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Las Cruces resident creates five NMSU scholarships for students

On #GivingTuesday in 2017, Frances Williams started two endowed scholarships to support students at New Mexico State University. In her words, it was merely “a spark” toward #GivingTuesday in 2018 where she endowed three more scholarships.

Three women sitting together.
(From left) NMSU Library Dean Elizabeth Titus, Robbie Rivas and Frances Williams meet for the first time at NMSU’s #GivingTuesday in November 2018. Rivas received one of five endowed scholarships started by Williams.
Two people at a podium standing next to three people holding three giant checks.
Frances Williams (second from left) introduces three new scholarships she created on #GivingTuesday in November 2018 to support female NMSU students in STEM, technical trades and history.

“My mother, an immigrant from Warsaw, Poland, always told me that education is important – it’s second to God,” Williams said. “Without it, you’re not going anywhere, and that’s why I wanted to support these students.”

This allegiance to NMSU started when Williams, a Brooklyn native, moved to Las Cruces in 1952. Her career in government had just begun, leading her to White Sands Missile Range where she served as one of few women in a male-dominated industry. While working as a logistician and the accountable property officer for aircraft, combat and commercial vehicles spare parts, she traveled to the Pentagon for a meeting.

“When I walked in the meeting room full of men, they told me, ‘Oh, the conference for secretaries is down the hallway,’ and I corrected them and said, ‘Excuse me. I’m not a secretary. I’m the accountable property officer’,” Williams said.

Years of proving herself earned her one of the highest-ranking administrative positions for women at that time – the director of equal employment opportunity – where she developed the range’s first affirmative action plan for women that became a model for other federal agencies.

Leading a life of “trouble-making,” as she calls it, helped change the culture like this around her. An attempt was made to arrest her while she was receiving dental treatment from an African-American dentist once, and she marched to pass New Mexico’s equal rights amendment that eventually overturned dozens of gender-based laws.

“There’s something in me – a compulsion in me to do something when I see injustice,” she said.

Today, although she knows women’s rights have come a long way, Williams believes more must be done, and she wants to help by empowering NMSU students. All three of her recent scholarships, which are all named after her children and daughter-in-law, show preference to female students and incentivize their educational pursuit in the fields of STEM, technical trades and history.

Her original endowment, the Frances Williams Endowed Scholarship, focuses on helping library student-employees who also major in history or study in NMSU’s Creative Media Institute. This past fall, Robbie Rivas received this scholarship and met Williams for the first time at #GivingTuesday.

“We discussed our personal backgrounds, which are in some ways very similar,” said Rivas, who is a junior at NMSU. “She encouraged me to stay strong in my education and to not let anyone tell me I couldn’t just because I am a woman. She’s really helping me finance my dreams.”

One student at a time, Williams hopes to continue being “a spark” for Aggies, and many at NMSU are thankful.

“Frances Williams is an extraordinary woman who, throughout her life, has made a difference in so many individuals’ lives,” said Elizabeth Titus, dean of the NMSU library. “She has generously supported the NMSU library, and most recently, we have been honored to have her establish a student library employee scholarship. She touches the hearts of many with her kindness, and she is a cherished member of the NMSU family.”