Before Hitting the Road in Retirement, Keith Williams Wrapping Up Final Year of Teaching at Sandburg

  Aaron Frey
  Wednesday, April 22, 2020 1:30 PM
  Campus News

Galesburg, IL

Keith Williams had spent the early part of his working life as a photo finisher and financial planner when a friend handed him a book called “What Color is Your Parachute?”.

Richard N. Bolles’ job-hunting guide included a self-analysis for the reader to design their career and life choices around the things they’re most passionate about and their skills that were most transferable.

“If somebody would have asked me all the way up through age 40 what I wanted to do, teaching wasn't on the list,” Williams said. “When I started looking at those things that I had done already, the part that I really enjoyed the most was the element where I was teaching people something, helping them do their jobs better or helping them learn more about finances.”

It led him to a career of nearly 25 years as a college instructor. As Community College Month enters its final week, Williams is reaching the final few weeks of his teaching career. Williams will retire at the end of this semester from his position as coordinator of Carl Sandburg College’s business programs and assistant professor of economics and business administration.

“The attitude at a community college like Sandburg is we're there for you,” said Williams, who has spent 17 years at Sandburg. “Our purpose, our main focus is your education and trying to help you improve.”

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Williams’ last lessons are different than he ever could have imagined. Rather than standing in front of a classroom full of students, he’s been in front of his computer at home doing live video lectures.

“I was kind of feeling like, ‘Oh, I won't get the chance to say goodbye to anybody,’ and I really enjoy the interaction with the students. That's what keeps me going. It feels like I'm just kind of fading away, but as more time passes, I'm getting over that,” Williams said. “I'm still on a schedule. In a lot of ways, it feels like I'm still working. I’m just doing it from home.”

Teaching remotely also helped Williams realize how much the landscape and capability of education has changed since he started teaching.

“Not just how we have to use it, but also how the students have changed with it as well,” Williams said. “You really can't just do what I used to do 20 years ago.”

Williams was an adjunct instructor at Sauk Valley Community College for a few years in the mid-1990s when he and his wife Bonnie, a family practice physician, decided to look for a place where he could work full-time while she worked part-time. They found it in Galesburg, and Williams started at Sandburg in the fall of 1999. He later spent four years teaching at Monmouth College before returning to Sandburg in the fall of 2012.

“This is just a better fit for me,” Williams said. “I live in Galesburg, just a couple of minutes away from the campus. And one of the things I missed was the adult learners, the nontraditional students, because I find their motivation is so much different.”

While he’ll miss working with his colleagues (“There are some very accomplished people at Sandburg, but they don't want to make you aware of it.”), Williams is ready to hit the road in retirement.

An avid traveler and photographer, Williams, who earned his bachelor’s in photo processing and finishing management from Rochester Institute of Technology, bought a travel trailer last year before announcing his retirement. He plans to explore the national parks — Glacier National Park in Montana is first on his list — and take pictures every step of the way.

“I worked all those years in photo finishing, and it was always a hobby but it got to the point where I had to get away from it,” Williams said. “I think it is ironic that I'm back to it.”

The snapshots he’ll cherish most as a teacher are, as he described it, “when the light goes on” for students understanding a concept and seeing their evolution little by little before they become a Sandburg graduate.

“I've always felt drawn to a college campus, even before I was involved in teaching, and I've always enjoyed the atmosphere there,” Williams said. “You can see the changes in the students from when they start to when they complete. They're different people. You've seen a lot of growth there, but they’re different people in a good way. I'm going to miss that feeling of their excitement when they get there.”

Keith Williams

Keith Williams

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Aaron Frey