Dr. Sue Williams, associate professor of criminology, has been working in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work at Kansas State University since 1997. Williams, who teaches Introduction to Sociology, Criminology, Death Penalty, Serial Murder, Mass Murder, Constructing the Criminal Mind, Crime/Media/Culture and Women and Crime, has won multiple awards for her research and expertise in the field of criminology.
Q: Talk a little bit about yourself.
A: I grew up on a small family farm in West Texas. I went to college later in life, as a non-traditional student. I was always the nerd that sat in the front row and stayed after class. I earned my B.A. and M.A. in sociology from Texas Tech University and then went to LSU (Louisiana State University) to start my Ph.D. Les bon temp roulet! I loved my life in Baton Rouge. But opportunity knocked (again!), and I went to the University of Connecticut to work on my Ph.D. studies, and that turned out to be a superb experience (go Huskies!). I came to K-State in 1997, recruited to help build the criminology program. And build it we have!! We have one of the largest sub-specialties in the university, and our students almost always have a job when they finish. I’ve taught 27 different courses to more than 9,000 students, accruing approximately 6,000 credit hours in the classroom. I’ve been given several teaching awards, including national distinction as Distance Educator of the Year; I’ve published and presented all over the country; I’ve been awarded more than $1 million in research grants. Currently, I am conducting primary, ethnographic research in several prisons, including both men and women prisoners, death row inmates and some who have been in solitary confinement for many, many years — absolutely fascinating! And important. Simply stated, I’m honored to find a life that I love, and that, occasionally, I get paid to do it.
Q: What do you like about teaching online?
A: I’ve been teaching online for approximately 13 years. I love online courses, the production element and distance students. I can be as creative as I want, constantly experiment with the next best thing, and interact with students who, for the most part, really, really want to be there and learn. I love the diversity of online students—from the freshman who is taking her first online course to the 65-year-old retiree to the soldier in Afghanistan. I feel I get to know my distance students even better than in a face-to-face class because everyone gets an opportunity to interact. It’s not just “that” person in the front row who doesn’t realize they are just taking up too much air time. You know the one! In the distance class, I design message boards, assignments and activities so that not only do I get to know who the students really are, but also they get to know one another. I even have them do little “30-second commercials” about themselves; this certainly conveys strengths, goals and dreams…but also gets folks in touch with their own self. Hello Self! As one small example, in the Serial Murder class, I often hear students relate, at the end of the class, “Gee…I learned as much about myself as the killers we studied.” Wonderful endorsement!
Q: What do you love about the subject you teach and why did you decide to become a professor?
A: I teach sociology—so, it’s all about us; and criminology—fascinating topic, intriguing people, always fresh and new! I fell in “love” with my professors, my school, my colleagues, my textbooks…everything about it. I was a non-traditional student and also wanted to set a good example for my children. Go after what you want, and with gusto!
Q: What tips can you give students who are earning their degree online?
A: Treat it like a job. Go online every single day. Do some work every single day. Communicate with your instructor (as well as others in the class) until they think you are stalking them. You can’t communicate too much.
Q: What are some strategies you use to cater to distance students through your teaching?
A: I use phone, Skype or Zoom to hold individual sessions. I’m available almost 24/7 (though I understand most instructors may not be). I try to respond almost immediately. I ask them what they need or think or what I can do to help. Basically, I treat them like family. I also ask a lot in return; my courses and assignments are very demanding. I believe you reap what you sow.