10 Questions for CCSF’s New Director of the Undergraduate Scholars Program

The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation is excited to announce that Jamie Williams has joined the staff as Director of the Undergraduate Scholars Program, the first position of its kind at the Foundation. This new role is dedicated to maintaining the energy, excitement, and connectivity of Scholars Weekend through each Scholar’s college years by creating unique opportunities for them to engage with the Foundation and each other.

Previously serving as Director of the National Scholars Program and Associate Director of the Honors College at Clemson University, Jamie brings 15 years of experience administering enrichment programs for undergraduate scholars, mentoring high-achieving students, and collaborating with stakeholders to support student success to the Foundation.

As part of Jamie’s first day at CCSF, we asked our intern and 2015 Coca-Cola Scholar, Paul Serrato, to grill him with some pretty tough questions! Read on to learn more about the newest member of the Coca-Cola Scholars team.


Paul: What is the first thing people should know about you?

Jamie: (chuckles) A minute and a half of dead air! … I think in terms of what I do, my profession, is that I love working with students. I was a fairly high-achieving undergraduate student and didn’t really see that as a career choice, or didn’t know that was a career choice, until I got to my later part of college and really wanted to stay in college for the rest of my life, working with that population of students. I really like working with students who are motivated, have a goal, like working towards that goal, and enjoy working with others, and that’s the thing that’s most intriguing about this position with the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation – working with students who are similarly motivated. I feel like I’ll be working with 600 mini-mes who are working towards their own professional, personal, and leadership goals.

Paul: Why did you want to work at the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation?

Jamie: To fuel my addiction to Diet Coke! No, I’ve known Mark for about 15 years and got to know some of the other staff last year though a professional organization. They are a good group of people, and I could see myself fitting in with them personality wise. It was a good opportunity at the right time for a career change. I had been at Clemson for 14 years working with a scholars program and with honors college students, and I was ready for the next phase of my career. This way I am still working with college students. My life won’t be as divided into semesters as it has been for the last 20 years of my career, but instead I’ll have a broader canvas on which to work and to have an impact on advising and helping students make leadership and professional development connections and decisions as they go forward.

Paul: Could you tell us about your vision for your new position as Director of Undergraduate Programming and what this programming entails?

Jamie: The second part is going to be easy because I don’t know – I don’t know what it’s going to be yet. My vision is to make sure that there are plenty opportunities for current college Scholars to be able to connect with each other based on where they are in school, their majors, what their career 2015-08-10 15.39.56goals are, in addition to working with the rest of the staff and alumni to help them make good decisions and provide a strong mentoring network along the way. I think some of the best things that alumni can share with current Scholars are lessons they’ve learned the hard way or mistakes that they’ve made so that younger Scholars can avoid those similar mistakes and be further along the path by the time they graduate than maybe those alumni were at the time. The challenge of it is going to be that the Scholars themselves are obviously all over the country, and it’s not a matter of “We’re having a meeting tonight! Everybody come to this room and you’ll get pizza.” So I think finding out ways, like using the portal that’s in development, to make sure that we can build those connections. The way that’s going to work? I’m going to be calling on alumni and current Scholars to ask them: “What do you think we should be doing to support your leadership and professional development? What were your expectations of being chosen as a Coca-Cola Scholar? What can we do to help you meet those expectations?”  None of you are going to schools where you’re going to be in desperate need of mentoring. You’re going to good schools that have that. So what is the value added of being a Coca-Cola Scholar in terms of when you graduate you will not be just a Stanford graduate or a Harvard graduate or a UNC graduate, but a Coca-Cola Scholar graduate from those schools. So the first year I’m going to do a listening tour, which might be by email, phone calls, Skype, or in-person meetings, but getting Scholar feedback about what we should be doing. So you, the Scholars, get to tell me what to do basically. Don’t get carried away.

Paul: You’re at the 2018 Leadership Summit, and you have 7 hours to memorize 700 scholar names. How do you begin?

