Cincinnati -- By the time Mark Williams completes his training in academic medicine and surgery, his own children will be well on their way to choosing colleges and careers for themselves. Fortunately, Williams has plenty of support to help him along that long road ahead.
Williams is one of 40 students currently supported by the Albert C. Yates Fellows and Scholars Program, a program designed to help underrepresented minorities pursue graduate degrees. The program is helping the 1987 Woodward High School graduate to achieve both personal and professional success.
On the academic side, Williams is pursuing a dual M.D./Ph.D. degree through the Physician Scientist Training Program in UC's College of Medicine. He was also an undergraduate at UC, before transferring and graduating from the Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science. On the personal side, he and his wife Darice are raising two pre-schoolers (one-year-old Aaron and four-year- old Demarcus). Williams also serves as the worship director at the recently opened Kingdom Life World Outreach Center in Covington.
Williams said leading his dual life is frequently exhausting, but says the financial support received through the Yates program has made things a bit easier for his family. "It definitely helps to supplement the income that could have been generated had I pursued a career in funeral service. That makes the journey more tolerable for both me and my wife."
However, he also appreciates the social and academic support available from other Yates Fellows and the faculty in the College of Medicine. "The Yates program has definitely been beneficial in this regard," said Williams, "especially considering there are so few minorities in the biomedical science. In deciding to pursue the dual degree, Williams consulted several faculty at UC, "Particularly helpful was Dr. Ron Millard, who introduced and recruited me to the department of pharmacology and cell biophysics. Dr. Millard also endorsed my nomination for the Yates Fellowship."
Williams' research adviser is Dr. Joseph Solomkin, director of the division of surgical and infectious diseases in the department of surgery. The laboratory focuses on understanding the functioning of a particular white blood cell known as the neutrophil. "The ultimate goal is to lead to a better understanding of the pathogenesis of adult respiratory distress syndrome and multi-organ failure. These conditions significantly contribute to morbidity and mortality in burn, trauma, and sepsis patients." The researchers believe that neutrophils in certain patients are hyper-responsive, and result in acute organ injury.
Even before beginning his medical studies, Williams knew first-hand about the emotional effects of trauma. His father Charles Williams and his brother Richard Moss were killed in a boating accident in 1989. That's when Mark's career took its first turn, and he left UC to pursue training in funeral service and embalming. In 1994, he began medical school and quickly earned recognition and honors as a researchers.
He received one of ten fellowships supported through the Association for Academic Minority Physicians which catapulted his interest in research. That was followed by a Howard Hughes fellowship which allowed him to spend a year doing research, and finally the Yates Fellowship. Because Williams is pursuing the dual M.D./Ph.D. degree program, he probably won't graduate until the year 2002. And because he's interested in surgery, it will take another seven to ten years to complete that training. However, the time commitment doesn't hamper his enthusiasm.
During a recent reception to honor the Yates Fellows and Scholars, Williams, in his usual character, did double duty: presenting a poster about his research project and singing a gospel selection during the entertainment portion of the program. The song was called "To God Be the Glory," and Williams said it contains the most important lesson he's learned thus far. "I chose this song because as I consider the opportunities that have been made available to me, it would appear that the path I've taken had been carefully orchestrated. Indeed, my steps have been ordered of God. This is why I sing and constantly remind myself in the face of any success, "to God be the glory."
The Yates Fellows and Scholars Program is part of the Division
of Research and Advanced Studies at UC.