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Path Finder

Social work professor inspires students with story of her life’s journey

Dr. Wendy Champagnie Williams knows it’s possible to reach your goals, even if society claims the odds are stacked against you.

The Bridgewater State University social work professor dropped out of high school at 16, after giving birth to her daughter. As a teen parent, she admittedly struggled.

“I felt like I didn’t fit in and wanted to find a place to fit,” Williams said.

She found her footing through Bridge Over Troubled Waters, a Boston-based agency that provides services to homeless, runaway, and at-risk youth.

“Bridge changed what could have been my trajectory,” Williams said. “I found someone who was willing to listen and help me to see it’s not over, that while being a young parent isn’t ideal, I still had potential.”

With this support, Williams was able to balance motherhood, work and school, eventually earning her GED, something she never thought possible.

“I didn’t see myself as someone who was smart,” Williams said.

So, when a social worker suggested she consider college, Williams was surprised.

“He saw potential and possibility in me,” she said.

The conversation gave her the confidence she needed and eventually Williams went on to earn not only a bachelor’s degree, but a master’s followed by a PhD. 

“I was a high school dropout, 16-year-old parent…I wasn’t supposed to get my PhD. Teen parents, particularly as a woman of color, that’s not often the narrative that’s told,” Williams said.

Today, when she isn’t teaching at Bridgewater, Williams works as a clinical practitioner. In both roles she helps others see their potential, just as she was shown.

The journey from GED to PhD is one she often shares with her BSU students. Having someone students can relate to can make a big difference, Williams said.

“When you feel like you don’t belong, you look for people you can connect with. Whether it be a peer, adviser, staff or faculty…Just to see someone or people who look like you, that you can connect to…you then realize you aren’t alone and can be part of this community.”

Williams said her journey parallels that of many BSU students.

“The student body at Bridgewater resonates with me so much in terms of my own experience…from first generation students to adult learners, to students who are navigating higher education at the undergraduate and graduate level, we have a diverse student body,” Williams said. “Their lives are not one dimensional. Many don’t have the benefit of thinking only about school, they have families, are caregivers. I respect and admire them.”

It’s also important, she said, for students to recognize that each person’s journey to success is different.

For students looking to find their way, Williams says she is always available to share advice.

“There are multiple routes to the same outcome. You can accomplish your goals and your road to getting there doesn’t’ have to look like mine. It can look like what you want it to in order for it to work for you,” Williams said. “You know yourself best, no one can tell you this is how you have to do it. I’m happy to help, to be part of the journey.”

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