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PYSK: Jeffrey R. Williams

PYSK: Jeffrey R. Williams

University of Missouri-Columbia

Director of Access and Urban Outreach

Co-Chair, Columbia Vision Committee

AGE: 53

JOB DESCRIPTION: As director of Access and Urban Outreach, I work to foster a college-going culture among groups that are underrepresented on college campuses. This includes minorities and others from under-resourced communities. I am responsible for summer programs and pre-college outreach initiatives that enable students and their families to understand the value of a college education and to view college as an attainable goal.

YEARS LIVED IN COLUMBIA: Split between two stays: 10. I was here from 1990 to 1994 as a doctoral student and returned in 2000 as a faculty member.


EDUCATION: Bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in English from the University of Missouri-Kansas City; doctorate in English from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Co-chair of Columbia Vision Committee; board chairman of Boone County Community Partnership; immediate past president of Minority Men’s Network; member of Achievement Gap Task Force; member of Leadership Columbia, 2001; member of Leadership Columbia Steering Committee, 2002-2003.

PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND: Before assuming my current duties, I was a faculty member in the English Department, teaching American and African American literature. I previously taught at the University of Memphis and Central Missouri State University. Prior to teaching college, I supervised production operations at Hallmark Cards, Inc.

A COLUMBIA BUSINESSPERSON I ADMIRE AND WHY: In the strictest sense of the word, Mr. Eliot Battle is not a businessman. He retired as director of guidance for Columbia Public Schools. But in many ways, Mr. Battle’s role as a civil rights pioneer and as a leader in both the black and white communities here transcends such distinctions. He remains an active public presence in the city, and he has worked with the Chamber of Commerce and on countless boards. He is the model of civic engagement.

WHY I’M PASSIONATE ABOUT MY JOB: I am passionate about the power of education to positively impact people’s lives. I look at my own trajectory in life, from public housing and public aid to a professorship at a major research university, and wonder if the possibility for social mobility still exists for youngsters from less affluent circumstances.

IF I WEREN’T DOING THIS FOR ALIVING: I would have become either a civil rights lawyer or a teacher.

BIGGEST CAREER OBSTACLE I’VE OVERCOME AND HOW: Going back to school in my early 30s to make the transition from corporate America to academe

A FAVORITE RECENT PROJECT: Working collaboratively with Columbia Public Schools on the MAC Scholars Summer Academy. My wife coordinates the summer program for CPS, so I often wonder if I’m working for her! Maybe that has been my biggest career obstacle!

WHAT PEOPLE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THIS PROFESSION: The rewards of this profession are often intrinsic, but every so often, students let you know that you’ve had a positive impact on their thinking. Those moments are exhilarating!

WHAT I DO FOR FUN: In addition to working out, I’m a bit of sports junkie. I love this time of the year: The World Series, college football, pro football, college basketball, pro basketball… What could be better?

FAMILY: My wife, Sharon, a teacher with Columbia Public Schools; daughter India, 28; son Robbin, 24; and daughter Rebecca, 22

FAVORITE PLACE IN COLUMBIA: The Student Recreation Center here on campus, where I work out most mornings. It’s a state-of-the-art facility with TV monitors galore. I can watch SportsCenter and CNN all at once! I also see enough music videos to stay reasonably current with my students.

ACCOMPLISHMENT I’M MOST PROUD OF: I’m most proud of my kids’ accomplishments. India graduated from the journalism school here at MU, Robbin graduated from Amherst College, and Becky is a senior at Rhodes College. All three are achievement oriented and committed to social justice.

MOST PEOPLE DON’T KNOW THAT: People react in curious ways when they learn that I go to the gym four to five days a week at 5:30 a.m. It’s a holdover from my days as a Marine officer.

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