Faculty Spotlight

September Faculty Spotlight with Assistant Professor, Michael Steven Williams

September Faculty Spotlight

As a researcher of equity and diversity, Michael Steven Williams is right at home with the School of Public Affairs’ mission statement. We speak about the School’s diverse student body and interdisciplinary faculty, Assistant Professor William’s research, and the dangers of silence.

Though you’ve carved an educational, research, and teaching path in higher education for quite some time now you’re a relatively new faculty member at the School of Public Affairs. What do you find to be different about the atmosphere, students and opportunities here?
I love the challenge that the School of Public Affairs presents. I love teaching such a diverse student body. Not only are they racially and ethnically diverse, but they are at different points in their life and career paths. I love bringing the unique experiences of our students to bear on course content and the classroom environment, because it provides a richness to our discourse that otherwise could not exist. I also love that my faculty colleagues in the School of Public Affairs come from such diverse methodological and professional backgrounds. Economists, sociologists, political scientists and communications scholars think about the world in different ways. The different frameworks they bring to bear on problems, the different ways they go about collecting and analyzing data, even the questions that they think are important to answer are interesting to me. The willingness of the faculty to discuss and support my scholarship—while drawing on their disciplinary expertise—has already enhanced my thinking and scholarship. This is a truly interdisciplinary faculty where the avenues for inquiry and collaboration are endless. Not to mention the boundless opportunity in the city of New York itself. Anything that you want to eat, drink, or research is only a train ride away!

Tell us about your research program.
My research program broadly focuses on race, equity and diversity in American postsecondary education. Specifically, I concentrate on social psychological determinants of success as they relate to leadership development, organizational health, mentoring, and socialization of historically marginalized populations. I am concerned with the experiences of students (undergraduate, graduate, and professional), faculty, and administrators, but much of my work to date has centered on undergraduate students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, and doctoral students in the social sciences. I am also interested in institutional diversity, so a significant portion of my current research program focuses on minority serving institutions (MSIs), with emphasis on historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), and Asian American Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs). Given my teaching responsibilities, I have an emerging interest in the scholarship of quantitative pedagogy as well.

Is there anything you’ve come across in your research that you didn’t expect to find?
The most interesting thing I encounter is silence. Sometimes it is silence from students. Sometimes it is silence from administrators. Sometimes it is silence from the academic literature. So many stakeholders are important to the operation and maintenance of postsecondary education systems, but too few have their experiences systematically documented through research. While undergraduate students, presidents, and provosts are important to hear from, there are countless groups integral to the campus experience that we seldom hear from. For example, what about adjunct professors, graduate research assistants, assessment officers, directors of study abroad offices? What can we learn from their experiences? How do these groups contribute to campus culture? How can we enhance collaboration across these groups to enhance the student experience? The gaps in the research literature beg these sorts of questions.