Mr. Roger Williams, who received a bachelor's degree in biochemistry from Eastern New Mexico University in 2008 and a Doctorate in Philosophy in Chemistry from the University of Arkansas in 2013, says his time at ENMU prepared him for a career educating others in the field of forensic chemistry.
Mr. Williams discusses his Eastern Experience and how it led to his role as a teacher and chemist.
Why did you choose to attend ENMU?
When I started taking courses at ENMU, I was stationed at Cannon Air Force Base (CAFB), a few miles away from campus. When I decided to try college, I remember going to the main building on CAFB and found the Education Office for the enlisted personnel. I went to all the different school offices that were present at the time. It became very apparent that the other education representatives of various other schools in the office were not keen on any science-related degree, so I was readily dismissed.
However, when I walked into the Eastern New Mexico University section and spoke to their representative (I really wish I could remember her name), it was the best experience I had. She even stayed after her office hours to answer all my questions. She asked me what type of degree I was interested in, and I told her that it would somewhere in the realm of forensics. After some talking about what I wanted to do and what I wanted to pursue, she was interested and immediately called a representative she personally knew with the medical examiner's office, and we did a three-way phone conference with the lead medical examiner at the time. It was an amazing experience. We three came to a consensus that biology and chemistry would be my best track if I was interested in the area of forensics for future employment.
After my enlistment came to a close in 2006, I decided to finish out my degree because of the amazing staff and opportunities that ENMU had given me.
How did you choose your field of study?
Once on deployment early in my enlistment, I read a book called "Death's Acre" by Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson. It was about how the forensic body farm was developed and how that information is used in the study of crime. I was fascinated by that book. Thereafter, I starting reading everything I could find on forensics and the study of crime.
Which activities were you involved in at ENMU? Which academic honors did you receive?
I was not involved in any organizations as my time was well divided between the military and school. I was on the dean's list multiple times, and I recall having several chemistry awards the year I graduated Summa Cum Laude with a degree in biochemistry.
Discuss your experience at ENMU.
I was lucky enough to have a ton of amazing professors while going to school at ENMU. Among them (to name a few) are Dr. Yan, Dr. Varela, Dr. Long and Dr. Pollock. Each one has given me an immense set of tools that I use daily. Dr. Yan taught me to look outside the box for a given problem and showed me the importance of patience, both of which I use daily as an instructor. Dr. Varela gave me the unique skill set of critical reasoning for research and how to use that to dissect a journal article to get at its core. That ability in graduate school was indispensable to me. Dr. Long taught me how to make organic chemistry a game of puzzles which I am very grateful for each time I evaluate data. And he introduced me to the Research Experience for Undergraduates Program, for which he helped me apply and be selected as a transfer for a summer internship with the University of Arkansas. That experience and the connections I made from it enabled me to continue into graduate school at the University of Arkansas. And last but by far not least, Dr. Pollock, whose insight in the realm of biology, taxonomy and parasitology has become invaluable to me in ways I cannot describe.
What is your job title, and where do you work? What are your duties?
I am currently working for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a senior forensic chemist and instructor. I am now an instructor at the DEA Training Academy in Quantico, Virginia.
My current job duties are similar to any other instructor. I present forensic subject matter in the classroom, laboratory and other practical application sessions through lecture, discussion and demonstration.
When I was a bench chemist, the duties were relegated to the analysis of submitted evidence to the laboratory, preparing reports based upon my findings and testifying in a court of law when called upon to do so.
Which aspect of your career is the most rewarding?
As a chemist, I enjoyed giving back to the community. Now that I am an instructor, I enjoy shaping the next generation of forensic chemists to follow me.
What advice would you give to a student interested in working in your career field?
If you take courses in organic chemistry, instrumental analysis, inorganic chemistry, and physical methods in organic chemistry, and you enjoy them as well as do well in them, you would make an invaluable asset to any forensic chemistry program.
I would also recommend taking upper-level elective courses in biology (Parasitology and Microbiology), any upper-level mathematics courses (Calculus and Statistics), any theater/speech course (because public speaking is a must) and any photography course.
In essence, forensics pulls experience from a cornucopia of different areas.
What are your hobbies?
Spending time with my wife, Leah Williams, who is also an ENMU graduate, as well as reading copious amounts of books together with her. Our maxed-out bookcases are filled with a plethora of different subjects in both non-fiction and fiction.
Is there any additional information you would like to share?
The views expressed during this interview are mine alone and do not necessarily represent the views of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the United States Department of Justice or an officer or entity of the United States.