Education student takes the path less traveled

Editor's Note: This story is part of an ongoing series about student excellence at the university. To read more about some of ASU's outstanding students, click here.

Wendy Williams, a student in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University, discovered her passion for teaching while practicing karate.

She picked up the sport merely out of interest, but quickly advanced to a level that made the dojo masters take notice. She was asked to become an instructor, an experience that set the tone for her future.

“I was a high school student at the time. After my first class I thought, ‘This is it. I’m a teacher. I love to teach,’” she said.

While Williams only studied karate for six and half years, the Glendale, Ariz. native went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in secondary education from ASU. She secured a position teaching eighth grade, but discovered it was not a good fit. She decided to take a leap of faith and enroll in the Scottsdale Culinary Institute. Her interest was in patisserie and baking.

Williams worked in a Scottsdale restaurant for a bit before changing gears again. This time she took up employment with the Hilton Hotel to learn the administrative side of party planning. One day, the routine task of changing the day on her desk calendar made her reevaluate her career choice.

“It was a Shakespeare quote that said, ‘Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.’ It hit me how much I missed literature and working with kids,” she said.

So it was back to ASU to earn a master’s degree in English education. Williams was simultaneously working as a teacher high school in the Glendale Union School District. This time she loved it.

“Maybe it was because I was older and more mature, I’m not sure. I was there for seven years and loved it. It was hard to leave,” she said.

After completing her master’s degree, Williams enrolled as a doctoral student under the same concentration. For her dissertation, she has decided to pursue a new area of study. After all, a paper she wrote exploring it won honorable mention from the Literacy Research Association.

Williams is interested in the literary practices that adolescents engage in, both in and out of school, particularly the pursuit of spoken word poetry. To research this subject, Williams is spending time with a local spoken word poetry group that travels to Valley schools teaching youth. She studies their methods and how the students put their emotions into words. One of her goals is to analyze how schools might support this practice.

“In some cases, these kids are writing about abuse and difficult experiences. It’s great because they’re finding an emotional release. The group leaders are extremely honest and vulnerable as well. It creates a culture of honesty,” she said.

On the other hand, Williams said writers may not feel comfortable sharing these emotions in the classroom.

“Teachers tend to be guarded with their students and don’t want to appear vulnerable,” she said.

Williams expects to complete and defend her dissertation by spring 2015. She hopes that the path ahead of her is just as exciting as the one behind her.

“Trying new careers has enriched my life. You don’t have to have a job connected to your degree. You can always transfer the skills you’ve learned to other things.”