Interim Dean of Cross-Cutting Programs and Emerging Opportunities and English Professor Julia Williams relates Andrew Marvell’s 1650 poem “To His Coy Mistress” to a group of budding 21st-century engineers.
“This is not an abstinence poem,” she tells students in her poetry class, as they translate it into modern English. “This is not a waiting-until-we-are-married poem. This is a let's-go poem.”
Williams is among the institute’s English professors who are known for pushing their students to develop strong written and oral communications skills that alumni say give them a distinct advantage in their careers.
“Thinking critically about a text has application to a lot of different things. You can think critically about a report you’re writing on or a proposal you have received,” explains Williams. “It’s also about finding connections with other people through music, literature, and the arts. I want my students to have rich, full, and interesting lives, and to see themselves as not merely defined by their jobs. All our classes are about developing the whole person.”
Williams’ commitment to the idea that alumni need more than superior technical skills extends to the Leadership Education and Development Program that she helps lead each school year.
The LEAD program teaches students about basic leadership and communications skills through hands-on activities.
“We approach leadership as: How do you help other people realize their potential? How do you motivate people to achieve a shared goal? Our students are very talented technical people who don’t see themselves in public service roles.”
Williams enjoys teaching at Rose-Hulman because she has the freedom to try new approaches in the classroom. She likes to bring in outside speakers and taking students to see plays in Bloomington or Chicago.
“The culture for faculty is that you get to decide what you want to do as long as it serves the students,” Williams says. “We can do a lot of things that would be more difficult at another college.”
One value Williams hopes to instill in her students is flexibility, a trait that engineers sometimes struggle with due to the discipline of their training.
“The students who have the greatest relationships are the ones who value flexibility,” she says.