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Faces of South - Student Profile

Antonio Williams: Navy Vet to STEM Scholar

Picture of campus

June 17, 2017
By Tori Flores, Public Information Office Work Study

South Seattle College student Antonio Williams first left his Boston home when he was just 19 years old to join the U.S. Navy. As a young service member, Antonio worked on a line rack servicing aircraft until he graduated and became an aircraft electrician. Since then, he has come very close to becoming a shellback (a sailor who has travelled around the world once), and enjoying his time gaining experience and travelling around the world with his Navy friends.

“Every day we were in a different port, which meant a new adventure and new experiences,” says Antonio, reminiscing about his time in the Navy.

By the time he applied to South Seattle College in 2015, Antonio had already served four years in the Navy, learned to maintain aircrafts, travelled the world and even lived in Canada for 12 years. Coming to South meant a shift in professional direction as he pursued his interest in science.  This June, he will be is graduating from South with his Associate of Science degree, and looks forward to his future career studying the microscopic world to aid cancer research.

Antonio came to a crossroads at age 23. He had to make a choice: stay in the Navy and advance or return to school. He made the decision to come back to school because he “wanted a change.”

“As a student, especially an adult returning to college, I had to change my lifestyle and how I do things… and sometimes it was brutal,” says Antonio. Not one to give up easily, especially after battling through Calculus I and II, Antonio has learned how to step back, analyze his mistakes and move on. Even when he ran out of money to continue his schooling, his membership to South’s Ready Set Transfer Academy (RST) helped connect him with scholarship opportunities.

“South Seattle College was instrumental in getting me those scholarships,” says Antonio. “At the ‘Friends of College’ event, I even got to meet the people who awarded me those scholarships.” 

“You need grit if you come from where I’ve come from, and to do what I’m doing,” says Antonio. “When everything was against me, and my body and my mind were telling me to give up, I went ahead and did it anyway.”

South Instructor Jake Ashcraft has been someone who Antonio can relate to and share his passion for science with. They occasionally get together to watch chemistry videos.

“It’s moments like that that charge up my battery and make me feel good again,” says Antonio.

A love of DNA, and how it connects all organisms with each other, is what initially drew Antonio to the study of computational biology. Computational biology is the science of using biological data to develop algorithms or models to understand various biological systems and relationships. With that passion came a career focus on cancer research.

“I love the idea that there’s a relationship between matter and organisms,” says Antonio. “There are relationships between the sun and humans. There’s a relationship between dirt and humans.  We intermingle, we live together and we actually transfer atoms and nutrients between one another.”

Antonio’s life has been full of adventure, first through his word travels in the Navy and today delving deep into the mysteries of DNA and human connections with the world around them.  Graduating from South Seattle College, he is prepared for future challenges in his pursuit of contributing to the field of cancer research.

Antonio says he lives by this quote:

“What separates the haves from the have-nots are the intangibles. What defines you isn’t what happened to you, but how you respond to it.”

Congratulations Antonio!