Frantz Williams Jr. ’99 has been named the successor to Vice President for University Relations Barbara-Jan Wilson, who has announced her upcoming retirement at the end of December 2018. A government major as an undergraduate, Williams joined the University Relations team right after his graduation and has continued to serve the University, most recently as assistant vice president for development.
“We’re fortunate that Frantz will lead University Relations,” said President Michael S. Roth ’78. “He is eminently well prepared to continue Barbara-Jan’s legacy of immensely successful fund-raising and friend-raising, and I am grateful that he will be at the helm when we launch Wesleyan’s next campaign.”
“Wesleyan has a strong, dedicated leader in Frantz,” said Wilson. “A loyal alumnus, he is a mentor to students and staff and alumni alike. His warmth, his care for the University and all of its people shine through in everything he does.”
Williams’s family was from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, moving to the States when Frantz, the third of four children, was 9: “In January 1986, on a very cold day, we landed at JFK airport, never having seen snow, and speaking only Creole—that was our start,” he recalls. “I entered the fourth grade, taking ESL courses, and trying to catch up with my classmates. It has been a journey.”
In a Q&A with the Connection, Williams traces his route to Wesleyan, talks about the mission that has kept him here, and reflects on what continues to engage him in Wesleyan’s future.
Q: And a decade after that snowy arrival to the States, what brought you to Wesleyan?
A: I went to Brien McMahon High School, in Norwalk, Conn., where I played soccer, co-founded the student government, and did theater. I immersed myself in the traditional American education.
I was featured in the local newspaper as a scholar-athlete, and a financier in Fairfield County who saw my picture in the paper contacted me and started faxing me college profiles: “Have you heard of this school? How about that one?” And … I hadn’t. My parents hadn’t gone to college and my two older siblings started working right after high school, so I was the first.
He made an appointment for me to visit the soccer coach at Amherst and on the way up we stopped at Wesleyan to pick up a brochure. The assistant dean, Joanna Dunham Townsend ’91, invited me in for a 15-minute conversation—which lasted more than an hour. I fell in love with the place. I still visited Amherst that day, but I knew Wesleyan was the school for me.
Q: What convinced you to work here afterward?
A: I met John Driscoll ’62, the alumni director, at a fundraiser I’d organized for United Way when I was a senior.
“Have you heard of this place called ‘University Relations’?” he asked. “We do a little bit of everything; we are the engine and the spirit of the institution; we engage alumni, parents, and friends. We raise money for the cause, we organize events and gatherings,” he told me.
“That sounds like something I would enjoy being part of,” I told him—so I applied for an assistant director position and was hired.
I thought I’d be here for a year or two, but every year was a different challenge and I continued to grow professionally. I also believe in providing access to a Wesleyan education. My wife, Anne Johnson ’01, and I would not have been able to come here without financial aid, so we feel a great debt to pay it forward. I’m very proud of the fact that I’ve raised millions of dollars for financial aid and for other institutional needs. So I stayed.
Q: Barbara-Jan has been a mentor to you. What particular wisdom has she imparted?
A: Barbara-Jan’s philosophy is: Listen, be persistent, be authentic, and never give up. She has real love for the University—and is, perhaps, its most enthusiastic, effervescent cheerleader.
And Wesleyan is a family.
Our role in University Relations is to make sure that every alum feels they have a connection at their alma mater; that there’s always an open door whenever they want to engage or re-engage.
Q: Any particular high point you’ve had at Wesleyan?
A: There are so many.
I’m proud to have been part of two enormously successful fundraising campaigns during my 19 years at Wesleyan. These campaigns happen through teamwork and it was a joy to work closely with colleagues, volunteers, alumni, and parents to surpass our goals in each campaign.
I’m also pleased to be part of the leadership team that is helping Wesleyan extend our international reputation. I’ve traveled to China, India, South Korea, and Bangladesh to say, “Wesleyan is an institution that graduates change-makers—and this is why you should come to Wesleyan.”
Finally, I love working with students. I’ve served as advisor to the men’s basketball team and I enjoy mentoring, particularly first-gen students. It brings me joy to know that I play a small part in helping students succeed, and it’s gratifying to see them grow into thoughtful and engaged alumni.
Q: Are there upcoming trends in philanthropy—particularly as related to universities—that you are watching?
A: We’re facing the question of how to keep alumni engaged in meaningful ways when there’s so much competition for their attention. When I started in University Relations, we communicated with alumni and parents primarily through snail mail. The rise of technology and social media has changed the way we interact with alumni in many positive ways. We must constantly ask ourselves if we are articulating the need for their financial support in a compelling way. Are we thanking people enough? Are we providing a lifelong connection back to Wes?
Q: What are you most looking forward to in the upcoming year?
A: I plan to start a listening tour: conversations with people around the world about what it means to be a Wesleyan alum, parent, or student. How do we meet them where they are? How do they want to engage with us? What’s most important to them?
I’m thinking strategically about approaching the next campaign and working closely with President Roth, the Board of Trustees, and my fellow cabinet members to align our fundraising and engagement with the University’s strategic plan. We need to align the financial resources that are necessary to meet the goals and challenges of tomorrow.
Q: What do you do in your free time to relax?
A: Anne and I recently bought a house, so we are becoming gardeners. And much to our surprise, things are actually growing.
We also love to travel. Our next trip is to Greece, for our 10-year wedding anniversary. After Wesleyan, Anne taught in Greece for two years, and she hasn’t been back since. I’ve never been to Greece, so we’re very excited.
Q: What’s one fun fact that people don’t know about you?
A: I enjoy cooking. I like the challenge of trying new dishes and then putting my own spin on them. Paella is currently my favorite dish, but I cook seasonally, so with summer approaching, I’ll look for a new culinary adventure.