Jermaine Williams

Williams takes on leadership role in Groups Scholars Program

For Jermaine Williams, being a resident assistant for IU Bloomington’s Groups Scholars Program is a bit surreal.

After all, it was only a few short years ago when the Indianapolis native was a wide-eyed incoming freshman in the program. Now, he’s a rising junior and instead of being one of the students soliciting advice from his upperclassmen peers, he’s the one dispensing it.

“It’s kind of hard not to reflect on my Groups year because when they come in, it’s like, ‘Wow, that was us just two years ago,’” recounts Williams, an informatics major who is also minoring in telecommunications and human-centered computing.  “They’re pretty much open books. They realize that they’re going to be here for a while—this whole summer—so they’ve already confided in us on another level. Some of them may be going through things at home, some people may be going through personal issues here. So, using my experience and some stuff that I’ve been through, I try to help them out the best way that I can.

“My year, Groups 2015, our resident assistants were the example of what a role model should be. They were there for us, no matter what. They helped us out a lot, so seeing the way they interacted with us, I wanted to help somebody else the way they helped us. Having that example and role model to look up to, it kind of drives you and pushes you to do more.”

Groups, an Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs (OVPDEMA) program, is a four-year, full-tuition scholarship program for Indiana residents at IU Bloomington. Groups Scholars spend seven weeks on campus in the summer prior to their freshman year as part of its Summer Experience Program.

Even before his participation in Groups, Williams was familiar with the IU Bloomington campus through his participation in the Balfour Scholars Program in the summer before his senior year at Lawrence Central High School.

“Balfour was the reason why I came to IU. Balfour gave us a different look when it came to college. Yeah, we were in high school and talked about how we wanted to go to college, but it actually gave us the experience for a whole week,” recalled Williams, who is now a mentor and counselor for Balfour. “They gave us so many resources and I met so many people. From then on, I knew IU was the place where I wanted to go.”

Seeing what this program does for IU, and how they bring more minorities to this campus and give us a place where we feel like we belong, I think that in itself is just big.

Among the people Williams encountered while in the Balfour Scholars Program was Mary Stephenson, director of the Groups Scholars Program. He was intrigued by what he heard from Stephenson about the program, and during his senior year of high school, Dr. Christina Wright-Fields, the former director of the Balfour Scholars Program and a professor in IU Bloomington’s School of Education, recommended Williams for Groups.

After high school graduation, Williams left his mother (who he describes as his best friend), father, and two younger sisters to return to Bloomington for the summer, this time to begin his college journey. But although the campus was nothing new to him, Williams believes being a part of Groups gave him a leg up on his peers.

“Freshman year, I feel like I was prepared because of Groups. They gave us those tools, transferable skills that we could use anywhere, like time management, communication, scheduling, and planning,” said Williams, who plans to attend graduate school and eventually work in an occupation that blends media and technology. “In a way, I had an advantage over some freshmen because they didn’t have that experience, whereas Groups prepared me and going into IU, I already had that community standing behind me.”

In addition to his work with Balfour and Groups—he’s also involved in Groups 5, an organization consisting of Groups student leaders—Williams has served as chairman of public relations for the IU Bloomington chapter of the NAACP and is the director of current topics for the Indiana Memorial Union Board.

Stephenson, the director of Groups Scholars Program, has had the unique opportunity to observe Williams’ development along the way—from his time in Balfour and when he first became a Groups Scholar, to supervising him as a Groups resident assistant and working with him in his capacity on the Union Board.

“Jermaine is quiet, but impactful. He is not shy at all, by any means, but he is a man of few words because he is a deep thinker and he really thinks through processes to make sure the work he does makes a huge splash,” said Stephenson. “He does some great programming through the Union Board. I’ve watched him as an RA dig right in and get work done with the students. He’s action-oriented. I can truly appreciate that, because we all need people like that on our team.

“He definitely has exhibited strong moral and ethical behavior in mentoring the new class. He’s shown that through some of the actions that he’s taken. He’s also very friendly and approachable to the students, and they seem to trust him and interact very well with him. I’ve seen him grow. He’s always been a little bit more mature than his classmates, but I’ve actually seen his leadership skills more over last year and this year. I’ve seen him take on more leadership roles and be very proactive.”

Part of Williams’ inspiration for helping lead the way for others comes from the history of the Groups Scholars Program. The 2018-19 academic year—coincidentally, the year Williams is scheduled to graduate from IU—is the 50th anniversary of the program.

“There were so many great scholars that came before us and I know for ‘G ’15,’ we try to strive to do even better than them. That’s pretty much been in the back of our minds the whole time, explained Williams. “So seeing what this program does for IU, and how they bring more minorities to this campus and give us a place where we feel like we belong, I think that in itself is just big. This program is definitely something that I would say represents the community aspect of IU.”