Julia Williams Helps Students Expand Cultural Vision

Rose-Hulman English Professor Julia Williams, PhD, 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 claim gives them a distinct advantage in their careers.

Williams Teaching

Helping Student Think Critically: English Professor Julia Williams, PhD, is among faculty in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences who are known for pushing their students to develop strong written and oral communications skills. (Photo by Shawn Spence)

“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, a member of the Rose-Hulman faculty for 21 years. “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 Advancement Program that she helps lead each school year. The program teaches groups of students about basic leadership and communications skills through hands-on activities.

“This program bears fruit in our competition teams and service groups,” Williams says. “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.”

Leading by example, Williams is executive director of Rose-Hulman’s Office of Institutional Research, Planning, and Assessment, and has completing a term as president of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers’ Professional Communications Society. She received the Rose-Hulman Board of Trustees Outstanding Scholar Award for creating and implementing the RosE Portfolio System, an online portfolio assessment tool that is still in use today as the RosEvaluation Tool. She has also helps organize a Making Academic Change Happen conference for annually on campus, and recently was invited to be a visiting professor at Malaysia’s Universiti Teknologi.

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.