolution imaging, space exploration and navigation and bioengineering.
“That cemented in my mind and validated in terms of the faculty we have here doing research and our students getting the best facilities and working with the best equipment in the world,” Williams said. “It’s a marketing tool for us and we use that as an avenue of encouraging students who are looking at [science] disciplines.”
SUBHED: Areas of improvement
Williams said he sees room for improvement.
He wants to increase students’ chances to enroll in online courses. He believes this would increase the options for adults who want an advanced degree.
There are nine online courses at DSU.
“We’re not there yet, but we’ve got the foundational structures in place to increase that,” he said. “It’s going to take several years to really get into that space like we want to, but I think that’s an area we could really grow in.”
A better online presence is also essential to helping students who are the first members of their family to attend college, he said. Because it’s unfamiliar territory this group may require additional guidance, Williams said.
It’ll also provide an additional stream of revenue.
He also works to debunk the myths that surround an education at a historically black institution.
“Some people say if you go to an HBCU institution you are going to get an inferior education — that is not true,” he said.
Being recognized by HBCU Digest is great way to put DSU on the radar of people who wouldn’t have paid attention otherwise, he said.
“[The university] is one of these things that when you’re driving down Route 13 people say, ‘there’s something over there,’” he said about the school tucked across the street from Dover Downs Hotel and Casino. “Now, with this recognition I think it’s going to wake people up even more and make people look into the institution to see what that school is all about.”
Williams, who is from Greenville, N.C., earned a bachelor of science degree in broadcast communications and a master of arts in educational media from Appalachian State University. He earned a doctorate in educational leadership and policy analysis from East Tennessee State University. He is married to Robin S. Williams and their children are Austin and Gavin.