Alumnus Profile | Randall K. Williams, M.P.A. ('14)

Randall K. Williams was named NSU's 2015 Alumni of the Year by his peers at the 2015 Student Lifetime Achievement Awards, just one year after graduating from the master's in public administration program at Huizenga College of Business. 

"Once upon a time there were four of us trying to make it in a one-bedroom apartment. When I told my mom I had actually been accepted for a White House internship, she was in tears.  When they called my name [for Student Life Alumnus of the Year] there was this huge gasp, and I realized it was me," said Williams.

BEING A TRAILBLAZER

“My mom is a very generous, giving person so I think I inherently developed some [of my passion for public service] from her. I grew up in a single parent home; my mom raised the three of us. I was the only boy so sometimes I had this “man complex,” a feeling that I had to take care of my sisters, I had to take care of my mom. I think my ambition came out of being in that environment.

“I call myself a trailblazer. The things I've done in my life and I've been able to achieve have been firsts for myself and firsts for my family, so it's kind of uncharted territory. But the one thing that I feel is my duty, my purpose in life, is to chart new territories. But [in doing so] to make sure that it's not just for me, but in essence to pave a way or provide opportunities for the people that are coming up behind me – be it family members, mentees that I have, or just people in general, people my age, friends. When I succeed, you succeed.”

BEING A WHITE HOUSE INTERN

“My journey began in a neighborhood where people aren't really expected to do the things I have. My “Moms” was excited about me getting to the second stage of [the White House internship process]. But when I told her I had actually been accepted and was going in, she was in tears. Because in her mind, and as she has said, ‘I was a struggling mother just trying to make it, and just hoping and praying that I would do the best that I could raising my son.  Once upon a time it was the four of us trying to make it and here we are now -- from a one-bedroom apartment to the white house.’ That’s her thing.

“Cathy O'Brian and Dr. Brad Williams wrote incredible letters of recommendation. They said, ‘You have the skill set to do it. We believe in you, we support you.”

“I worked on the affordable care act, and that changed my attitude in terms of developing ideas and reaching out to others and letting them know what we were doing.

“Then we had the opportunity to submit an introduction for the First Lady. At first, I tried to write what I thought was going to be really great, powerful, and I was making it hard. Then I said I'm going ‘speak from an honest place. I took the poem ‘Phenomenal Woman’ by Maya Angelou – and wrote an introduction from the heart.

“The intern coordinator selected it, and sent it to the First Lady's office. Her office loved it; she loved it. So I got to introduce the First Lady and spend a few moments with her. I was extremely nervous, but she was encouraging and said ‘just continue to do what you're doing.’ And it turned out great.

“Not only was I able to represent NSU as an intern, but I was able to do meet the First Lady, and serve as a member of special committees and task forces.”

SPRINGBOARDING SUCCESS AT NSU

“As an undergraduate, I started getting involved and being a part of a lot of organizations. But one of the things I always wanted to do was get heavily involved in student government. So when I started my master's program at NSU, Mission #1 was to get on student government, because I know that ultimately I want to have a seat at the table with people who are advocating for certain causes.

“My first week I met with Cathy O'Brian, assistant director for Student Affairs. I sent her an email and we met and talked. She said ‘I'm excited to have you. I will invite you to a meeting so you can get a feel for what we're doing here.’ I went to a meeting and started off as a senator for the business program at the Jacksonville campus. About a semester later, the opportunity to run for our division came. By this time I had done some work with other SGA members and Cathy O'Brien so I thought maybe I'd run for a different position. I decided to run for vice president. I talked to one SGA member about it and she thought I should do it. I was super nervous, but I went for it.

“I was able to manage the position of vice president and work at the same time, and I did a good job. When the next election came, I said I would run for VP again, but our president told me, ‘I really think you should run for president.’

