Leadership, says newly appointed Bryant University Recent Alumni Trustee Jake Williams ’23, comes down to two basic ideas: collaboration and vision.
“You need to be able to talk to a very, very diverse group of people: people who have very different ideas or come from different backgrounds. You have to be able to bring them all together to accomplish the goals you share,” he reflects. “The other piece is you need to be able to take a step back, and really understand what's going on, and make a levelheaded decision about it because, at the end of the day, those decisions are on you.”
As the Recent Alumni Trustee, he’ll bring them to bear in helping to shape the future of Bryant University. Each spring, one member of the graduating senior class is selected to serve on Bryant University’s Board of Trustees and, over the course of their four-year term, provide a recent graduate’s perspective on the issues before the Board, informed by their experience as a student.
Williams was selected for his academic and extracurricular accomplishments, his love of the university, and his drive to provide a voice for current students and recent alumni.
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As an undergraduate student majoring in Finance and Information Systems, Williams took full advantage of on-campus opportunities and excelled in his coursework, appearing on the Dean’s List. This fall, he became a member of the executive committee for Bryant’s Archway Investment Fund, a $2.3 million student-run investment portfolio.
The capstone experience gave Williams a chance to test himself and take the lead. “It's about being able to take what you're learning in the classroom and turn it into real, meaningful decisions about money,” says Williams, who notes his time with the fund helped him secure his position as an incoming Investment Analyst at John Hancock/Manulife. “Being part of that committee meant being able to interact with people, learn from them, and using what you learn to help make decisions together.”
“There’s no better feeling than to have that ring slide on your finger, surrounded by teammates and representing the Bryant Bulldogs.”
A winning team
Williams brought that same level of dedication to his time on the Men’s Swimming and Diving team, which twice won the Northeast Conference Championships — experiences, Williams says, he will never forget.
“There’s no better feeling than to have that ring slide on your finger, surrounded by teammates and representing the Bryant Bulldogs,” he says with a grin.
Those victories would have been impossible, he says, without teamwork. “Swimming is normally looked at as an individual sport because you're racing for an individual time or position, but in college swimming, you’re on a team together,” he points out. “I think our team is one of the closest on campus. We travel together, we train together, and we compete together; it’s like a brotherhood and they become some of your closest friends.”
As captain, he says, his role was to ensure that band of brothers could work together — even under extreme pressure — and inspire them to do more than they ever thought possible. “You know you have to do your best for the people next to you, and you do your best to motivate them as well,” he says.
That sense of camaraderie is felt by the entire Bryant community, who inspire and support one another, notes Williams. “The community extends between classmates, neighbors, professors, administration, and alumni — and the lifelong friends you make with one another here.
“We all have our different friend groups but we're all growing and learning together and from one another — and all of us together are better than we are apart,” he says.
As co-chair of Bryant’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, he worked to provide a voice for the members of the university’s athletic teams, including helping to guide them through conference changes. “I was the captain of the Men’s Swimming and Diving team, but this was almost like being the captain for all of our teams,” he says. “What we tried to do is make sure that everyone had representation for their needs.”
“Sometimes people call Bryant a hidden gem. I think it should be recognized as the gold standard for higher education.”
A voice for others
This past year, Williams was selected to serve on the Bryant Senior Advisory Committee (BSAC), a distinguished council of students who meet with Bryant University President Ross Gittell, Ph.D., and his cabinet to learn more about the university and provide feedback on running the campus.
Williams vividly remembers a BSAC meeting where Madan Annavarjula, Dean of the College of Business, and other officials presented elements of the university’s Vision 2030 strategic plan — and then asked for the students’ advice. “It was only supposed to be a 30-minute conversation,” he recalls. “But it ended up going for almost two hours.”
An experience like that, Williams says, is an example of what it means to be part of the Bryant community. “You realize the university really does listen to you,” he says. He also remembers the group’s April meeting at the University Club in Providence, which was attended by previous years’ Recent Alumni Trustees Brian Salit ’19, Skye Hazel ’21, and Julia Di Natale ’22. “It was so impressive hearing from them, and it helped everyone there realize how special the Recent Alumni Trustee role is,” Williams says.
Inspired by their words, and by the opportunity to keep serving the school and its students even after graduation, Williams applied for the position, submitting a letter to the selection committee and interviewing with trustees and members of the cabinet.
“It was a little bit intimidating at first,” he admits. “But when you let yourself take a step back and really listen to them, you realize they’re just people just like yourself who have the same goals you do — to make a great university even better.”
When Williams received the call from Gittell informing him that he would be the 2023 Recent Alumni Trustee, he says he was filled with immense pride and likens it to his NEC Championship wins. He had to keep that pride under wraps, however, as the position was not announced until Commencement. “That was probably the toughest part of the entire thing, not being able to tell my family and friends because it felt like such an honor,” Williams notes.
“Success isn’t just about seeing what we can do individually. It's accomplishing things together."
Williams says he aims to help Bryant achieve new heights with his position on the board. “We are already top ranked in business, top ranked in athletics, and are in the top 1 percent for ROI, but we’re also so much more,” says Williams. “Sometimes people call Bryant a hidden gem. I think it should be recognized as the gold standard for higher education.”
He’s also excited about Bryant’s strategic plan, including the university’s recent expansion and announcement of a new state-of-the-art campus for the College of Business. “I see Bryant continuing to grow because we’re always looking to change, innovate, and improve.”
His part in that transformation, Williams notes, is to continue being part of the conversation. “Success isn’t just about seeing what we can do individually,” he says. “It's accomplishing things together.”