June 1, 2023

Women in leadership - Taking the reins

Profiles of nine women leaders who are taking leadership roles in their fields.

Amy Martinez | 10/27/2021

President St. Petersburg College St. Petersburg

Born and raised in St. Petersburg, Tonjua Williams was the first in her family to attend college and get a degree. She often credits her mother, husband, friends, teachers, neighbors and co-workers — what she collectively calls the village — with helping her succeed.

She earned a bachelor’s in humanities from Clearwater Christian College and began her career at St. Petersburg College in the mid-1980s. Her first job was as an accounting clerk, processing financial aid checks, but she took a career survey and learned that a job working directly with people would fit her best.

She then decided to get more education and received a bachelor’s in business from Clearwater Christian, followed by a master’s in counselor education from the University of South Florida and a Ph.D. in higher education from Barry University — all while working in various roles at St. Petersburg College.

In 2017, Williams became president of SPC — its first woman and first black person to hold the position. By then, she had worked in nearly every area of the institution, including as senior vice president for student services, vice president for academic and student affairs and provost at the college’s Tarpon Springs campus.

“When I applied for the job, I didn’t apply as a black female,” she told Florida Trend in 2017. “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.”

Williams also serves on the 28-member Florida College System Council of Presidents as vice chair, alongside chair Angela Garcia Falconetti, president of Polk State College (page 63).

Tags: Trendsetters, Feature, Women in Leadership

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