Making WAVES For Black History Month: Dean Helen Williams

Author: Pat Prescott

Helen Easterling Williams has served two decades in higher education leadership and was appointed Dean of the Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology in June of 2014. Prior to the position at Pepperdine, she held the deanship at the School of Education at Azusa Pacific University, where she successfully led school reaccreditation efforts and initial accreditation for the School Psychology Program, established the Emerging Technology Center, and developed an international visiting scholar program.

Dean Williams also held senior academic leadership roles at the University of Delaware between 1997 and 2006. She earned her bachelor of arts degree in speech correction with a minor in biology from Jersey City State College and continued to earn a master of science degree in speech and language pathology from Towson State university. At the University of Delaware, Dean Williams completed her doctor of education degree in educational leadership.

Dean Williams recalled her humble beginnings in South Carolina, where she grew up picking cotton, cropping tobacco, digging potatoes and dreaming of the world beyond her home. Her father was an example of strength and determination, a sharecropper who fled the South to escape the oppressive economic system. They relocated to Baltimore, Maryland, where Dean Williams fell in love with education.

After the move to Maryland, Dean Williams still spent summers in South Carolina and they not only learned to work hard, her grandparents also taught them any life lessons that prepared the Dean and her siblings and cousins for the challenges that life would bring them later.

He mother was a daily example of hard work, with 7 children, working for $100 a week and making it work.  Her home economics teacher, Mrs. Webster, taught her to cook, sew and make a bed and at church, the choir director would give her a solo to sing. These mentors encouraged her and helped to build her self-confidence.  Even though no one in her family has ever gone to college, she pursued the opportunity and went on to earn her PhD.

A host of others helped her to go to college even though her father would rather that she had gotten a good paying job instead. When she got to New Jersey for school, she was able to find housing with a Jewish family who didn’t know she was black until she showed up at their front door.

When she was told she was too small to be a teacher, that was all the motivation she needed to do just that.  She ended up teaching speech in the public school system. It was there that she found her passion for children and education.  Many mentors and co0workers helped her along the way.

Dean Williams believes that teaching how to use technology is critical.  In her work as Dean of Pepperdine’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology, she has the opportunity to prepare teachers who will groom leaders for tomorrow.  She is especially excited about their endowment that provides scholarships for African American men in the PhD program. Dean Williams believes that these emerging leaders will change the world for the better.

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