University of Texas at Austin senior and Gateway Scholars mentor Michael Williams has traveled a long way from Corsicana, Texas, where he grew up—both figuratively and geographically. With guidance from the Gateway Scholars program staff, he overcame a fluctuating grade point average and indecision over his major—problems which dogged Williams his first two years at the university. He also began speaking at conferences and getting involved with a variety of groups including Student Government, Afrikan American Affairs and the Study Abroad Office, which led this first-generation college student to Maymesters in England and Ghana.
Now beginning his third year as a Gateway mentor, Williams tries to help students learn that they can achieve much more than they think possible. But he also approaches the mentoring process as a friend to the new students. Speaking from experience he explained that freshmen often put themselves in situations they later regret. His message to first-year students is, “You don’t come here to stop applying yourself; you continue to reach higher.”
Williams credits Gateway Executive Director Dr. Aileen Bumphus with teaching him to become more responsible. She prodded him when he missed classes and didn’t do well. He also benefitted from the support of Senior Program Coordinator Tiffany Tillis, whom he said was a mentor. Bumphus and Tillis saw leadership potential in Williams and continued to push him even when he doubted himself.
Dr. Leonard Moore, associate vice president within the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, who oversees the Longhorn Center for Academic Excellence, changed the way Williams thought. “Dr. Moore pushed me out of my comfort zone,” he said. “He made me want to learn about the diaspora of African and African American people. He made me want to see different sides of civil rights and the black power movement. He made me more aware of what it means to be black in America.”
Along the way Williams acknowledged a growing passion for education and eradicating systemic inequalities. He now has a dual major of sociology and youth education and community studies. As a McNair Scholar, he has been researching the top 10% law and what it has meant for African American males.
Williams is taking mentoring a step further by starting his own organization called Men of Excellence. With Tillis’ help, he has recruited about thirty-five mentors, set up a twelve-member executive board and begun the necessary paperwork to become a nonprofit and a student organization. “We want to welcome students from different backgrounds—minority, first-generation, low-income—to The University of Texas,” said Williams. “We are looking for students who aren’t yet leaders but those that have the potential to do great things and don’t yet know.”