A Time for Service: Longtime UCA Executive Shares Advice on Career and Leadership

Ronnie Williams

Ronnie Williams

Servant leadership focuses on putting the needs of others ahead. It has been the leadership style of Ronnie Williams over the course of his decades-long career. 

“I was blessed to be able to serve students and to affect their lives in ways that ultimately help them find their rightful place in our world. It just doesn’t get any better than that,” Williams said. 

Williams first came to the University of Central Arkansas in 1980 as assistant dean of students. He left in 1983 and spent a year in public schools before becoming an administrative supervisor tasked with educational reform at the Arkansas Department of Education. In 1990, Williams came back to UCA as the first director of minority affairs (now the Office of Diversity and Community.) In that role, he was tasked with implementing programs and services that would address retention, recruitment and graduation rates among students of color. He started the minority mentorship program in 1990. 

“The student response to that program was just unbelievable,” Williams said. “We would often have 200 or 300 students in attendance at some of those seminars. I absolutely loved it.” 

Williams went on to serve as assistant to the president under Winfred Thompson. In 1996, he was appointed to vice president of student services, becoming the university’s first Black person to serve at the executive level. 

In 2021, UCA honored Williams by renaming the campus student center after him. The Ronnie Williams Student Center was unveiled on Dec. 3. Williams is humbled by the honor and says it was surreal to see his name on a building he had been to thousands of times. 

“And to be alive to see it? Oftentimes, things like this are done posthumously. To be there with my family, my children and grandchildren that was just…I could barely make it through my comments. It was one of those out-of-body experiences.” 

As a mentor and leader, Williams offers the following bits of advice: Find passion in whatever path you choose; don’t let negativity stop you from being your best, and ascribe to servant leadership. 

“Even up until the last month I worked, I was energized every time that I walked on this campus,” Williams said. “It was amazing to be able to make a difference in the life of someone and put them on the right trajectory where they can be themselves and fulfill their dream. When it comes to the ‘isms’ as I call them: racism, sexism and other negativity—they are real. It’s not imagined. But if you stay focused and stay committed, you can work through those challenges. Don’t let those kinds of things keep you from realizing your dream. I also encourage people to ascribe to servant leadership. Be willing to put someone else first when you can. If you do that, I believe you’ll be rewarded many times over.”