Lawrence Ray Williams attended public school at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Livingston, Texas. He graduated from high school in 1965 and then matriculated at Texas Southern University. There he encountered many role models who gave him support and confidence. Williams had never heard of a graduate degree when he started attending Texas Southern. But thanks to these mentors, he was made aware of graduate study and encouraged to attend graduate school. Among his most influential mathematics professors at Texas Southern University were Dr. Llayron Clarkson and Professors Alvin Wardlaw, Herman Jenkins and Robinson J. Parsons. He was also greatly influenced by Dr. Duvvury A.A.S. Narayana Rao, Professor and Head of the Physics Department. Williams spent countless hours in Dr. Rao's physics laboratory conducting cutting-edge research in physics.
A high point of Williams' undergraduate years occurred during his sophomore year when he spent one semester at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin, as a participant in an exchange program. He took fifteen hours of courses in mathematics, chemistry and physics during that semester and received a perfect 4.0 grade point average. Having attended a segregated high school and a predominantly black university, Williams gained confidence from this experience that he could compete with any students. Moreover the bitterly cold winter in Wisconsin was a different experience in itself because he was accustomed to mild Texas winters. Williams received his bachelor's degree with a major in mathematics and a minor in physics from Texas Southern in 1969.
After completing his undergraduate work, Williams was drafted into the United States Army. He began his graduate studies at the University of Michigan in 1971 after spending two years in the army. He received a master's degree from Michigan in 1972 and a Ph.D. in 1976, both in mathematics. At Michigan, Williams wrote his Ph.D. dissertation in the area of operator theory under the direction of Dr. Carl M. Pearcy.
Williams accepted his first position as an assistant professor of mathematics at the University of Texas at Austin. He later relocated to the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) where he progressed through the ranks from assistant to associate to full professor. Williams has spent most of his tenure at UTSA serving in administrative positions. He never sought administrative positions but circumstances have led him to some challenging experiences as an administrator. In 1987, he was persuaded by the dean to serve as the Associate Dean for the College of Sciences and Engineering. He is still serving the college in the capacity of Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. In 1996, Williams was asked by the university's higher administration to serve as acting director of the Division of Mathematics and Statistics. Although there was a serious breach between the faculty of the division and the university administrators, Williams accepted the challenge. Under his leadership, the division settled down and is back to concentrating on its main functions of teaching students and conducting research. In fact, the division is flourishing. As a result, some faculty members have been recognized internationally for their research and others have received university-wide teaching and research awards.
Williams has insisted on teaching at least one class per semester even while serving in two administrative positions. He continues to pursue his research interests and has published eleven articles in the area of operator theory in refereed journals. His work has been cited extensively by many leading researchers in the field.
In addition to his role as teacher, administrator, and researcher, Williams has worked with students by serving as the university's program coordinator for the NASA Undergraduate Scholar Awards for Research (USAR) Program [formerly the NASA Undergraduate Student Researchers Program ((USRP)]. Serving in this role has been a very rewarding experience for him. In this program he has guided many majors to their degrees in science, engineering, and mathematics with programs to get them interested in research and in pursuing graduate study. All of the students have been minority students including American Indians, Hispanics, and African Americans. It has been rewarding working with and mentoring these exceptional students who are at first intimidated about the thought of conducting research and attending graduate school. At the end of their tenure at the university, almost all of these students are excited about research and eager to pursue graduate or professional studies. Working with these and all students makes his career as a mathematician most rewarding. He feels lucky because he cannot think of another profession that he would rather pursue. He would do the same things professionally if he had a chance to do everything all over again.
[Authored by Dr. Williams]