I am of Black Caribbean, Dutch, French, and British heritage. I was born on the Dutch island of Aruba, and grew up on the Island of St. Lucia in Franco-British West Indies. I emigrated to the United States at the age of 19 years. I was inspired to go into my STEM field by Dr. C.P Shim who was the professor in an introductory psychology course that I took my sophomore year in college. Determined to be a biologist in general and in particular, a proto-zoologist, Dr. Shim opened up the field of human behavior and mental processes in a way that resonated with some longing for service and knowledge deep in my spirit.
A key challenge for me to overcome was access to education in my field. There were no schools (colleges or universities) in the Caribbean that offered degrees in Psychology. I needed to get to the United States, or Europe to study psychology and this represented both a logistical, legal dilemma and a financial one. To obtain a student visa required showing evidence that my parents could financial afford to pay for my education and upkeep in the United States and I had a financially impoverished background. My father took out a a bank loan on a piece of property that had been in our family for generations and used that to provide the evidence of financial savings, pay for the visa, airline ticket, and college application fees, first year tuition, and other expenses. The rest of the story is one of unfathomable optimism and faith.
My work has been unusually fulfilling. There is nothing that parallels the joy of seeing students excel; those who heretofore “hated” all things mathematical and quantitative. I teach courses in statistics and research design and have the often daunting task to lead “the reluctant and often terrified” through the process of completing original research projects. Nothing is more satisfying than learning, even years later, that the student is grateful for the experience is working in a field that requires the skills learned “at my feet” and that they are enjoying what they are accomplishing. In the past decade, leading students in research projects such as stress and cortisol activation, bullying, understanding what college students know about brain anatomy and physiology, has be extremely rewarding. Engaging in research is one thing; inspiring students to catch the vision of creating knowledge through the scientific process, keeps me coming back year after year!
There will be the exciting developments in my field in the next decade. Advances in technology and science that provided us with the means of neural imaging have broadened our horizons in the understanding of how to explain the why and how of behavior at the level of neuroanatomy and physiology. To actually see what is happening in the brain of a person solving a differential equation or telling her child that she loves him, or reading a sad story, portends not only the ability of describe the biology of behavior but also be able to begin to change some of the dynamics for the greater good.
Young people today should study the field of educational, neuro, and quantitative psychology because it is on the cusp and cutting edge of advancements in the field of neuroscience. From understanding how children learn ratios and proportions to “rewiring” the neural connections in a veteran returning with Post Traumatic Stress syndrome, the sky is the limit for what my field has to offer.
Dr. Ruth S. Williams is Professor of Psychology at Southern Adventist University.
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