Photo: Eve EdelHeit/Tampa Bay TimesWilliams is St. Petersburg College's first woman and first African-American president.
Southwest Florida Roundup
Lifer: St. Petersburg College taps Tonjua Williams as president
When Tonjua Williams got a job as an accounting clerk 30 years ago at what was then called St. Petersburg Junior College, she didn’t plan on spending the rest of her career processing financial aid checks. A mentor suggested she fill out a career survey to determine what sort of role would fit her best. The results indicated that Williams would be happiest working with people, helping them “do better.”
The information led to a master’s degree in counseling education — and numerous other degrees — and set her on a path that saw a steady rise through St. Petersburg College’s administrative ranks, culminating when she was named the school’s president in May.
Two weeks into the job, Williams, a 54-year-old St. Petersburg native, spoke with Florida Trend about some of her goals and challenges, including SPC’s $6.2-million budget deficit.
Budget shortfall: “We made the cuts we needed to make, a little from all over. I think one of the big challenges for Florida colleges is we’ve got to get our voice back in Tallahassee and help Tallahassee understand the value that state colleges bring and how we build economic vitality in our communities.”
Overcoming skepticism: “Last week, I met with the faculty governance group. I’ve reset the clock on how we engage each other. They are part of our executive leadership team, and they are first on my agenda for every executive meeting. I have not worked closely with the faculty college- wide because my last role — for the last seven years — was student-services focused, and so that is why I’m being very serious and intentional about my relationship with the faculty and hearing their voice. Some of them had skepticism about my leadership, my style, but I’m showing them that I can only be Tonjua. I can only be me.”
Being first: “When I applied for the job, I didn’t apply as a black female. I applied as a higher education leader who has been in the business for 30 years and who has the credentials to be president. It means a lot to be the first, but I didn’t run on that ticket. I see myself as a great leader.”
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