Everyone deserves a teacher who inspires them to pursue their passion. For Derek Williams, that teacher was Larry Ray. Now, Williams hopes his new full-time role in Union’s Computer Science and Math Program will allow him to be that teacher for others.
Back when Williams began college, he was unsure what to major in, but he knew he was good at math. “It was my senior year of high school when I started to see the difference,” he remembered. “All the other classes kept getting more difficult, but math stayed easy. And I know it wasn’t easy for the other students.” He started college as a pre-med major, but filled his elective slots with math classes.
“I remember Dr. Ray pulled me aside after my second calculus test,” Williams said. “It was nerve-wracking, of course. Anytime the teacher wants to see you, you think, On no! What did I do? We walked into his office and he laid it out: ‘you should really be a math major.’ I was impressionable, so I said ‘OK.’ I just kept taking more math classes, and I really, really enjoyed it.”
Though Williams majored in math rather than math education, he began tutoring and teaching while still a student. Williams credits Debbie Forshee-Sweeney, director of Union’s Teaching Learning Center, with helping set him on his current path. “She has probably been my biggest influence as an educator,” he said. “I talked to her a lot about teaching, and she was the one who pushed me to go to grad school.”
Since graduating from Union in 2013, Williams has earned a master’s in mathematics from the University of Nebraska Omaha and taught at Metropolitan Community College and Southeast Community College. For the last four years, he has also taught part-time at Union. “Forming relationships with students is hard as an adjunct,” Williams said. “Having an office and regular hours will really help. Now that I’m full-time faculty, I will be moving into more of an advisor role, and I’ll get to be with students on their full journey here at Union. That’s very exciting to me … and a little daunting.”
While math may be William’s first love, outside the classroom, he’s recently picked up some new hobbies: cooking and baking. “Finding a recipe that sounds interesting and then seeing how well you can pull it off, I mean … there can be lots of frustration along the way, but when you nail it, it feels pretty good,” he said. “I also like cooking and baking because then I have something I can share with others.” Whether it’s the thrill of solving an equation or solving a recipe, Williams is always sharing.
He looks forward to working with students, even those who have never discovered a passion for mathematics and science. “I get to be that person with the potential to make a difference for them. Hopefully, I can change some people’s minds about math and science.”
by Gabriel Sanders, sophomore English major