Engineering Graduate Les Williams: A Technology Leader With a Flair
for Helping People
2, 2000 -- Running his hand into his pocket, Leslie
Williams whips out a bright orange and blue Dr. Seuss hat. "I wore
this on the Lawn to encourage students to come to tonight's "Reflection
on Complexion" forum.
May the colorful Williams will graduate from the University of Virginia
with the distinction of being not only a well-rounded engineer but
also one with a dramatic flair--as well as a love for volunteering.
honor student from northern Virginia, he epitomizes the phrase "to
whom much is given, much is required."
would be wasteful not to give back," he said. "I feel it's
my responsibility to excel and to give back to other black males."
the "Reflection on Complexion" forum, an annual gathering to discuss
racial issues, Williams incorporates humor, such as donning the
Seuss hat, to ease tension during frank discussions. His creativity
has helped draw more than 400 students of varying backgrounds to
the forums. Because they encourage openness in a non-threatening
environment, the talks are a popular attraction. "This huge student
gathering is one of the rare occasions where many come together
to discuss issues affecting us all," said Sylvia Terry, associate
dean in the Office of
forums have been a significant contribution to the University, said
Timothy C. Scott, associate professor of engineering.
the engineering school's
rigorous and demanding program, Williams strives for fulfilling
experiences outside the classroom. "I think engineers should be
well-rounded individuals with the ability to interact with anyone,
he said. "There is no excuse for me not making the most of a well-rounded
1998 Williams co-founded Brothers United Celebrating Knowledge and
Success (BUCKS) to encourage U.Va. students to help African-American
youths. With some financial support from the city of Charlottesville,
Williams and other BUCKS members now tutor youths in computer labs
at three low-income housing complexes in Charlottesville.
award-winning Peer Advisor program is one of Williams' favorite
program pairs African-American students who are academically successful
and involved in extracurricular activities with first-year entering
and transfer students.
a peer advisor for the past three years, Williams often worked late
at night and gave up fall breaks to study with other students. "I
loved every minute of it," he said.
is a role model to advisees," Terry said. "He has not allowed the
engineering field to consume him so that he's unable to connect
with all University students."
socializing on Rugby Road or mentoring on Hardy Drive, Williams
is very much a "people" person and achieves his best successes in
motivating and working with others. Because of his people skills,
he has chosen to work in plays and similar activities. Because he
is bright, he's able to divide himself between a number of activities
that are not traditional.
my academic schedule and my extracurricular activities keeps me
centered," Williams said. During his toughest semester, while carrying
18 hours and leaving little time for sleep, Williams played Mercutio
in the highly acclaimed Spectrum Theatre production of "Romeo and
Juliet." The multicultural student production, which kept the original
dialogue, but focused on campus issues such as interracial dating
and self-segregation, was a hit in the national press. For his dramatic
performance, Williams was featured on "CBS News: Eye on America
with Dan Rather." For his academic performance, he ended the semester
with a 3.3 grade point average.
also performed in the production, "Voices of the Class," which brings
to life a selection of essays written by entering first-year students.
He used his own example as an African-American student at the mostly
white Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in
Northern Virginia to reflect the feelings of alienation experienced
by many black first-year students. The play lead to a feature story
in The Washington Post.
loves to laugh. "Not only do I like to laugh at myself, but also
I like to hear others laugh at me. It makes me feel like I am brightening
someone else's day, and that makes me feel better as a person."
said he's been able to deal with tough times by adhering to advice
from his grandmother. "Always treat people with respect, even if
they do not reciprocate."
it has worked. During his four-year collegiate experience, Williams
has netted many honors and awards. This spring he received theVirginia
Engineering Foundation's Outstanding Student Award. It was announced
this week that he will receive the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award
during Valediction Exercises on May 20. The award recognizes excellence
of character and service to humanity.
is a Rodman Scholar, one of a highly motivated group of student
engineers who, in addition to meeting other requirements, must design
and create an original project. He was nominated for a Rhodes Scholarship
and inducted into the Raven Society. Other awards include membership
in the IMP Society and the National Society of Black Engineers.
graduation, Williams will begin his engineering career at Ford Motor
Co. in Detroit, but not without keeping his ties to the theater.
Whether he settles in as an engineer or as an actor, one thing is
certain -- Les Williams will always be about helping people.
an interview, Les Williams may be reached at (804) 243-0847 or at
Katherine Jackson, (804) 924-3629