Acclaimed by her professors as “the model student scholar,” Eastern Kentucky University senior Aggie Williams is a living example of the power of hard work and dedication.
Williams is originally from Monrovia, Liberia, a nation on the western coast of Africa. There, she lived in a small house with 11 others, including her grandparents, parents, aunts and cousins. Williams walked with her cousins to and from school every day, and studied by candlelight, as they had no access to technology.
In 2005, her mother’s work as a missionary brought the family to the United States, where they hoped to find a better life. The transition was understandably difficult at first, in every aspect from weather to language. The family, which moved to the states in the late autumn/ early winter, quickly experienced its first snow, a stark departure from the heat back home. Williams also felt as if she had to completely re-learn English. Though English is the official language of Liberia, it varies quite a bit from American English, which made communication difficult at first.
The family quickly adapted to their new home in Louisville. Williams, especially, was awed by the difference in the education system and the plethora of opportunities before her. She immersed herself in her studies at Central High School, and was crowned Louisville Education and Employment Partnership Student of the Year upon graduation. Her hard work soon paid off in the form of several impressive scholarships, including the Ronald E. McNair Scholarship, Meredith J. Cox Scholarship, Clarence H. Gifford Scholarship, Layne-wood Endowed Scholarship, Commonwealth Minority Scholarship, Retention Scholarship and the Rodney Gross Diversity Scholarship.
“The scholarships reduced my financial burden/stress and made a way for me to focus more on my studies rather than my financial issues,” Williams reflected. “They created more interest and motivation to pursue my education.”
While Williams was humbled by the awards, she knew her work was not done yet. She continued her pattern of hard work and excellence in college, receiving EKU’s 2014 Outstanding First-Year Student Award. Since coming to Eastern, she has served as a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, Diversity Scholars Group and the African Student Association, where she has served as vice president for two years. She is also a certified peer mentor, First-Year Leader, and has worked as a student employee in the diversity office for the past three years.
It wasn’t until the summer of 2017, however, that she truly found her passion: pharmaceutical research. As part of the McNair Scholar Program, Williams was required to spend at least one summer conducting research under the direction of a mentor. Like most students, Williams was nervous at first at the prospect of doing her own research, but it didn’t take long for those feelings to change. With the help of her mentor, Dr. Lindsay Calderon, Williams spent the summer studying the efficacy of a novel chemotherapeutic agent, Pt-Mal-LHRH, in reducing breast cancer tumor growth in comparison to the drug Carboplatin.
Williams first presented her findings in August 2017 at the Ronald E. McNair Undergraduate Research Conference at the University of Buffalo in Niagara Falls, New York. In September, she presented at the Minority Access 18th Annual Conference for STEM Research in Washington D.C. She is scheduled to present at the Posters at the Capitol event in Frankfort in February 2018, and again at the University of Maryland the following month.
Williams’ summer of research and subsequent studies has inspired her to pursue a doctoral degree in biomedical sciences following her graduation from Eastern in May 2018. She hopes to work in the pharmaceutical field, along with teaching.
When she’s not busy in the laboratory, Williams finds herself volunteering at Norton’s Healthcare in Louisville, where she has spent time shadowing surgeons performing major operations, working with palliative care patients, and getting hands-on experience in the pharmacy.
As she prepares for graduation in the spring, Williams reflects on her time here at EKU. “My outlook on life has changed. I’ve grown to be more independent. I’ve experienced things that made me thankful just to be able to have an education.” To future students, she says, “It only gets harder, but it will get better. You've just got to make it through the hard stuff first.”