Inside USD

Getting to Know Your Professors: Mike Williams

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Mike Williams, PhD, is an associate professor and chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations and a 1992 USD undergraduate alumnus. Inside USD asked Professor Williams a few questions to gain a better understanding of what drives his research and instruction.

Q: You are an expert on South Africa and have spent considerable time in the country. What led to your fascination with South Africa?

I first visited South Africa during the summer of 1991. I was in South Africa touring a production of a play called “The Birthday Party” with a group of students that I had met while studying in Oxford, England. While in South Africa, I was able to talk with people about the future of their country and the conversations that I had were fascinating. Mandela had been released from prison in February 1990 and the country was still three years away from their first election. Whether the transition would be successful or end in a civil war was still unknown in 1991 and I came back to USD (I was a student here at the time) with a passion for all things Africa. In addition to visiting South Africa, I also traveled through Zimbabwe, Swaziland, and Kenya.

Q: How do you contend with a heavy teaching schedule, chairing the department and raising two young children?

To be honest, it is a tough balance but I am very fortunate to have an understanding and supporting wife (Molly). I also work with an amazing group of colleagues that have been incredibly understanding. What makes it worthwhile is that I love teaching and it is a privilege for me to represent the department as chair. Also, the work is really gratifying. It has been fun to get to talk with students that would normally not come to my office and I have learned a lot about other departments.

Q: To date, what do you feel has been your greatest accomplishment?

In terms of my career, I am incredibly proud of the South Africa study abroad program that Dr. Jim Gump and I started in 2005. Over the last two years, I have also been able to take students to Makuleke — a village in South Africa — where USD has formed a partnership with a non-profit called Sharing to Learn. With this organization, we have been developing a project in the community where we collaborate on issues related to education and civic engagement.

Q: If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

I love USD and I would want to be in any city where I could work at USD. My only other answer is that because I am a huge San Francisco Giants fan, I sometimes wish that USD was located in the Bay Area so I could have season tickets and watch my team play in person more often.

Q: What is the main lesson or take-away from your courses that you hope your students embrace?

I hope they leave my classes empowered with a sense that they have the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to be engaged citizens and to make have a positive impact in the world.

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