URI names former student to direct Talent Development Program

KINGSTON, R.I. — May 24, 2000 — “We’re all here because we have a passion to serve students,” said Gerald Williams who will become the third director of the enormously successful Talent Development program on July 2. He replaces Leo DiMaio who retired last fall. The program, with the official name of Special Programs in Talent Development, recruits minority and economically disadvantaged Rhode Island high school seniors and offers them a range of support services throughout their four years at URI. “My watch has just begun. Talent Development is fortunate to have the support and the commitment of President Robert Carothers. I can’t fill Mr. D.’s or Rev. Hardge’s shoes. It’s not in the plan. Rather I want to walk alongside those shoes. I know I can call on Mr. D. for insight and suggestions. As Mr. D. always says ‘TD forever.’ I know that is true,” said the soft-spoken 35-year-old. Williams knows the program well. He was a Talent Development student while earning his undergraduate degree in speech communications and, since 1995, the former URI football player has been an academic adviser for the program. He has also helped administer the University’s College Readiness Program that assists people to meet the University’s admission requirements. “Mr. Williams continues to grow in understanding and in wisdom. He is, in one way, the product of Talent Development, and, in another, he is its future,” said URI President Robert L. Carothers. “It is his challenge to take a successful program to the next level. I have every confidence that he will do so.” Williams is a member of the Rhode Island Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Rhode Island Adult Educators Association, the Black Educators of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Homeless Shelters, Rhode Island Educational Talent Search, and the Urban League of Rhode Island. “Mr. Williams brings his experience as a former Talent Development student and years of experience working with life experiences shared by many in the TD program,” said Dr. John McCray, vice president for Student Affairs at URI and chair of the search committee that selected Williams. “Williams’ philosophy is consistent with the University’s goal to offer greater educational opportunities for Rhode Island residents.” Born the fifth son (out of seven) of Richard and Carole Williams of Providence, the new TD director was raised with a strong church background. He attended the Immanuel Baptist Church in Pawtucket and once thought of becoming a pastor. “My father, an African American, was very strict. My mother, a Narragansett Indian, explained the reasoning behind his strictness. As a result, none of us got into any real trouble,” he says, noting with pride the professional careers of many of his brothers. Before returning to URI, Williams was an academic adviser for the Rhode Island Educational Talent Search at the Community College of Rhode Island and a counselor as a case manager for Key Program Inc., Alternatives for Youth, a group home for teen-age boys. Married 12 years to Lisa Elderkin Williams, the couple has two daughters, Gelisa, 3, and Krystle, 1, whose photos continuously flash on Williams’ office computer screen. Special Programs for Talent Development was founded at URI in 1968 in response to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. The Rev. Arthur L. Hardge and Leo DiMaio began the program with 15 students. The program has 575 students currently enrolled, and boasts a 70 percent graduation rate, a rate higher than most Universities. Many of the program’s 1,000 or so alumni have gone on to become doctors, lawyers, educators, business executives, etc. Although the program recruits students from all 64 high schools in the state, students come primarily from Providence, Pawtucket, Central Falls, Woonsocket, Cranston, and Newport. “We say we are a family and in many senses we are. We have brothers, sisters, aunts, and cousins, who have come through the program. Talent Development works because it develops one-on-one relationships. Students are assigned an academic counselor who follows them through all four years. If a student slips, one-on-one tutoring or group tutoring is available three nights a week. Many alumni from the program, provide a network for job opportunities during the summer and then after graduation. Williams is quick to point out that the program is a group effort. “Most TD alums are products of Frank and Sharon (Forleo) and their 25 years of service, dedication, and commitment to TD students.” While Williams does not want to tamper with success, he wants to enhance community relations and create more employment opportunities for students by: Establishing an advisory board composed of community members, faculty, students, and staff; Stressing the importance of graduate school; and Pushing more students toward technology, math, and science; Creating a strong alumni base. Williams will continue to live in Kingston, nearby the campus so that he can be accessible. Williams can relate to students on many levels. He dropped out of URI nine credits short of graduation in 1987. When he returned in 1991 to complete his degree, he was welcomed with open arms of Talent Development. Williams was awarded his master’s degree in adult education on May 20. For more information about the Talent Development program click on website www.uri.edu/talent_development -xxx- For Information: Gerald Williams, 874-2901, Jan Sawyer, 874-2116