By her own account, Dr. Krystal L. Williams admittedly took an “indirect route” to her post as an assistant professor in the College of Education at The University of Alabama.
“I’m fairly new to the academic ranks,” says Williams, a native of Fort Worth, Texas, who earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in mathematics from Clark-Atlanta University before eventually securing a Ph.D. in higher education from the University of Michigan.
Along the way, Williams has had a diverse career, including conducting research for the Navy, pursuing a post-doctoral fellowship at the Educational Testing Service (ETS) and honing her research interests in historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) while working for the United Negro College Fund’s Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute.
It was during her time at UNCF that Williams — an alum of an HBCU — “really started thinking about what I wanted my research career to look like.”
She went on the job market and in 2016, landed a tenure-track position at the University of Alabama.
“During our initial meeting, I was impressed by her professionalism, research acumen and passion about her scholarship so I was delighted by her decision to join our faculty,” says Dr. Angela D. Benson, a professor of instructional technology and Fulbright scholar. “She is a true asset to our department and an exemplary early career scholar in the three key pillars of faculty work — research, teaching and service.”
Indeed, Williams is making a name for herself largely for her groundbreaking research on HBCU students’ experiences in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Her research trajectory also focuses on the intersection of race, equity and educational policy issues at large. In the process, she is getting a better understanding of how Black students at HBCUs generally produce 20 to 25 percent of undergraduate degrees in science. These institutions, she adds, can be highlighted for their best practices and can inform diversity efforts at other predominantly White institutions.
“My work positions these institutions in non-deficit ways purposely,” says Williams, who hails from a family of HBCU graduates and adds that HBCUs are not monolithic. “They’re not all the same. There is a lot of diversity among HBCUs.”
Her personal experience attending an HBCU and working at an advocacy organization for HBCUs, provided a bird’s-eye view that has allowed her to illuminate “the benefits and assets of these institutions” in her research.
For now, Williams is enjoying her time at the University of Alabama and living in a state that has a large number of HBCUs.
“It’s been a good fit,” she says, adding that her colleagues provide great synergy and she has collaborated with colleague Dr. Steve D. Mobley, Jr. on co-teaching a graduate course focused on HBCUs.
Williams — who is open to the possibility of becoming a president of an HBCU in a second career — says that she is encouraged by the enormous growth of HBCUs across the years. But she also has reason to be concerned.
“I’m hopeful about the trajectory, but I am a little bit worried, given the state of higher education in general right now that presents [a] new challenge for all institutions, particularly smaller institutions that have lower endowments and are less resourced,” says Williams. “I’m hopeful we will all make it through this pandemic together, but I do recognize that there are some financial challenges that HBCUs are experiencing that may be unique to that sector of higher education.”
A productive scholar, Williams finds time to write daily, usually with other junior faculty like Dr. Brian Burt, a 2019 Diverse Emerging Scholar.
“We both make time to write together,” says Williams. “Having good colleagues is awesome, especially when you can have peers who are similarly positioned on the tenure-track to provide social support and encouragement. That has been very helpful for me.”
Krystal L. Williams
Title: Assistant Professor of Higher Education, The University of Alabama
Education: B.S. and M.S., Clark Atlanta University, mathematics; Ph.D., higher education, the University of Michigan
Career mentors: Dr. Philip Bowman, University of Michigan; Dr. William Smith, University of Utah; Dr. Frankie Santos Laanan, University of Alabama.
Words of wisdom/advice for new faculty members: “Have some clarity about what your research agenda is and stick to that.”
This article originally appeared in the January 21, 2021 edition of Diverse and is one in a series of profiles about this year’s 2021 Emerging Scholars. Read about all of them here.