Helping Students RISE

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The Center for Equity & Inclusion's Levon Williams has developed a pilot program to help first-year students succeed.

UW Tacoma’s Center for Equity & Inclusion (CEI) has hired a student retention and community development specialist. Levon Williams joined the CEI this past August. He came to campus after spending the past three years with the College Success Foundation. “I helped students navigate the process of transitioning from middle school to high school,” said Williams.

Williams has been tasked with creating programming that will help students succeed and persevere to graduation. “My vision is not only to ensure students have a transformational experience here at UW Tacoma, but also build a sense of belonging to support their college journey,” he said.

"There were many challenges I experienced but always knew there are kids in my neighborhood going through much more than myself, and this motivated me to get into youth development/advocacy.”  — Levon WilliamsThe start of the school year brought with it the launch of RISE (Race, Identity, Social Engagement) Scholars. Williams created the year-long pilot program. “Within this cohort model I’m hoping to recruit 25 students, “he said. “The program is made specifically for first-year students who identity as students of color. There is a big disparity in education regarding this population and it is important to act now.”

Williams and Center for Equity & Inclusion Director Jimmy McCarty are developing curriculum and identifying data that will allow them to track the cohort’s progress throughout the year. “The data will allow us to better understand the student experience,” he said. “We can use this information to improve our programs.”

Williams grew up in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. “I had to navigate the complexities living in the inner city Brooklyn," he said. “At the time it was far from a walk in the park.”

After high school, Williams attended community college then transferred to Fordham University on an athletics scholarship. “Athletics essentially dominated my life, as a student-athlete I begin to feel a disconnect,” he said. “I had more to offer in life than just football and wanted new experiences.” Williams earned a degree in communications from Fordham. Not long after graduation he moved out to the Pacific Northwest. “I visited Washington a few times while in college and always questioned how my life would be if I moved here,” he said.

A first-generation college student, Williams seems a natural fit at UW Tacoma. “This university is bringing awareness around this idea of being first-gen and is breaking down the stigma attached to that,” he said. “Education has done things for me that I never envisioned and I’m excited to help students here reach their potential.”

Written by: 
Eric Wilson-Edge / October 9, 2019
Photos by: 
Ryan Moriarty
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or