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“Freedom to Focus”

Now a mechanical engineering Ph.D. student at the University of Notre Dame, HBCU Fellow and Sustainability Management alum Hezekiah Williams graduated from Jackson State University in 2021 with a B.A. in Bioengineering and Biomedical Engineering. His latest aspiration? To become a defense contractor for the United States military. In our interview, Williams discusses how his academic and professional journey flourished with the help of the Columbia HBCU Fellowship program.


Tell us about your career journey. How has it been influenced by your experience in the Columbia HBCU Fellowship program?

My professional path has catapulted to a higher level. Not only was I pushed to become an active member of the SPS student body, but I was also financially supported by the fellowship. This gave me the freedom to focus on my academics and expand my network. I gained real-life work experience in class through interactive case studies. In my Sustainability Management course, Professor George Sarrinikolaou had us identify a sustainability problem with the infrastructure of New York City, investigate it, and then explore potential solutions. We then wrote memos to Mayor Eric Adams stating the problem and proposing possible solutions. In my Cost Benefit Analysis class, Associate Director and Professor Satyajit Bose taught us about the theory and practicality of economic exercises and financial contingencies. 

I applied nearly all of the techniques I gained in these courses to my internship last summer, which I landed through the HBCU Fellowship. I worked as both a sustainability manager and engineer in the Mechanical Engineering Lab at Notre Dame. 

At Columbia SPS, I gained a wealth of connections and life experience in my prospective field—both as a sustainability manager and as a young Black scholar.

How has the value of service, taught in the program, impacted your desire to give back? 

SPS Senior Associate Dean of Student Affairs Zelon Crawford and the entire fellowship team pushed us to serve. Not only because it intrinsically provides a more holistic worldview, but also because it exposes us to walks of life we would not have encountered otherwise. 

I was the SPS Student Government (SPSSG) program representative for the Sustainability Management program, the SPSSG Diversity Ambassador to the Columbia SPS DEIA Committee, and pro-forma SPSSG DEIA Consultants Group Chair. My main responsibilities were to facilitate day-to-day operations for students and represent the Sustainability Management program and SPS student body in the areas of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.

I can honestly say serving on campus provided me with a more precise awareness of my duty to give the same way in which I was given. The fellowship motivated me to be more intentional about incorporating service into my daily life, and I am doing that by mentoring future Black engineers.

What was the most important thing you learned at Columbia?

Patience. My experiences before taught me to think that if I push hard enough, the obstacle will move. That’s very toxic and very tiring. However, at Columbia, I was supplied with the peace of mind that I can rely on my various teams to collectively accomplish whatever task we are given. 

Everyone is different, with different talents and different capabilities. I have learned to lean into those capabilities and push my teammates (as they push me), so that we can capitalize on our shared interests and integrate our respective backgrounds to improve our Columbia community.

Learn more about the Columbia SPS HBCU Fellowship Program

The Columbia University M.S. in Sustainability Management provides students with cutting-edge policy and management tools they can use to help public and private organizations and governments address environmental impacts and risks, pollution control, and remediation to achieve sustainability. The program is customized for working professionals and is offered as both a full- and part-time course of study.

The Sustainability Management application deadline for fall 2023 is May 15, 2023. Learn more here.