Inauguration of Edward Waters University President highlighted by $2.5 million dollar
investment to support the continued long-term viability of Florida’s first HBCU
Dr. A. Zachary Faison, Jr. was officially installed as president and CEO at Edward Waters University, nearly four and a half years after taking on the role of leading the first private independent institution of higher learning and first historically Black college or university (HBCU) in the state of Florida.
Technically, Faison is the 30th president, but he’s also the first since he led the institution from being a college to a university last year. Edward Waters level change from a baccalaureate to a master’s level degree granting entity, has allowed the opportunity to offer graduate programs for the first time in the school’s 156-year history.
In a ceremony at the Adams-Jenkins Sports and Music Complex, Faison shared his vision for the future of Edward Waters with a crowd of faculty, students, alumni, family, friends, trustees, and delegates from colleges and universities all over the country.
“There’s still work to be done,” Faison said after sharing a list of major changes in the last four years that range from infrastructural improvements and a renewed focus on athletics to increasing enrollment and developing new community collaborations. After the first few times that Faison said, “check” after talking about a particular accomplished goal, attendees got the hang of it, and joined in by saying “check” each time Faison talked about his staff reaching another goal.
But soon afterwards, Faison said as proud as he is at how far they’ve come, he knows that the university can improve in multiple areas. Increasing the university’s endowment tops the list, because that’s what sustains an institution long-term. An endowment is money that’s set aside for a variety of things including operational support, scholarships, upgrading facilities and hiring professors.
Colleges with larger endowments can often give students bigger financial award packages. Faison pointed to a chart that showed how Edward Waters is at the bottom of the endowment list when compared with other colleges and universities nationwide.
The school has an overall goal to double its endowment by 2025, but that goal was accomplished at the inauguration when long-time EWU supporters and philanthropists Michael Ward and Jennifer Glock announced a $2.5 million partnership gift to the endowment fund.
Ward made the announcement after sharing how he was initially apprehensive concerning Faison’s audacious agenda when he first took on the job, becoming the nation’s youngest HBCU president at 37. Ward said he’s been involved with EWU since 2007.
But after the university continually improved under Faison’s leadership, including increasing enrollment and changing the institution’s finances for the better, after many years of reporting losses, Ward said he has to admit that he was wrong.
“I thought he was ambitious and he might not have realized what he had gotten himself into. I spent 14 years as chairman of CSX, and there’s a delicate balance between doing what you need to do today to survive and thrive, and building for the future,” Ward said.
“Dr Faison kept talking about the future and not so much about what was in front of him, and I didn’t think he was doing it quite right, but I was wrong. He’s installed a vision here that’s really quite admirable.”
The former CEO of the Jacksonville-based railroad said he’d like to donate more time to EWU including joining the board of trustees if they will have him.
“We love EWU and we love what you’re doing here,” said Ward, who noted that he’s donated about $3.4 million throughout the years to various causes at EWU including fixing air conditioning and elevators and getting new band uniforms.
The crowd erupted into cheers and Faison encouraged the clapping to continue a bit longer.
“Now we just doubled our endowment. I think we can do a little better than that,” he said, noting that the endowment is more than double what it’s been in the last 155 years.
“I need a hand clap of praise. I need a shout to the Lord for his goodness to this institution,” Faison said.
The inauguration and investiture ceremony included more than a dozen speakers representing other colleges and universities, family, staff, politicians and alumni. Everyone shared praise on Faison’s work at EWU and some offered gratitude for changes that they’ve witnessed firsthand, including EWU senior biology major Brianna Pendergrass, Miss EWU 2021-2022, who represented undergraduates.
Pendergrass said both the president and the first lady were influential in her decision to come to Edward Waters on a full presidential scholarship. She noted reasons that Faison stands out, including starting a new honors program, a speaker’s program that attracts top national influencers in different fields. She said nobody can boast on EWU like Faison, who is much more than an academician, but also a father-like figure in her life.
Laquanza Glover, representing graduate students, followed with similar sentiments of gratitude.
“Thank you for your visionary leadership to create an opportunity for students like myself to feel nurtured and get an MBA,” said Glover who was captain of EWU’s women’s basketball team for the last three years and the first student athlete to have her jersey retired in this decade.
“Congratulations again,” Glover said. “I wish you many more years of success.You will always be my Prez. I love you.”
The installation ceremony is a long-held tradition that allows an opportunity for others to acknowledge milestone accomplishments and share the president’s vision. In the last year alone, EWU has made positive announcements that range from launching new undergraduate and graduate degree programs, creating a new campus fitness and student activity center, to establishing a new nursing degree program in collaboration with the University of Florida’s college of nursing, and recently hiring, Dr. Ivana Rich, the university’s first woman athletic director.
One of the biggest accomplishments is a fall 2022 enrollment of 1187 students, a 27.4 percent increase in the past three years. That’s the school’s highest enrollment in nearly 20 years.
Presidents of other universities who spoke at the inauguration event shared stories about how Faison has a reputation for thinking outside of the box and starting new programs and initiatives that remain in place at other universities where he served in various roles throughout the years.
One university president said people like him watch what Faison is doing from across the country because they want to emulate some of the things that he comes up with. Later in the program, Faison referred back to that comment, followed by how he was the first of about 20 HBCU’s to make an announcement about using institutional funds to prevent and/or pay off student debt.
In a ceremony that included participants robed in academic regalia, a processional, a color guard, musical selections, and even a prayer from the mother of the president, Dr. Jewel J. Faison, it ended with Faison reminding the crowd that he’s just getting started.
Events held throughout the week included a First Lady’s Tea, a gospel concert, a VIP Luncheon, a Distinguished Speaker Series featuring rap superstar and entrepreneur Rick Ross and an inauguration concert featuring multi-Grammy award winning artist Babyface.
“We’re putting actions behind our aspirations,” Faison said. “We have much work left to do.”
Click to View Photo Gallery Below from The Inauguration Ceremony of
Dr. A. Zachary Faison, Jr., As The First President of Edward Waters University :