Visiting lecturer in the John V. Roach Honors College, Wendy Williams, earned this year’s “Honors Professor of the Year” award.
The Honors Cabinet asked students to nominate professors who have made an impact on student lives through personal connections, teaching, research, co-curricular involvement and giving back to the university.
“This time-honored tradition has culminated in the election of some of the most inspiring and talented professors ever to teach at TCU,” said Ryker Thompson, a first-year honors student and business major.
Previous winners include Michael Chumley, assistant professor of biology; Jim Riddlesperger, professor of political science; and Giri Akkaraju, assistant professor of biology.
Students of the classes “Nature of Value: Empathy” and “Language and Identity: Gender” said they enjoy Williams’ class and teaching style.
“There is nothing that I would feel uncomfortable asking her with regards to the questions about the class or material or just guidance,” said Brandon Wood, a junior biology major enrolled in the class.
“She presents a very unique and memorable experience,” Wood said. “I’ve never had a professor actually put you in a real life situation that you need to use the concepts in a class to be successful.”
Williams said the class embodies her teaching objectives for all her classes.
“To foster intellectual curiosity, ethical leadership, empathy, service, and awareness of different perspectives,” she said, defining her teaching style and objectives.
“I cannot imagine a higher honor than to be recognized by the TCU honors students,” Williams said. “I was surprised and very touched. This award means a lot to me because it’s a students’ choice award.”
Williams received the award from one of her students, Graham McMillan, during the 51st Annual Honors Convocation in Ed Landreth Auditorium in April.
“Graham is special to me, and I hope we’ll be friends for many years to come,” she said.
McMillan, a senior political science major, said one of Williams’s most admirable traits is that she wants to hear students’ perspectives.
“She is really well liked by the students,” McMillan said. “That comes with not just a popularity factor, but also just a genuine care for her student population and their intellectual and personal growth.”
Williams is also the author of “George Eliot: Poetess,” which will be published this year.
Williams said the book is the first full-length study of Eliot’s poetry. In the book, she argues for the importance of taking into account Eliot’s poetry to gain a more complete understanding of her work as a whole and its relation to Victorian literature.
“It was through reading Eliot’s literature and writing this book that I came to appreciate the value of sympathy, what we now call “empathy” in our society, and ultimately how I came to teach a class on empathy,” Williams said.
“The really fun part about this class is the service learning,” Williams said. “Early in the semester, students form service groups, ideally matching their individual interests and talents with the needs of the service community we work with, Como Community Center.”
The Como Community Center provides after-school programs, youth sports and a variety of activities for the Lake Como community, according to their website.
Williams gives her students the opportunity to create their own learning environment giving them a lot of control in the classroom. Her classroom is often filled with laughter.
“Dr. Williams is a great professor,” said Haley Parker, a junior social work also enrolled in the class. “But the thing I appreciate the most about our classroom discussions is that she leaves the class up to the students.”
She was able to maintain a good balance of sharing knowledge and while listening to the student’s thoughts, Parker said.
“She acted more like a student in the class rather than an authoritative way,” Parker said.
In “Nature of Value: Empathy,” students are given the opportunity to share their experiences about the Como Community Center with the class. The students taught the class while Williams gave feedback making the student-teacher interactions different than most.
“Students seem to appreciate being given some control in their learning and, for the most part, they rise to the challenge,” William’s said.
For each course, Williams said she will set clear guidelines, course goals and outcomes, but will offer latitude when it comes to classroom interaction, presentations and projects.