Robert Williams ’79, a banking executive, is the current president of the WSU Alumni Association. He started volunteering with the University in the 1980s by joining the advisory board for the College of Business and later found his way to the Alumni Association. He is also on the Board of Trustees for the WSU Foundation. Recently, Williams met with WSM’s Hannelore Sudermann to talk about his time as a student and what he enjoys about volunteering with the Alumni Association.
Why did you choose WSU? In high school, I was a four year track and field letterman. At that time, WSU had one of the best track and fi eld programs in the country. I came here because I was going to be on an athletic scholarship as well as an academic one.
Was there any adjustment moving from an urban west side to a rural Pullman? A little. But I thought it was just part of growing up and going to school. It was really quite cool. I learned how to drive in the snow. I saw wheat fields. It was this formative part of who I am. My parents drove over and dropped me off at Streit Hall. I have a son in school here now and I had that same experience of coming over and dropping him off. I felt a little sorry for him, leaving him here in a tiny dorm room.
Who were some of your greatest influences here? My coach John Chaplin was the type of person people either love or hate. He was a very expressive individual, and known internationally for his coaching. Through him, I was exposed to athletes from Australia, New Zealand, Africa, Venezuela, and Scotland. It was a real growth experience. He also taught me that you earn what you get. You earn respect from your actions and behaviors.
Anyone else? Wallis Friel was my business law professor. I really loved that class. If I wasn’t a banker, I would probably be a lawyer.
What made you reconnect with WSU? It was probably 10 years after I graduated. George Hubman ’65, asked me to get involved. He thought I would be a good fi t for the national board of advisors for the College of Business. I think I sat on that board through probably four different deans.
From that experience, I got involved with the Alumni Association, particularly the African American Alumni Chapter. I have Tony Hudson ’75 to thank for that. He was the Black Student Union president at WSU in the early 1970s. He was always a leader for African American student issues. When the University was seeking to diversify its alumni outreach in the 1980s, Tony got involved. He asked me and Jeff Bruce ’80 to become officers in the first alliance.
What is the biggest change you’ve seen in the Alumni Association? There’s even more organized focus on our mission—increasing membership, alumni outreach, and engaging more alumni. We’re running more effectively. I would say, it’s the lightning focus of engagement and how we execute that engagement.
What do you get out of volunteering here? I get to meet wonderful people who are alumni of Washington State all over the world. I get personal growth out of it. I’m serving on boards with so many interesting and accomplished individuals. I get so much out of that. It’s selfish, really.
What do you tell alumni who want to be involved? There are many ways to give back. You can reach out to high school students, get them thinking about WSU. You can support scholarships. And, of course, you can become a card-carrying member of the Alumni Association.
You graduated some years ago… Ouch. Do you have to say it like that? I just realized that in 2029 I’ll be a Golden Grad.
For a complete list of officers and more information about the WSUAA visit www.alumni.wsu.edu or call 1-800-258-6978.