Richard Williams

East Carolina University

2016 EXCELLENCE IN TEACHING AWARD WINNER: RICHARD WILLIAMS, East Carolina UNIVERSITY

Richard Williams, an associate professor of recreation therapy in the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies in the College of Health and Human Performance at East Carolina University, is a leader in his discipline, serving as the 2015 president-elect of the National Academy of Recreational Therapists and of the North Carolina Recreational Therapy Association. His scholarship includes work on therapy services for individuals with spinal cord injury, ethical practices in recreational therapy, and the role of the recreational therapist in public policy. During his 15 years at East Carolina University, he has led in curriculum development and delivery, developed a graduate teaching assistant seminar, and mentored students and colleagues in the use of instructional technologies.

“Good teachers,” Williams says, “can change the world in subtle yet powerful ways. When I teach the graduate student teaching seminar, I have the honor and humbling responsibility of providing guidance to novice college teachers.  Working with these students has taught me that not all good teaching happens exactly the same way.” Williams believes that teachers have to be passionate.  “Teaching my students not only lends meaning to my life, but provides me with an opportunity to improve the world.  I can only light a fire in my students if there is a fire burning in me.” Williams enjoys teaching large classes saying, “I like the challenge of keeping a big group of students engaged.”

Williams believes in using a variety of techniques both in and outside the class.  In a recent course, for example, his students helped facilitate an adaptive waterski clinic for people with physical disabilities. He believes it is necessary to create an open and social classroom environment where trust and honesty foster greater learning. Class should be fun, organized, and fair. Good teaching is a debt owed to students and to the academy. He says, “I am in a position of honor and privilege that I will not squander.  I feel incredibly lucky to have the best job in the world. “

Williams earned the BA in literature from the University of Georgia, the BS in recreation and leisure studies with an emphasis on recreation therapy at Virginia Commonwealth University, and the MS and EdD in recreation and leisure studies at the University of Georgia.

Q. The Teaching Awards were established in 1994 to underscore the importance of teaching and to encourage, identify, recognize, reward, and support good teaching within the University. What does this award mean to you?

A. Winning this award is certainly among the most, if not the most, meaningful things that I have experienced in my professional life. While both flattering and humbling, it is a particularly large honor because I know just how many terrific teachers there are here at ECU. If I were to be completely self-disclosing, I would tell you that I had to fight back tears when I heard that I had won. The award affirms the years of effort I have poured into my classes, and that affirmation is very heart-warming.

Q. What was your path into the teaching profession?

A. I stumbled upon an opportunity for a generous graduate assistantship that ultimately resulted in my decision to enroll in a graduate program. I can remember a particular moment in a stairwell where I had to choose between a job and graduate school. One of the responsibilities of the assistantship included teaching one course per semester. I was hooked on teaching almost immediately. In hindsight, taking that graduate assistantship and returning to school was one of the best decisions I have made.

Q. Besides this award, is there one particular achievement in your career that makes you especially proud?

A. I have won several teaching awards, and I am proud of each of them. However, I am particularly proud of my former students’ accomplishments. I don’t take credit for them, but it is nice to know that I had some effect on them and helped them find their paths. Hearing from a former student makes my day.  I’m proudest of their accomplishments.

Q. What teaching methods do you use to engage students?

A. I teach the most interesting material imaginable, recreational therapy, so it is an easy sell. Recreational therapists use recreation and other activities (such as stress management techniques) to help people with illnesses and disabilities gain functional skills. My students are all earnest young people who want to pick up skills that they can use to make the world a better place. Most of my classes are large, so we will spend most of our time in the classroom. However, I try to keep each class moving quickly with a variety of elements including lecture, narrative, in-class activities, guest speakers, technology, humor, and video. The thing I try to accomplish every class is to spread my enthusiasm for a topic to the students. If the students haven’t had a little fun and gained a new insight, then it wasn’t a very good class.

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