Alumni Profile: Sarah Williams, English

sarah williams, class of 2019

If Sarah Williams decides to go to graduate school in the future, she might just have to flip a coin to decide what subject to study.

As a recent graduate, who majored in English, (literature and creative writing concentrations), with minors in geology and anthropology, Williams made the most of her time at the University of Montana by nurturing her numerous passions and pushing traditional degree boundaries.

When it comes to the humanities and sciences, many people gravitate towards either one or the other. However, Williams thinks outside of the box, describing English, geology, and anthropology in terms of the big picture rather than compartmentalizing. “[English] is all encompassing. If you like space, ethics, philosophy, history, you can find all of that within the English degree,” she said. “Anthropology helps as far as thinking of things from a morality point of view, and geology puts the world into perspective. Humans have not been around for that long in the grand scheme of things. I feel like geology helps me take a step back and look at the world from that point of view.” Williams’ passion seeps into conversation about her degree, and it’s evident that she really can’t pinpoint one as her favorite, although English is her primary major.

Since her high school days in Snohomish, Washington, when there wasn’t a single class she didn’t like, studying multiple subjects has always come naturally to Williams. “People are a little bit shocked when they hear I’m studying all of these things, but I’m actually sort of shocked that there aren’t more people who have mix and matched areas of study,” she said. If it were up to her, she would stay in school forever, continually growing and learning about diverse topics.

Before her college career, her family would take just-for-fun road trips to Montana to see Glacier and Yellowstone. Williams’ list of potential majors was, “about a page long,” ranging in everything from biology to philosophy. For the first few years of college, she planned to double-major in English and geology, but decided to choose the English major and minors for a more manageable schedule which would allow her to participate in all her extracurricular activities.

“My first year, I took a geology class called ‘history of life,’ and I fell in love with it,” she said. Her advice to new students trying to decide what to major in would be to take general education courses in multiple areas until you find fields that inspire you, and don’t limit yourself. “Decide what classes you want to wake up in the morning for and go for it,” she says.

Although Williams is openly passionate about multiple subjects, it was initially hard to overcome the stigma of a humanities degree. She explored the issue in her senior capstone paper, deconstructing the pressure from family, your future wallet, etc. to major in a science with potentially a more lucrative job market. Writing that paper helped her realize that not having a post-graduation plan is okay, and that her choices of major and minors have allowed her to grow and gain perspective. “I’m happy I went into English; I think I’m a better person because of it. I didn’t feel pressured to add a science, it was more natural – I love rocks, I love fossils, and I love viewing the world on a timeline and seeing the evolution of the world,” she said.

Many areas of the humanities and sciences are intersectional. Williams explains that forensic and archaeology classes are steeped in scientific fact, but when one steps back and looks at it from a bird’s eye view, the subjects are really about the people. “It’s about doing justice to examining remains or artifacts, doing justice for whoever’s remains you are examining,” Williams said. She describes anthropology as well, saying that although it is a social science, it contains a good amount of humanities as well in the exploration of ethics and philosophy.

When asked about her favorite part of the College of Humanities and Sciences, Williams’ answer was immediate. “The people,” she said. When describing her peers and faculty, she said the professors are the lifeblood of the humanities. “If I had to name drop a few, I’d probably end up naming the whole English department” – forming friendships with English professors added great value to Williams’ education at the University. In the professors, she found advocates, supporters, and mentors. “It’s not about the numbers, the test scores, or the attendance, which is sometimes what higher-ups tend to put stock into. When it comes down to it, it’s about the human connection.” Williams believes in the motivational power of professors’ encouragement. They care so much, and contribute greatly to the personal and professional growth of undergraduates here in Missoula.

In addition to being a versatile Humanities and Sciences student, Williams was also a Resident Assistant, reader for the Cut Bank literary magazine, co-president of the Animal Advocates student group, and an editor of The Oval, UM’s student literary journal. Williams considered the busy schedule a privilege and a source of happiness. “I tell my residents that the best part of college is staying busy and finding your group of people. You’ll only be an undergraduate student once.” A positive attitude and strong work ethic helped her succeed.

What’s next for Williams? She is currently working at Brooks Running in Fremont, Washington and is considering graduate school down the line. She could go for her MFA in writing or literature, master’s degree in geology, or explore anthropology; the possibilities are endless. “I’m indecisive and I like a lot of things, we’ll see where the wind takes me,” she said.

Written by Serena Palmer, H&S Student Ambassador