Williams named Lake Worth campus student services dean
Palm Beach State College’s national search for a new dean of student services for the Lake Worth campus ended internally with the appointment of Van Williams, who served as an assistant dean for the last three years.
The Army veteran with 18 years of higher education experience was chosen from four finalists for the position that drew 283 applicants. He replaced Penny McIsaac, who retired in January after 18 years in the role.
“The candidate pool was very impressive, and Van had a very good long-term and short-term plan, which is consistent with the goals and objectives of the Student Services area at Lake Worth,’’ said Dr. Jean Wihbey, provost of the Lake Worth campus and vice president of workforce development. “I’m confident that he will ensure that students are provided with high quality, relevant programs and services and that our students will receive full assistance with the pursuit of their education. Van will provide great leadership for student support services with the objective of maximizing student success.”
Williams said he is honored to be selected. “I have a large responsibility in leading the largest campus student population of our College, and I’m going to do everything humanly possible to work with academic affairs, business affairs and every aspect of our College community to facilitate great experiences —academic, social and personal — for every student.”
Most of Williams’ higher education experience has been leading federally-funded TRIO programs at colleges and universities. After six years in the Army, he went to work for a year as a program specialist for the Talent Search Program at his alma mater, Savannah State University in Georgia. He said it was a great opportunity to help youth in the same manner in which Upward Bound, another TRIO program, helped steer him toward higher education. He served as director of Upward Bound at Florida State University from 1997 to 1999 and assistant professor and director of Upward Bound at Florida A&M University from 1999 to 2004 before going to work in 2004 for the Florida Commission on Human Rights, the state’s anti-discrimination agency. He worked in three capacities over five years, including as investigations manager and community relations manager, before returning to higher education full time. While at the commission, he continued to work for TRIO programs in the summer.
A Savannah native, he joined the staff at Palm Beach State in 2009 as director of TRIO programs and outreach, before becoming assistant dean of student services in 2013. Among his accomplishments, he developed new training for student conduct hearing board participants and implemented a new “Caught Doing Good” student engagement program to recognize students for daily random acts of kindness.
Williams, a first-generation college student and high school four-sport athlete who went to Savannah State on a full baseball scholarship, said being named dean of student services comes with a range of emotions.
“It basically lends itself to what hard work and perseverance can afford you. My parents were both functionally illiterate with a second grade education,’’ said Williams, one of seven boys in his family. “The one thing they’ve always said is in order to have a life better than them, you had to get a good education.”
“My life beyond athletics was about going as far as I can and earning as much education as I possibly could to fulfill the wish that my parents had for me and my siblings. Becoming a college dean is a huge accomplishment. The thing I’m most proud of is that I have been able to break the cycle of poverty for my family,’’ he added, noting that four of his five children have completed a postsecondary education, including one who holds a master’s degree. He has one daughter in high school.
In addition to a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Savannah State, he holds a master’s degree in human relations – organizational development from the University of Oklahoma. He is completing his doctorate in higher education administration from Nova Southeastern University.