The largest endowment gift in Elon’s history will name the university’s School of Education in honor of Vice President Emerita Jo Watts Williams ’55.
Elon University President Connie Ledoux Book has announced the naming of the Dr. Jo Watts Williams School of Education in honor of the lifetime of service by the legendary educator and administrator who has been associated with her alma mater for more than 75 years. At age 92, Williams lives close to campus and remains connected to the daily life of the university and members of the Elon and Burlington, North Carolina, communities.
The school, first established in 2000, was named for Dr. Williams by the Elon University Board of Trustees in recognition of a $10 million gift to Elon by the Williams family – sons William (Lee) Williams III and his wife, Beth, through the Beth and Lee Williams Foundation, and Dr. Randall Williams and his wife, Elizabeth. The commitment, part of the Elon LEADS Campaign, represents the largest endowment gift in the university’s history.
Williams joined the Elon psychology and education department faculty in 1969 and later became associate dean of academic affairs before assuming leadership of Elon’s first development office in 1979. She led four fundraising campaigns and worked closely with generations of alumni, trustees, benefactors and friends of the university. She was named special assistant to President J. Fred Young in 1995 and was named vice president emerita in 2010 by President Leo M. Lambert.
“Jo Williams is among the most prominent and faithful leaders in Elon history, with a career spanning five presidencies,” said President Connie Ledoux Book. “We are deeply grateful to her family for making this generous gift. The Dr. Jo Watts Williams School of Education will stand as a permanent testament to her long and remarkable service as an educator and builder of her beloved Elon. Through the naming of this school, generations of future students will learn about her positive spirit and legacy. They will have an inspiring role model who demonstrated the impact a single, passionate individual can make in building a better world.”
“I am humbled and honored by this recognition by the board of trustees, and overflowing with love and gratitude for my entire family,” said Jo Watts Williams. “Elon has been at the center of my life since I arrived on campus as a student in 1945. I am thrilled that the Williams School will stand forever as a beacon of inspiration for future educators.”
Lee Williams said he has long appreciated how much Elon has meant to his mother and the entire family. He is thankful she is able to celebrate this honor with her Elon family. “My mother exemplifies all that is wonderful about the Elon community. This gift will provide resources that will transform the lives of students who are fortunate enough to follow in her footsteps,” Lee Williams said.
Details of the gift
The $10 million gift, part of the Elon LEADS Campaign, will create an endowment to support students, faculty, administration and the university’s community partnerships.
How the endowment funds will be used:
- Support for 10 annual recipients of the Dr. Jo Watts Williams Teaching Fellows, Elon’s most competitive and highest award for students desiring to pursue a career in teaching.
- Support for at least 10 annual recipients of the Dr. Jo Watts Williams Scholars award, who will participate in the partnership between the Alamance-Burlington School System (ABSS), Alamance Community College, and Elon University. These students will be Alamance County residents who demonstrate financial need and, upon completion of the program, will go on to begin their careers in the ABSS schools.
- Support for the dean of the School of Education and the Dr. Jo Watts Williams Endowed Emerging Scholar, which will be granted on a rotating basis to education faculty members who are beginning their Elon teaching careers.
- Establish the Watts Williams Community Excellence Fund to provide support to Elon’s partnerships such as the Elon Academy, the “It Takes a Village” Project and Service Year programs.
- Support for 20 scholarships in Elon’s groundbreaking Odyssey Program, supporting full financial aid for students with exceptional potential and limited resources. Many students selected for the Odyssey Program are first-generation college students. Recipients will be known as the Dr. Jo Watts Williams Odyssey Scholars.
“We are grateful that through this incredible gesture of philanthropy, the Williams family is providing support to students, faculty, administration and the community, representing the many facets of Dr. Williams’ powerful Elon story,” said President Book.
Ann Bullock, dean of the Williams School of Education, said the university will plan a celebration to honor Jo Williams and the naming of the school this fall, when students, faculty and staff return to campus.
“We look forward to thanking the Williams family and gathering with them to honor Dr. Williams,” Bullock said. “Her life’s work has always focused on the power of education to transform lives. We are proud that her name will forever be associated with our school and the success of our students.”
About the Dr. Jo Watts Williams School of Education
- Established in 2000, accredited under the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) Standards with CAEP Accreditation Eligibility
- 27 full-time, 13 part-time and four affiliate faculty led by Dean, Professor and Director of Teacher Education Ann Bullock
- Enrollment (spring 2021): 285 undergraduate students and 54 graduate students
- Undergraduate programs leading to North Carolina licensure in elementary education, middle grades education and special education (general curriculum), in special subject areas for grades K-12 (physical education, music and Spanish), and in high school subject areas of English, history, math and science; part-time master’s (M.Ed.) and full-time master of arts in higher education (MHE)
- One of eight partner institutions in the North Carolina Teaching Fellows program
- School of Education Center Abroad in Dunedin, New Zealand, in partnership with the University of Otago and Arcadia University
The legacy of Dr. Jo Watts Williams
Jo Watts was born in 1929, in Anson County, North Carolina, the youngest of eight children of James C. Watts and Blanche Rogers Watts. Neither of her parents had attended college, but they were committed to the importance of education. They raised money to hire a teacher for the town’s school and ensured that all of their children attended college.
Following her graduation from Deep Creek (N.C.) High School, Jo followed the path of all of her siblings, enrolling in Elon College in 1945. During her college years, she met fellow Elon student William Leaford Williams Jr., and the two were married in 1948. She combined her studies with work, serving as secretary to President Leon Edgar Smith for four years. She completed her bachelor’s degree in elementary education and graduated from Elon in 1955.
Following college, Williams spent 14 years as a public school teacher in North Carolina, working in Alamance County Schools, Concord City Schools and Burlington City Schools. She was a Teaching Fellow and earned her master’s degree in education in 1971 and a doctorate in 1973 at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
In 1969 President J. Earl Danieley recruited Williams to accept a position on the Elon College faculty in the Department of Psychology and Education. She advanced from instructor to the rank of professor, and in 1977 was named associate dean of academic affairs and director of the Learning Resources Center.
Two years later, President J. Fred Young appointed Williams director of development and soon promoted her to be Elon’s first vice president for development. She served in that role for 16 years, providing administrative leadership, strong trustee and donor stewardship and crucial fundraising success that fueled the institution’s growth.
Williams led four major Elon fundraising campaigns and secured the first $1 million gift for the college. She also initiated the college’s planned giving program and oversaw major gifts, annual giving, alumni and parent relations, church relations, foundation and corporate relations and the publications and public information office. The Elon endowment grew from about $3 million in the 1970s to more than $23 million in 1995.
Williams was named special assistant to President Young in 1995, representing Elon in the Alamance-Burlington community and continuing her personal relationships with many donors and friends. In 2010 President Leo M. Lambert named Williams vice president emerita and she continued to be active in the life of the university and nurtured philanthropic relationships between generous families and Elon.
Williams was named Elon’s Distinguished Alumna of the Year in 1995, was awarded the Elon Medallion for outstanding service to Elon in 1998 and received the Frank S. Holt Business Leadership Award in 2008. In 2013, the university named a residence hall in The Oaks neighborhood on campus in her honor, and her portrait hangs in a conference room that bears her name in the president’s office suite in Powell Building. In 2014 she was recognized by North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory with the state’s Order of the Long Leaf Pine award.
Williams has been a generous and consistent donor to Elon through more than five decades, supporting scholarships, academic programs, athletics and building projects. She is a member of the Elon Society, Phoenix Club and the Order of the Oak planned giving society, and she and her husband created the William L. and Jo Watts Williams Scholarship.