William Anthony Hawkins, Jr. was born the only child to William Anthony Hawkins and Amanda Bowman Hawkins, in 1947. His father grew up in Maryland, but moved to the District of Columbia and became a postal worker to support his family. Hawkins' mother was raised in Georgia and later attended Howard University where she studied to become a dental hygienist.
Hawkins attended Archbishop Carroll High School, a college preparatory institution. He liked mathematics but came close to failing algebra I, which was based on set theory. Hawkins' grades in mathematics improved as he progressed to higher grades. Since his high school required four years of mathematics, he advanced to solid geometry, trigonometry, logarithms, and an introduction to calculus.
Hawkins began his post-secondary Education at Merrimack College in 1964 for a degree in mathematics. He transferred to Howard University in Washington, DC . Discovering that he did not really want to take certain physics laboratories, he continued to major in mathematics, but changed his proposed second major in physics to a minor. While working to complete his BS, he had the opportunity to study under Dr. Louise Raphael.
In earning his first degree Hawkins overcame several obstacles, the first of which was funding for tuition. Initially his parents helped support him, but in 1966 Hawkins decided to go south to join the civil rights movement for the summer. His mother, fearing for his welfare, threatened to stop funding his Education. Hawkins went anyway and his mother kept her word. When he returned to the university in the fall, he had to look for financial aid. Dr. Arthur N. Thorpe, a physics professor at Howard University, made it possible for Hawkins to attend school. Thorpe hired him to grade papers and teach labs, while seeing that he received a scholarship. The second obstacle was that Hawkins had missed an entire semester of school due to a car accident, but having recovered he still graduated after three and one-half years of college, in 1968.
Hawkins did not really want to apply to graduate school as he wanted to work. In his earnest search for employment, he put off responding to the graduate schools who had accepted him. By the time he realized that gainful employment was not in his immediate future, deadlines had elapsed, and it was too late for Hawkins to accept a scholarship. Fortunately, Thorpe had reserved a scholarship for Hawkins in the Physics Department of Howard University. He took the scholarship and began to re-apply to other graduate programs.
He took a temporary position at Cardozo High School in Washington, DC, where he discovered that he liked teaching. Also at this time of the Vietnam War, the government required him to appear before the draft board to request a teaching deferment. Fortunately, he was granted a draft deferment.
It was not long before he continued his Education in mathematics at the University of Michigan. Hawkins quickly became disillusioned with graduate school. His frustration was fueled by several elements: his grades were not as good as they had been at Howard University and Hawkins was not a flexible student. By refusing to adapt he created a self-imposed obstacle, but he stuck it out. In 1970, Hawkins completed both a MS in Physics from Howard University and a MA in Mathematics from the University of Michigan.
He took a position at Federal City College, a predecessor institution of what is now known as the University of the District of Columbia (UDC), a historically Black University. After four years of teaching, he requested a leave of absence having decided to pursue a doctoral degree in mathematics.
Hawkins returned to the University of Michigan, since he chose not to apply elsewhere because he was not satisfied with his earlier grades. Nevertheless, the university re-admitted Hawkins and provided him with a teaching assistantship. In addition, he was the recipient of a Ford Foundation Fellowship which meant all his course expenses were covered and he had a stipend for living expenses.
Hawkins returned to UDC after finishing his coursework. In order to complete his dissertation in algebraic geometry, he would fly back and forth to Michigan periodically to meet with his advisor, Dr. James S. Milne. Hawkins found the subtle marriage between commutative rings and geometry fascinating, being attracted to the underlying harmony found when these realms connect. His dissertation is entitled, "The Ètale cohomology of Certain p-Torsion Sheaves." A National Science Foundation grant made it possible for Hawkins to publish the results of his dissertation.
In 1990, Hawkins took leave from his position as Associate Professor at UDC where he had been department chair for five years, to become director of a new program, Strengthening Underrepresented Minority Mathematics Achievement (SUMMA) at the Mathematical Association of America. Presently he divides his time between SUMMA and UDC.
As a teacher Hawkins is concerned that many students feel that average grades present an obstacle to future success. He stresses to his students that even though they may face disappointment along the way, they should always endeavor to do their best possible work.