Jamie: Why haven’t I gotten the names before 7 hours? Okay, hazing – Coke Scholar hazing. Well, one of the things that I did when I was in high school, and I was valedictorian so it clearly worked, was that I put my notes under my pillow when I slept the night before a big test. Usually what I do too is in my previous roles working with scholars and honors recruits is that I do a lot of Facebook and Twitter stalking to get some names and faces together. Figuring out not just their names but where they’re from, what they think their major is going to be, what are some interesting things that they’ve done, and so get to know them as individuals and people and not just names on a list. But if I’ve got just the 7 hours, I’ll be spending just as much time with the A through B names, and then take a little bit of a break, and then the D through F names, take a bit of a break, so I’ll use a number of tactics to get the number of names down. But I’m hoping I’ll have more than those 7 hours. Unless there’s something I don’t know about. What have I gotten myself into here?

Paul: How long does it take you to scroll through Facebook before giving up?

Jamie: I’ve been on Facebook for—how long has Facebook been around—I have yet to give up! Are we Facebook friends yet? I know that they keep saying Facebook is going out. Twitter is the way it is, and Instagram, the Snapchat, and then hooziwhatzit, whatever it’s going to be next, but Facebook seems to me to be a fundamental communication tool. I gave it up a few years ago for Lent mainly out of spite because people didn’t think I could do it. And so some friends created a Facebook group called “I do not believe Jamie Williams can stay off of Facebook for the entirety of Lent”, and my boss created a group “I do believe that Jamie Williams can stay off.” Not only did I stay off the entirety of Lent, I stayed off one extra day, just again out of spite. That is when I got hooked on Twitter. I needed to refresh and see new words.

Paul: Who was the first Coke Scholar you met?

PaulJamie: I advised an honors college student at Clemson named Kate Gasparro, and she’s the first that I first got to know well. I’m sure I’ve gotten to know another Coke Scholar, but Kate was probably the one that I know most well and advise and feel like I had a very good advisory, mentor connection with as an undergrad. I met her 6 years ago. I’m sure if I went through the list, I would find myself saying,“Oh yeah, I knew that person.” You know a lot of times people don’t like to say “I’m a Coke Scholar” because they don’t want to seem like they’re bragging. I’m sure that I’ve met some, but I didn’t know that they were Coke Scholars.


[Editor’s note: An hour post-interview, Jamie noted that Matt Clemmens was indeed the first Coca-Cola Scholar he had met. So thorough!]

Paul: You are planning a birthday party at the office for one of your co-workers. What kind of cake do you bring?

Jamie: Well, first I would have to find out if there were any allergies, any kind of gluten issues unless the office and staff find out surreptitiously from others in the staff what flavors do they like. Ice cream cake versus not. My favorite kind of cake is anything with a good buttercream frosting.

Paul: What is your superpower?

Jamie: What is it now or what I wish it were to be? What am I able to do? I have an ability, an infinite ability to recall things that just don’t matter. So I’m a good bar trivia partner to have. I was people’s phone-a-friend on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” because I can remember who won like best supporting actress Oscar in 1983, those kind of things. Not real life. The one I wish I had probably was telepathy just so when you’re having conversations you can be more efficient and get to the point and figure out what the person is wanting from you. So telepathy, I think, would be a great superpower to have.

Paul: What is your favorite Coke product and why?

Jamie: I think Diet Coke. I don’t know why on that one. It’s just delicious! Although I have started getting into Coke Zero a little bit when traveling abroad this past year. Diet Coke or Coke Light tastes different in Europe and in Africa, where I’ve been recently, than Diet Coke tastes in the States. But Coke Zero abroad tastes like Diet Coke here, and I’ve done some transitive reverse properties, so that Coke Zero tastes good to me here. So I like Coke Zero, it’s kind of gaining on Diet Coke for me right now.

Paul: Is there anything else that you would like to share with the Coke Scholar community?

Jamie: I’m looking forward to getting to know as many of alumni and Scholars as possible, and if anybody has a great idea or something they think we should be doing, don’t hesitate to call me or email me or Tweet me. If you want to Facebook friend me, I’m open to that. I’m not saying that just because that’s what you say at a new job; I really want to get the feedback from Scholars and alumni as well to figure out how I can do my job to support you and your paths to success.