From first-generation college student to assistant provost of financial services

Angelika Williams promises community engagement, increased communication with students

Lucia Verzola

Staff Writer

After six months, USF’s search for an assistant provost of financial services came to an end with the appointment of Angelika Williams, who began her work Aug. 31.

Williams, a first-generation college student, earned her bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in chemistry from William Carey College in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. After college, she had planned to pursue a master’s degree in marine biology at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM), but Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, causing heavy damage to USM’s campus. Upon reevaluating her career path, Williams landed a job at Global Financial Services, an organization focused on financial aid services within higher education. It was during her years at GFS that she developed a passion for financial services. 

 “As I began to encounter more opportunities, I expanded my network […] to work more closely with the U.S, Department of Education to expand my knowledge of financial aid,” Williams said. “I realized that I felt like it was my passion and my calling to do it.”

After building her knowledge and passion for finance at GFS, Williams transitioned to working in a university setting. She was the assistant director of financial aid at Texas State University from 2012 to 2017 and the director of scholarships and financial aid at Texas A&M University from 2017 to 2018. 

Vice Provost for Strategic Enrollment Management Michael Beseda said it was important to find an individual for the assistant provost of Financial Services position who had extensive experience coordinating “federal and state aid, as well as providing institutional aid.” He continued, “Managing that, in alignment with the rules and guidelines that those entities set up for us, is critically important.”

Outside of experience, Beseda stressed how essential it was that the person behind the role could inspire confidence and trust from the University’s students. 

John Iosefo, ASUSF Senate president, who, along with other student representatives, helped choose the final candidate for the role, echoed this importance, stating the need to find, “someone who’s visible to the community, someone who the community knows to talk to about things pertaining to their financial aid.”

Williams was hired to be the director of financial aid at Howard University, a historically Black university, in 2018. Within a year, she had successfully revamped their financial program and turned the university’s prior financial woes around. This was the leadership USF’s administrative staff and student representatives were searching for. 

  Williams said she brings the same priority to each financial service role she has served: to ensure education is affordable for students without it being an inconvenience for them to obtain this goal. She also acknowledged that being in a pandemic exacerbates an already-existing problem of students affording their education. 

In the past, students at USF have voiced concerns about getting in contact with the office of student financial services to answer their questions and concerns. In an opinion piece written last August by current Foghorn staff member, Ethan Tan, Tan spoke of his personal frustration with the office of student financial services, stating it to be “perhaps one of the hardest offices to get in contact with.” Tan wrote that the few times his and his mother’s phone calls to the office were answered, “we were sent down a referral-hole where no one could give a direct answer and instead referred us to other personnel in the office, oftentimes leading us to someone’s voicemail inbox and leaving us without answers.” 

Williams said she understands that students may not have time to make an appointment with financial services or may feel uncomfortable speaking about finances in an intimate setting. To combat this, Williams plans to implement more student-focused opportunities and events, which will allow students to ask questions and share their lived experiences. “One of my charges is to make sure I hear [students’] experiences. And make sure that I provide clear communication, and look at the processes to make sure that they have all the information and resources they need in order to afford education,” Williams said.

Williams takes this same approach when looking at financial data from students of lower-income and middle-class backgrounds. After looking at USF’s numbers and exploring how the institution can provide funds for these students, Williams said her final decision about how to help these students will come down to understanding the individual student’s concerns and experiences. 

As a first-generation student herself, Williams said she understands the frustration that comes with affording a college education. She encourages students to be vocal regarding their frustration. “I can then have a conversation with the U.S. Department of Education on some of the hardships and inconveniences, some of the regulations, and how it impacts students and how it has administrative burden,” Williams explained. “So don’t be afraid to show your frustration because some of that gives us passion to speak on your behalf.”

Despite working through an online platform, Williams still made the move to San Francisco from Virginia to begin her work. She said she wants to be ready to speak with students face-to-face as soon as USF returns to in-person learning while getting acclimated to the city. Williams said she is excited to experience how passionate USF students are about their education, something she has already seen online. 

Something that attracted Williams to USF was its mission and vision. “I’m excited about putting [the mission] in practice and establishing that culture in the unit of student financial services at USF because it’s important to acknowledge diversity and acknowledge that we have different cultures and different walks of life on campus. When you build a customer service model and best practices, it’s important to align that mission accordingly so that you can acknowledge a focus on the students’ needs and concerns,” she said

Williams added that she is looking forward to not just ensuring that USF’s education is affordable, “but to make sure that we are respectful of all situations, and circumstances that we may encounter.”

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