Dr. Harry Lee Williams
President of Delaware State University
Bio and Accomplishments
Dr. Harry L. Williams became the 10th president in the 124-year history of Delaware State University on Jan. 10, 2010 after serving 18 months as the institution’s provost and vice president of Academic Affairs.
Dr. Williams succeeded Dr. Allen L. Sessoms, who resigned at the end of August 2008, and Dr. Claibourne D. Smith, who served as acting president during the presidential search period. In being selected as DSU’s president, Dr. Williams fulfilled a career-long goal of becoming president of a Historically Black College or University.
His DSU tenure has been defined by his visionary goal of leading the University to become the number one Historically Black University in the country. Dr. Williams has made it a priority to engage faculty, staff, students, alumni and the community by giving each of those constituencies a role to play in the success story of the University. He has become well-known throughout the state and beyond through his “friend-raising” efforts and his success in focusing attention on the many outstanding attributes and achievements of DSU.
In his first year as president, Dr. Williams worked with the Delaware General Assembly to develop legislation to create a state-funded DSU Inspire Scholarship that would benefit Delaware students. The legislation passed both the state House and Senate, and it was signed into law Oct. 4, 2010 by Gov. Jack Markell.
During his seven-year tenure, the University has achieved a school-record enrollment each year, beginning in fall 2010 with a student population of 3,819 – the first time the institution exceeded the 3,800 level. In Fall 2014, enrollment reached a record 4,644 students. The University also has set new records in the number of undergraduate students, freshmen students, graduate students (master and doctoral), and transfer students.
DSU’s research portfolio has continued to expand throughout his ongoing tenure – particularly in the Optics and Neuroscience programs, which have attracted more than $26 million in grants and state capital project funding and resulted in the development of DSU’s first two optics intellectual properties. In the summer of 2015, the University completed the construction of the Phase I building of the new Delaware Institute for Science and Technology on campus, which houses DSU’s Optical Science Center for Applied Research (OSCAR).
Under Dr. Williams’ leadership, DSU has embarked on a dedicated effort to establish sound environmental practices, resulting in the University receiving the Second Nature Leadership Award from the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment in the summer of 2011. DSU’s “Go Green” initiatives have also led to energy upgrades that are projected to save the University $5.3 million in energy costs over the next 20 years.
In 2013, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities named Delaware State University as the 1890 Land-Grant Institution of the Year, and also presented DSU with the 1890 Land-Grant Research Award. In 2015, the same association honored DSU as the 1890 University of the Year and also named the institution as the top institution in the categories of Agriculture Degree Completion, STEM Degree Completion and International Student Engagement.
Confidence in the Williams administration was reflected in 2014 when DSU received a historic $1,050,000 grant from the Bernard Osher Foundation to permanently establish the Osher Reentry Endowed Scholarship Fund to benefit nontraditional students. It is the largest single contribution from a private source in the history of the University.
Consistent with the University’s vision statement to prepare students for the global job market, under Dr. Williams’ leadership DSU has reached formal agreements with institutions of higher education and business in a number of countries, including the People’s Republic of China, South Africa, Vietnam, South Korea and Mauritania. Most recently in 2016, DSU has established new accords with institutions in Nigeria and Poland, as well as a new university partner in China. These accords have opened the door to facilitate student/faculty exchanges as well as other faculty, teaching and research collaborations. The partnerships have provided DSU students with opportunities for international experience while also enriching the diversity of the University’s main campus.
Noting DSU’s earnest priority of student success, the Longwood Foundation has awarded the University two separate $1 million grants (in 2011 and 2015) in support of Project Aspire, which focuses on assisting first-generation Delaware students to achieve degree completion.
Under Dr. Williams’ tenure, DSU increasingly has become an institution that education circles engage to increase the success of preparing students for college and upon enrollment, their timely degree completion. In fall 2015, the U.S. Department of Education awarded DSU a $2.6 million “First in the World” grant in support of its Access to Success initiative, which seeks to increase the applications, enrollment and retention in postsecondary education of at-risk and underrepresented students.
Also in fall 2015, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation entered into a partnership with DSU in an effort to develop ways to increase the retention and graduation rates of low-income and first-generation college students. The Foundation has awarded DSU a $1.2 million grant to support data collection and analysis that will be critical in assessing the University’s innovative Individualize Development Plan that it has implemented and will be able to share with other institutions of higher education.
During his tenure, DSU has established an Early College High School that features a STEM-emphasis (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) curriculum and makes it possible for students to earn as many as 60 college credit hours while pursuing their high school diplomas. The school welcomed its first ninth grade cohort in August 2014 and since then has added two subsequent cohorts.
Under Dr. William’s leadership, the University successfully completed its five-year $20 million Greater Than One Campaign for Students. As the most successful fundraising campaign in DSU history, the raised money was used for scholarships, to strengthen the University’s endowment and for other student success initiatives.
In 2016, Dr. Williams was presented the National TRIO Achiever Award in recognition of his career accomplishments after beginning his academic journey as a TRIO undergraduate student.
In early 2017, HBCU Digest named Dr. Williams among the “Top 10 Influential HBCU Presidents” in the country.
Prior to his arrival at DSU, Dr. Williams served at the University of North Carolina General Administration as interim associate vice president for Academic Affairs beginning in September 2007 and was later elevated in March 2008 to interim senior associate vice president for Academic and Student Affairs. He remained in the latter position until he became the DSU provost that summer.
Dr. Williams also progressed from associate director to associate vice chancellor posts in the areas of academic affairs, enrollment and diversity at Appalachian State University from 1988-2000 and from 2004-2007. In between that tenure he was an interim director of Admissions for North Carolina A&T University from 2000-2004.
In addition, Dr. Williams also served from 2002-2008 as a national marketing and recruitment associate consultant with Noel-Levitz, the top national consultation firm for enrollment and management solutions in the country. In that capacity, he provided consultation expertise to 14 different institutions of higher education, including DSU.
A native of Greenville, N.C., Dr. Williams has a Bachelor of Science in Communication Broadcasting and a Master of Arts in Educational Media, both from Appalachian State University, as well as an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis from East Tennessee State University.
As an athlete, Dr. Williams competed as an undergraduate in track and cross country at Appalachian State University. He continues to stay in shape with morning runs of four miles five days a week.
He is married to Dr. Robin S. Williams and their union has produced two sons.