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Securing America’s Future:

The Power of Liberal Arts Education

Michael Williams

Assistant Professor of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Saint Vincent College (PA), Class of 2001
Michael Williams is an assistant professor of physics and a researcher in the Laboratory for Nuclear Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He worked as a postdoctoral research associate at the Imperial College in London, England, from 2008 to 2012.

Williams graduated summa cum laude from Saint Vincent College in 2001. He obtained MS and PhD in physics from Carnegie Mellon University. Williams was honored at Carnegie Mellon with the Mellon College of Science’s Guy C. Berry Graduate Research Award for excellence in research. He also won the Jefferson Laboratory Thesis Prize for nuclear physics research he did at the Thomas Jefferson Laboratory in Virginia. In 2013, Williams was the recipient of a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science early career award.
Like most 18-year-old students, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life when I started college. The liberal arts education that I received while at Saint Vincent College was perfectly suited for me at that time. My liberal arts education exposed me to a wide variety of subjects. This experience was vital in convincing me that I wanted to pursue a PhD in physics. My time at Saint Vincent College put me on the path that would eventually lead me to become a physics professor and researcher at MIT.
 
The science and mathematics courses I took at Saint Vincent College prepared me for graduate school, and many of my non-science courses have helped me in my chosen career as a physicist as well. For example, the philosophy courses I took helped me better understand human thought. This has proven to be extremely helpful in my career. 

The science and mathematics courses I took at Saint Vincent College prepared me for graduate school, and many of my non-science courses have helped me in my chosen career as a physicist as well.

 
At a more abstract level, I think the most important thing that I learned while at Saint Vincent College was that I love learning itself. The famous American physicist Richard Feynman called it “the pleasure of finding things out.” By the time I left Saint Vincent College I had not only chosen physics as a field of study, but I also had come to appreciate why I wanted to study in the first place. The latter is more important than the former and doesn’t just apply to academic study. For example, I have enjoyed learning about other cultures while visiting more than 20 countries in the past five years and while living abroad for four years.
 
I have no idea where I would be now without the liberal arts education that I received at Saint Vincent College. What I do know is that I am happy with where I am...and that I still have a lot to learn.
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