Meet Evelyn Williams: The Leadership Professor Who Creates Learning Experiences

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For the past five years, Evelyn Williams, teaching professor of management has been inspiring Georgetown McDonough students to become leaders for the future. Whether focusing on design thinking or leadership communications, she creates experiential opportunities for students to test-drive their classroom lessons in realistic settings, building their skills and confidence. She brought to McDonough the MBA Executive Challenge, and three years ago, she helped launch the school’s Master of Science in Management (MiM) program as its founding academic director. 

How did you choose your career path?
I’ve always been fascinated by how people learn —and particularly how people learn in the workplace. So most of my career has been in leadership education in either industry or in higher education —with a particular focus on experiential education. I always have enjoyed writing cases and creating exercises that are transformational in the ways we perceive ourselves and others.

What is your personal philosophy?
I so enjoy seeing the potential in new experiences to learn and to change for the better. I see life as one big grand experiment — and I discovered long ago that some of the best learning comes from some of the most challenging situations. While I’ve learned to hold myself and others accountable for very high standards, it’s also important to be kind to others and to myself, as learning often is far from a perfect process. In fact, if we are really challenging ourselves to innovate, it’s often an interactive process with lots of stumbling, dusting yourself off, and try/try/trying again!

What are students surprised to learn about you during the program?
I don’t think this is unique to me, but rather a common trait about all my faculty colleagues at McDonough. We care deeply for our students and about your experience. Yes, we have teaching goals, but we also want to help you figure out your vocation and what unique ways you are going to serve the greater good. It’s why I enjoy working here at McDonough!

What can we find you doing outside of Georgetown?
I am a CRAZY FOODIE — seriously crazy. I’m always interested in hearing what terrific restaurants you’ve recently tried in the D.C. metro area. But because my husband and I live to eat, we also love to walk — and D.C. is a great town for both. Besides the amazing museums, architecture, and beautiful fountains (my personal favorites are the Court of Neptune and Bartholdi Fountain), we have wonderfully diverse restaurants with chefs from all over the world.

How are you influenced by Georgetown’s Jesuit values?
They are one of the main reasons I came to teach at Georgetown. A lot of the leadership skills I teach focus on cura personalis and whole-person development with respect for the unique gifts we all bring to this life experience. While I focus on teaching research-based tools to improve your leadership skills, ultimately my teaching is grounded in helping folks determine their vocation and how they can be women and men of service to others. 

What has been the biggest change to the business world since you started teaching?
This is going to date me — but I’d say the advent of the personal computer — seriously, when I started working we used typewriters.

How would you describe the sense of community at Georgetown McDonough?
Business schools in general can become very competitive cultures by nature because some students can view it as a terminal degree that leads directly to a job and job interviewing can feel particularly cutthroat. However at McDonough, we have a very unique learning community that is supportive and collaborative. We really look at competition outside of our walls and genuinely see each students’ academic and career success as a collective win for us all. While we create a very rigorous academic experience, students work in teams for a majority of their classes and this focus gives students the opportunity to learn how to lead and manage high-performance collaborative teams. 

What do you hope students take away from your program?
When a student walks away from the MiM program, I hope they’ve learned that by building a collaborative, psychologically safe, and feedback-rich organizational culture that focuses on using data and empathy to make informed decisions, they can make the world a better place. And I underscore the “they” in that sentence because I hope our students leave McDonough with both confidence in their skill set as well as a sense of ownership to make good change happen.

What do you recommend a student do before graduating from your program?
I hope that students can savor and reflect on what they have learned after every mod because graduate school can feel like a sprint at times. One of the Jesuit principles we try to embed in the program is the importance of reflection and discernment. Oftentimes graduate school can fly by, and if we haven’t taken the time to reflect throughout the process, it’s easy for a lot of our learning to escape us. While savoring can mean grabbing some grad school friends and hitting a tavern on M Street to share some good food, good memories, and good learning — I also hope it involves a personal reflection at some point about how they have explored new ideas, expanding their thinking, experimented with new ways of doing things, and ultimately transformed.