By Barry Waldman
Andrew Williams is the classic American success story and it seems to have led inevitably to The Citadel. Dr. Williams took the reigns as dean of the School of Engineering on July 1st, but before he drove his family halfway across the country from his home in Kansas, he spoke to the Lowcountry Graduate Center about his plans for the school and his path here.
At the top of Dr. Williams’s agenda are two things: (1) a new state-of-the-art engineering building that can do justice to high caliber faculty and students at The Citadel, and (2) a diversified student body and faculty.
His own daughters are engineers and he worked for a time at Spellman College, a women’s Historically Black College and University (HBCU). The son of an African American father and Korean mother, he is attuned to the need to provide opportunities to all, and the value of many voices on one campus.
The Circuitous Road to The Citadel
Dr. Williams was born at Fort Riley, Kansas, where his father served in the U.S. Army after stints in WWII and the Korean War. At a time when African American men had few opportunities to gain leadership skills and see the world, the military provided a step ladder to success for the elder Williams.
Immediately following his army service, Dr. Williams’s father got a job as a garbage collector and later in a recreational vehicle manufacturing plant. The family of six children and two adults lived in a two-bedroom trailer, with the youngest child, Andrew, sleeping in a cardboard box on the floor as a baby.
That rough start succumbed to a fervent belief in the power of education, propelling all six children to post-graduate degrees and professional careers. The family also maintained its military connections with Andrew’s brother serving as an officer in the Air Force and nephew in the Army.
Star Wars and Lost in Space
Engineering was always the youngest child’s passion, growing up watching Star Wars and Lost in Space, and musing about the power of a computer inside a robot. Dr. Williams saw the power of engineering up close when it saved the life of his nephew in an engineering-delayed IED explosion beneath the Humvee in which he was riding.
Dr. Williams’s distinguished academic career includes a bachelor’s in electrical engineering from the University of Kansas; a Master of Science (M.S.) in electrical and computer engineering from Marquette; a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, with an emphasis in artificial intelligence from Kansas; and an M.B.A. from Rockhurst University in Kansas City. He founded the Humanoid Engineering and Intelligent Robotics Lab at Marquette, wrote a book about building robots with the first all-female African American RoboCup team, and worked in the private sector at Apple, G.E. Medical Systems, and Allied Signal Aerospace. He comes to The Citadel from his role as Associate Dean at the University of Kansas School of Engineering and brings expertise in A.I., database systems, robotics, machine learning and neural networks, and object-oriented engineering.
“Dr. Williams is an accomplished administrator and scholar… He is a strategic financial planner who has helped raise approximately $29 million in grants and support for education and research from organizations including Apple, Boeing, GE, GM, Google, IBM, NASA, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation and the National Security Agency (NSA).”Dr. Sally Selden, Provost of The Citadel
Taking On a Thriving Citadel Engineering Program
Recognizing that he comes to an engineering program ranked in the top 25 nationally (#2 in the South), by U.S. News & World Report, Dr. Andrew Williams believes his primary objective is to build on something that is already great. A former Boeing faculty fellow, he sees his role as a conduit between the school and industry, and government and the public to build collaborations that benefit everyone.
“My priority will be to help faculty and students connect more with local industry and raise appreciation of The Citadel for its engineering contributions,” he said. “I want to meet as many government leaders as possible to let them know the great things The Citadel is doing in engineering workforce development. I want to meet and partner with companies. I have taught students some A.I. algorithms for driverless cars, so I want to meet the auto industry people. And, I want to meet with business and community leaders outside of engineering in order to strengthen the relationships they have with The Citadel. If The Citadel could build a new state-of-the-art engineering building, we could help grow the engineering workforce for companies in South Carolina.”
The Ocean, Seafood, and the Draw of a Tourist City
Dr. Williams appreciates the synergistic connections between engineering and the humanities, and between engineering and business. He appreciates how the military college of South Carolina produces well-rounded engineers who know how to collaborate and translate math into real-world value. He, and apparently The Citadel’s leadership, believes he will fit in.
“I am here to help people and organizations reach their full potential. I think of myself as an innovator, and I’m creative with respect to what can be done within the boundaries of discipline and regimen,” he said. “So it is exciting to see what will happen.”
Coming from the Midwest, Dr. Williams is looking forward to the warm weather, the ocean and the seafood, and all of Charleston’s many charms, but his wife is concerned about what to do when a hurricane comes. She will get her answer soon enough.
Even before leaving Kansas, the couple had banked their first big Charleston perk: their young adult daughters and son had already committed to coming for an unexpected visit on July 4th weekend.