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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

3-4-24 PDF
March 4, 2024
2-26-24 PDF
February 26, 2024
An inside look at Bobby B. Beacon’s insides. Illustrated by Bianca Oppedisano/ Mass Media Staff.
Bobby's Inside Story
February 26, 2024

Leading, Connecting and Growing

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Sherrod Williams, a 30-year-old from Fort Rucker, Ala., left the University of Alabama Birmingham with his bachelor’s degree in business management and masters in educational leadership in July of 2008 to fill the then-created director of Student Leadership and Community Engagement at UMB.

“The university wanted to see a leadership program, so they took the Office of Community Outreach and Service Learning, and added student leadership, which created [this] program,” Williams said. “I was brought in to create and advance programs to help fulfill that mission. Almost everything for our office is new. When I first started, the leadership program solely consisted of the Beacon Leadership Project.”

A doctoral candidate in higher education administration in the College of Education, Williams was drawn to UMB because the job offered doctoral opportunities to help him gain skills towards working on his passion for student success.

“I really wanted to further my learning in my field and as I think about advancement, I wanted to work on issues that are important to me,” Williams said. “I work with first-generation college students and under-represented populations. I like working in the realm of leadership, providing students opportunities to excel and grow in the community. Hopefully, my dissertation work will work on those particular issues, working with first-generation students and how leadership programs impact them to persist and graduate.”

Coming from the Southern U.S., Williams is in a position to understand the adjustments students have to make. Despite being well traveled throughout the states, he noted how living in an area provides a change in perspective, which as a professional is something he values.

“The change in location was a complete 180,” he said. “Being in the south, Birmingham was pretty liberal, but outside of Birmingham was not. I think, for me, I take away, as a professional, learning to work with a diverse group of students and that, thinking about UMass alone, is pretty similar to UAB in that it’s diverse.

“Something that’s up here, though, is diversity not only by racial or ethnic standards, but working with more students who identify openly as LGBTQI, or are non-traditional students. Being exposed to and going through their challenges with then and working through their challenges with them has helped me grow.”

When it comes to what he has accomplished in his time at UMB, Williams is shy to respond, but he believes his leadership has strengthened the bond between students and their communities and their own potential.

“I think I brought some new ideas to students that may not have existed, or built on what’s already here,” he said. “I think a lot of the things I do have existed in some form, it’s just bringing it and putting it in a way where more students can experience it. I train the students to coordinate [the initiatives they want]. I’m bringing the whole student leadership aspect to what students do, so they can do things for themselves instead of relying on a staff member all the time. I believe anybody can be a leader, and that they can lead for a cause or things that students are passionate about.”

Debra Harris, community outreach coordinator/AmeriCorps VISTA, has worked under Williams for a little more than a year and stressed the number of good things that he has done, not only for UMB, but for his employees.

“He’s a very understanding supervisor,” Harris said. “He’s very understanding of the different situations in people’s lives and he’s great with accommodating people. He is very knowledgeable in the service side of life and he’s been a great help in assisting me in getting students involved in services on campus. He’s [also] very motivational, so I don’t really think I would be as confident in myself. Sometimes I think, ‘I don’t really know how to do this,’ and he tells me, ‘You can do it, I have faith in you’. He’s a very good support system.”

With 13 student employees under his helm and the desire to finish his dissertation by the fall of 2013, Williams’ free time is limited. He is no stranger to sneaking in a movie when possible, but finds himself indulging in a pastime not so common to the natives of the Northeast.

“I have to say, it’s very different coming from a culture where people live and breathe college sports,” he said. “People don’t care anything about it up here. On Saturday, you want to go watch the game and nobody wants to go, but on Sunday they’re all about the Patriots and I’m just not into it.”

For now, Williams is continuing to balance his doctoral research, his coordinator position and the schedule of the Florida State Seminoles, but looks forward to his future with UMB. He saw the potential for students which attracted him in 2008 and hopes to continue to do the work he loves for as long as he can.

“The level of opportunity and student-centeredness and that students can make a difference at the institution will [make UMB] one of the top contenders in the city,” Williams said. “Opening the gates to students being able to do great things, create new initiatives, engage with the community, I’m seeing all of those things multiplying, especially as the student body continues to diversify.”