“I remembered that one of the goals I had written down of what I wanted to accomplish while at NSU, was ‘run for president.’ And I had written a little blurb: ‘the title is not what's important, what is really important is having the opportunity to impact people, connect with people, get the work done, and to be representative.’ So I worked on the application, submitted it and they voted for me to be president.

“It was something that I was extremely proud of and serving in that role put me in a space to do all those things I dreamed of doing when I was an undergraduate.

“I know those opportunities are what enabled me to be where I am, and prepared me for this transition to the Washington, DC area, and for my current role as an auditor for the U.S. Department Of Defense.

“This is why I chose this university to get my master's degree. Who would have thought that in a master's program I would get the type of nurturing that some people get when they are an undergraduate. Some people never have an opportunity to receive this kind of encouragement at all. So I'm extremely appreciative.

“NSU is a place where dreams are nurtured, and upon completion, dreams really do come true from there.”

BEING A PART OF THE JACKSONVILLE FAMILY

“NSU Jacksonville is a family, it really is. Our advisor, Cathy O’Brian, has this energy about her which sets the tone. A lot of our students work full-time. She has a family herself so a lot of our student activities are family-oriented. Even if we are just hosting study sessions for finals, we are considerate. If you need to bring your family along with you, you can.

“We have a text message thread for everybody that served on the SGA during my time. We were texting the other day asking for updates and baby pictures and when we're all going to go out to grab dinner. That kind of family atmosphere, that family vibe, really makes the campus great.

“I like connecting with other people, groups, and campuses at NSU so we get to know each other.

“I don't think it is overbearing, but there is an opportunity there. If you want somebody to study with you, I'm here. If you want somebody to hold you accountable, I'm here for you. And I think that type of vibe, and that type of love and nurturing, is what promotes success on our campus, what has made people say, ‘hey, I want to come back and be a part of this feeling.’

“When I came down for the award for alumnus of the year event, Cathy O'Brian picked me up from the airport, and took me back to campus where we talked and hung out.

“We really have built something that is long lasting and deeper than getting an education. The focus of the staff is really ‘what can we do to improve our students?’ And I think that just comes out. I speak for myself, and for other people I know as well, when I say that people’s lives are changed throughout that experience.

“It's not about our own success; it's about all of our success.”

BEING NAMED ALUMNUS OF THE YEAR

"Looking at the list [of nominees], of people making great contributions to society, I feel that I am just beginning on the path. I was excited just to be nominated, and grateful. But to actually win… My advisor has a video [from the ceremony]. When they called my name [for Student Life Alumnus of the Year] there was this huge gasp, and I realized it was me."

“It is surreal for me. I feel like there are so many things I want to do. I'm thankful to be recognized, and I'm thankful to be the representation of what NSU has to offer.

“You don't just come to NSU to get a degree and get a job. You're going to earn a degree, but people are going to support you in a way that once you're done, you literally are a bird. And you can spread your wings and soar because the sky is the limit. I am proud to represent that."

TIPS FOR CURRENT STUDENTS

Mentors - I always think it’s important to also have what I call “mentors from afar,” that I don't know directly, but their life’s work inspires me to be better, to work harder.
Also, speak with your professors, and NSU staff.

Student Leadership - As a student leader, I wanted other student government students to understand the bigger picture, to see how we could place all of these pieces into a bigger picture for everyone. After meetings I would have a kind of pow-wow where I would go around and ask everybody for feedback. ‘What should I do to be a better president? What can I do to be there for you?’

That was pretty exciting. It really added to who I am.

Purpose Over Title - The president of our White House intern class said, ‘in life, never chase a title, because you'll get so wrapped up in the politics and all the stresses that come with a title, you'll just get in that role. You won't know what to do. Chase a purpose.’

I truly believe my purpose is representing, serving people, being an advocate for those people who don't have voice, being the representative for them, and being the person to say ‘hey, we're all here together.’

So I believe that I'll start with local politics, then perhaps national politics. Being an advocate and using my voice will always be a part of my journey.