Student Spotlight: Sierra Joy Williams C’22

Sierra Joy Williams C’22                                 

What attracted you to Drew?

What most attracted me to Drew was its science department. I remember being a freshman and looking at all of the professors, science courses, and programs like RISE and realizing that this school has a lot more to offer in the sciences than any other liberal arts college I was looking at. Of course, once visiting Drew, I was immediately drawn to and fell in love with the entirety of the Forest – from Zuck Arboretum to Hepburn Woods, the Forest is incredibly unique to and vitally important to the culture and education not only on campus but within Madison township as well.

Did you know what you wanted to major in when you started at Drew? What made you choose Biology as your major and History and Art History as your minors?

I always knew I wanted to be a scientist as long as I could remember, so declaring a major in biology just felt natural to me, as I have always been in love with learning more about all of the various organisms that make up our world.

On the other hand, I never knew that I wanted to minor in anything at all, but now I am a double minor in History and Art History. I only really became interested in these subjects when I started taking honors courses with Art History Professor Dr. Rita Keane and French Professor Dr. Marie-Pascale Pieretti. Because of their wonderful teaching styles, I got inspired to learn more about not only art, but history as a whole.

Did you have an idea of a dream job when you started at Drew?

Before coming to Drew, I always assumed I wanted to become a science teacher at a middle school or high school level. But now, after working with Biology Professor Dr. Tammy Windfelder over the summer, I have completely committed to the idea of becoming a field researcher, specifically in animal behavior and conservation. Of course, the love of teaching never disappears, but now I have a bigger goal of becoming a professor at a university level!

Have you done any internships?

I have done various internships – my most recent internship that just ended was with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Science (NJDEP). I worked with a research scientist, Robert Newby, to study dangerous cyanotoxins and cyanobacteria in New Jersey waters specifically, but I also did literature reviews focusing on worldwide cyanotoxin issues.

At Drew, I was an intern for Makana Agcaoili, Associate Director of Student Engagement & Hall Director, over the summer, designing a Teaching Assistant Training Manual that can be used to train future Teaching Assistants for Drew 110, LAUNCH. During that same summer, I was also a part of Drew Summer Science Institute (DSSI) helping Dr. Tammy Windfelder with her long-term small mammal research and I designed my own research project studying chipmunk stress responses on and off of campus!

Here’s a picture of one of the super cute chipmunks I was studying! Don’t worry, we release them back into the wild!

Do you have any mentors at Drew?

Yes! My mentors at Drew are definitely Dr. Tammy Windfelder, Prof. Paris Scarano, Art History Professors Dr. Peggy Kuntz, and Dr. Rita Keane. All of these professors have helped me understand more about the fields I am planning on working in, helped me understand more about myself as a student and individual, and are people I always go to for trustworthy and honest advice in my personal and academic life.

Have you studied abroad? Done any short, long, or nycTRECs?

I participated in the 2020 Ireland shortTrec, and honestly that shortTrec seems like it was so long ago because it ended just before the COVID19 pandemic began. The Ireland shortTrec is history based, so I learned a lot about the very obvious points of history, like the famine, but also got to explore the history of the various towns that we visited as well.

My favorite part about the Ireland shortTrec was definitely the hiking trips we did. Although this shortTREC does seem like centuries ago, I still have distinct memories of the view from the top of Sliabh Liag, which is a mountain in Donegal. That one mountain made me fall in love with Ireland and I have been planning on going back as soon as possible (right now my plan is to go back the summer after graduation!) just to experience nature, the kindness of the people, and to explore more on my own.

Here’s one picture I took that definitely is a bad representation of the absolutely stunning view!

What issue in the world means the most to you?

Global climate change is definitely the one issue in the world that means the most to me. Climate change not only affects our weather, but also leads to hundreds of plant and animal extinctions every year and disproportionately negatively affects people in poorer areas of the world. Because this issue is so important to me, I am actively pursuing to get involved in the conservation side of things. Even if we, as a globe, start fixing the environmental issues we caused, plants and animals are still going to be negatively affected for years to come – so learning how to best conserve them is extremely vital.

What are a few of your favorite memories of Drew? 

A lot of my favorite memories of Drew involve just being with my friends. My most recent favorite memory is when Tipple Pond reformed due to Hurricane Ida and meeting new Drew students at the pond and making new friends! Some of my other favorite memories include running Pagan Society Events with my favorite board members (Sam H. and Olivia T.) or late night “Dance Moms” binges with my suite mates!

How has your identity as a First-Generation college student affected your journey at Drew?

Being a First Generation student definitely has its challenges. It can be daunting to do anything in higher education as you do not really have anyone in your immediate family to give you advice or to guide you. Instead you have to rely on academic peers and advisors, and it can be difficult to reach out to those people if you want more personal advice.

What advice would you give students who are just starting out that you wish you had when you started?

My number one piece of advice: no one cares! You can dress how you want, buy whatever notebooks you want, take whatever classes you want, eat whatever you want – you can do what YOU want! You are your own person, and if you’re afraid of people judging you – most of the time they do not care because they’re worried about themselves. So, no one cares, do what you want to do, just be respectful of others!

What are your career goals? Where do you hope to be in 5 years?

I am currently pursuing graduate PhD programs in biology. In five years I hope to be finishing up my PhD and either pursuing a Post Doctorate degree, getting a job as a professor at a university, or continuing my research!

Are there any fun fact (s) you would like to share?

I have two different pairs of Uno Card earrings! 🙂

I can understand and read some Spanish and Italian!

Posted by Yasmin Acosta
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