Final Five

With Damon P. Williams, minister, Providence Missionary Baptist Church, College Park, Georgia

When he’s not serving as a part-time lecturer at Georgia Tech’s Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering, Damon P. WilliamsDamon P. Williams, minister, Providence Missionary Baptist Church, College Park, Georgia is a full-time minister. With a doctoral degree in engineering and a master’s degree in divinity, Williams aims to inspire his students as well as his church members to find purpose in their lives.

What led you to become an industrial engineer?

As a freshman at Georgia Tech, I knew I wanted to do mathematics, and a lot of it. In talking with faculty and other students about the different engineering disciplines, I found industrial engineering to be the most closely tied to applied mathematics. I loved the idea of using math to solve real-world problems. Then I learned that the faculty in our department used mathematical models to predict which college basketball team would win the NCAA Tournament and I was hooked.

What prompted you to earn a master’s degree in divinity?

While earning my Ph.D. at the University of Michigan, I felt called to the ministry to serve in a Christian church. I was connected with a church in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that truly poured into me, discipled me and helped me to lay a strong foundation of faith in my life and for my family. After receiving my Ph.D., I felt led to further my education in theological studies in order to have the academic training necessary to serve the church.

Are there similarities between your classroom and church experiences?

In both contexts I am a servant, leader and a teacher. I have a responsibility to support the academic and professional maturation of students at Georgia Tech, just as I have a responsibility to support the spiritual maturation of the members of my church. In both settings, I have an opportunity to watch people set and achieve their goals and reach beyond the potential they originally believed they had. I get to be a part of that growth and, believe me, it is very fulfilling work.

How do you approach teaching industrial engineering at the college level?

I try to put myself in the position of the learner and imagine that I am seeing these concepts for the first time. I ask the students a lot of Damon P. Williams, minister, Providence Missionary Baptist Church, College Park, Georgiaquestions and send them to the board so I can see their thought processes and learn how they are engaging with the material. Once I have a greater understanding of where they are and how they are processing, I feel that I can be more effective in bringing them to a level of mastery. I also try to approach teaching with a lot of energy and excitement about the work. As the leader, if I am not excited about and engaged with what we are doing, how can I expect my students to be? I have learned that a motivated student will give me 100 percent effort, and that’s what makes the classroom experience enjoyable for me.

How do you balance being a pastor and a professor?

This is tough. At times, it feels like I have two full-time jobs. However, the old saying is true that “if you love what you do you will never work a day in your life.” I love my students at Georgia Tech and working with them. I love my members at Providence and growing with them. So I try to give them both the best that I have. I balance them through the support of my family. My wife, Khalia, and my 1-year-old son, Thomas, keep me balanced and energized. They help me put everything in perspective. My son has a look that reminds me not to stress because he’s not stressed! My wife has a highly demanding job as well, so she is great at ensuring we put family first, take breaks when needed by exploring all that Atlanta has to offer, and taking frequent minivacations throughout the year.

– Interview by Cassandra Johnson