Damon P. Williams (IE 2002) is a senior lecturer in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE) and has won numerous teaching awards since he joined ISyE as a faculty member in 2012. A charismatic and demanding professor, Williams has a unique perspective stemming from his own years of walking ISyE’s halls as an undergraduate. He is passionate about enhancing the student experience and has created a variety of programs to support students, including at-risk advising and the ISyE tutoring center, to name a few. In fall 2021, the Stewart School brought together many of Williams’ programs within the newly launched Center for Academics, Success, and Equity (CASE), an interdisciplinary center designed to encourage academic growth, professional development, and inclusivity for all of ISyE’s constituents.
ISyE is the largest program of its kind in the nation, which contributes to its longstanding No. 1 ranking. This size also provides countless resources to its students, faculty, alumni, and staff, such as academic and industry collaborations, networking opportunities, diverse career opportunities, and access to cutting-edge research. However, with more than 6,000 students in the School’s many programs, it can be difficult for some to navigate.
“We created the Center to foster connection and interaction,” said Williams, who also serves as CASE’s director. “There are so many points at which our various groups need to interact with each other, so we really wanted to build community — with this great push that Georgia Tech has for diversity, equity, and inclusion — while supporting students academically and professionally, and bring all our programs together into one place.”
On the academic side, CASE provides student support through its tutoring center and risk advising program. “All students, including those who are struggling academically, should have a great college experience,” Williams said. “While they may not be in the top 10% of their class, it doesn’t mean they can’t get a good education, have a successful career, and feel supported and connected during their time at the Institute.”
But what really sets CASE apart from other centers on campus is its focus on success and equity, in addition to academics. For students, this includes professional development opportunities and workshops to prepare them for the job market. There are currently two student success workshops each year, and Williams hopes to expand this to a total of six in the 2021-22 academic year.
“Our students want more,” said Williams. “They want to learn how to successfully complete a case interview to get into consulting after graduation. So we have sessions scheduled with representatives from top consulting firms to run mock case interviews and guide them on the process. But students also want to improve their soft skills and learn how to network. We’re going to add additional sessions to provide them with these tools as well.”
The Center also launched MentIEs, a mentoring program that pairs ISyE alumni with current students to provide real-world insight and advice complementing students’ academic experience. The pilot program launched in Spring 2021 with 20 mentors and 60 mentees and was a resounding success. Williams and his team plan to double those numbers this year and beyond.
CASE’s equity initiatives include several activities promoting equality in ISyE while providing sanctuary for our most vulnerable students and the chance to be heard. The team is also working to increase the minority and female student pipeline and improve diversity within the School and its programs.
“We’re working hard to develop relationships with top-tier academic institutions across the country to help identify high-quality potential graduate students or future faculty who are underrepresented minorities or women,” said Williams. “We want to make sure they know about our programs and know when we have open faculty positions so we can get those applications up.”
While CASE is in its inaugural year, Williams has big plans for the future.
“My goal is that within five years, every single member of our community — faculty, staff, students, and alumni — is touched in an academic year by something that CASE does,” Williams said. “And I want everyone in the ISyE network to quintuple individual networks with members of the other groups.”
“I want us to not only be the No. 1 academic industrial engineering department in the nation, but also the No. 1 industrial engineering community in the nation,” he added.
These are lofty goals, but if you have ever personally met Williams, you know he will most certainly make them happen.