A Path to Purpose

June 17, 2024

By Laura J. Cole ’04 ’08MLS

Falecia Williams
Photo by Scott Cook.

Falecia Williams ’91 expanded her world by earning a Rollins degree. Now, she is working to expand the worlds of thousands of college students.

For more than 30 years, Falecia Williams ’91 has known this one thing to be true: A bachelor’s degree affords more opportunity than any other credential.

That truth has driven her ascent from first-generation college student to president of Prince George’s Community College (PGCC), located outside Washington, D.C. For nearly two decades prior to her current position, she worked at Valencia College, rising to regional president for both the downtown and west campuses. Her work at both institutions has been driven by a desire to offer people “the widest and most precise path” to earn a bachelor’s degree. And that focus has earned her numerous honors and awards, including recognition as one of D.C.’s Most Powerful Women by Washingtonian, 50 Most Powerful by Orlando Magazine, and the 2024 Distinguished Alumni Award from Rollins.

“School was a place early on in life where I felt tremendous acceptance and also tremendous aptitude,” says Williams, who went on to earn a master’s from Stetson University and a doctorate of education from UCF. “I was the nerd who loved school—reading, being in class, my teachers. But it wasn’t the career I intended to pursue.”

Her dream back when she was studying psychology and playing volleyball at Rollins was to become a psychology professor. It was here that Williams—who grew up in small-town Eustis among a community of people of color for whom college would remain only a dream—learned to apply what she learned in the classroom firsthand at the Childhood Development Center. She joined the Black Student Union, studied abroad twice in Jamaica, and felt “welcomed, embraced, challenged, and respected as a learner,” she says.

“Through my peers who had vastly more exposure to wealth and different experiences and education, I learned how different the world is and was exposed to so many global communities that I never would’ve encountered in my rural community,” says Williams. “Rollins pushed me to see things differently and to stand firm on what I valued the most.”

Among the things she values most are her mother and grandmother, who worked as a hospital janitor. When her grandmother, the family’s breadwinner, became ill just as Williams was accepting her diploma and planning for grad school, Williams knew her only choice was to return home to take care of the women who had taken such good care of her.

“At the time, there weren’t many places for people to work in Eustis, but I needed to start contributing immediately,” says Williams, who got a job as a cashier at Winn-Dixie, where she ran into her former teachers and principal. “I didn’t know it at the time, but people were rallying for me.”

Together, they got her a position teaching special education at her middle school and coaching volleyball and teaching social science at the high school. When her grandmother died, Williams was on the path to becoming a principal but felt called to do more. She knew she still wanted to work in higher education but had her mother to care for. Undeterred, Williams applied for positions at every college within a 1½-hour drive.

She started at Valencia as a part-time faculty member and left 21 years later as a regional president, where among her proudest achievements were leading a comprehensive $1.5 million Title III pathways project for student services and support as well as a summer bridge program that resulted in a 97 percent course success rate and an 87 percent retention rate. Recently, PGCC announced the Prince George’s County Promise Scholarship, which covers tuition and fees for residents of Prince George County, which is 64 percent Black.

“My college degree was a gift,” says Williams. “Back home, I saw bright individuals who didn’t have the same opportunities a college degree afforded me in terms of career growth, professional development, and quality of life. It’s why I’m passionate about learning, about academic excellence and success, and making the path clearer for people like me.”

Students wearing caps and gowns walk to a commencement ceremony on Rollins College’s campus.

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