Maya Williams, a second-year student at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, has joined the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences as a Research Assistant.
Williams is working in the Research and Evaluation Division within the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine.
“I do all things under the research and evaluation umbrella, including data collection, management, analysis, and reporting,” Williams said. “I work on projects related to early childhood education and HIV prevention.”
Williams, who began her new position in June, is currently working on Project Play, a UAMS project that partners with the Department of Human Services, Division of Childcare and Early Childhood Education, and Arkansas State University. Project Play helps early childhood teachers manage challenging behaviors from students and emphasizes promoting social-emotional learning opportunities for children's development. Ultimately, it seeks to prevent suspension and expulsion, which can have significant long-term effects.
“We do behavioral interventions, trauma awareness trainings, and help strengthen centers’ abilities to support children’s social and emotional wellbeing,” Williams explained.
Additionally, Williams works on projects under the Arkansas Anti-Stigma Initiative, which operates six different programs related to HIV prevention in Arkansas. She focuses on education and advocacy in Arkansas in an effort to close inequitable treatment gaps.
“The Arkansas Anti-Stigma Initiative focuses on sexual health, healthy relationships, and anti-stigma trainings to empower Arkansans,” Williams said. “We partner with UAMS Northwest Arkansas to supply educational interventions within the drug court system across the state. We additionally focus on individuals with substance abuse issues, mental illness, and those who have experienced incarceration.”
Williams explained that her work with the Anti-Stigma Initiative is especially meaningful, as it combines issues she is passionate about both professionally and personally.
“Research and evaluation are my passion, specifically in public health,” Williams said. “I am working towards a future in public health. Specifically, I was very excited to be working in HIV prevention and de-stigmatization. As an openly queer woman, this is particularly important to me, and working towards closing treatment gaps in Arkansas for vulnerable communities."
Williams’ path toward a career in research and evaluation has accelerated in the past year. She had little experience with formal research before enrolling at the Clinton School. However, a first-year curriculum that included courses like Field Research Methods and Program Planning and Development sparked her interest and opened her eyes to the significance of research. And conversations with her professor and advisor, Dr. Nichola Driver, helped Williams to discover her passions and talents in the field.
“In class, I noticed that Maya had a natural interest and aptitude for research and data analysis,” said Driver, who teaches Field Research Methods to first-year students. “She liked it and she was good at it. When I see that, I always like to encourage it. Because, let’s face it, data analysis isn’t for everyone!”
Driver, an Assistant Professor who also serves as the Faculty Director for the Office of Community Engagement, introduces Clinton School students to the concepts and principles of field research, including literature reviews, data management, data analyzation, and reporting. Moreover, Driver teaches students how those skills can create social impact.
“I usually talk to students about how research skills are really needed and sought after in public service,” Driver explained. “If they tap into those skills and advance them, they can go far. I emphasize that research is very important in public service because it can be a tool for social justice. It can elevate voices, reveal inequities, and help us see whether we are really making the impact we hope we are with our programs and policies.”
That message of connecting research and social justice resonated with Williams on a deeper level.
“While I knew I had an undeniable passion for public service and social justice before I started at the Clinton School, after I started I realized that I also had the tools to contribute positively and was supplied with a wealth of knowledge and resources to learn how to develop those skills,” Williams said. “I knew that I had a passion for public health before I started at the Clinton School, but I wasn't even aware that I could work in this field without coming from a traditional sciences background.”
In just over a year, Williams has found several opportunities to put her research abilities to use.
Her first year at the school included a Practicum project with Zuni Learning Tree that saw her team deliver research on the challenges of online learning during COVID-19. She worked with Canopy NWA to conduct a program evaluation to assess outcomes of the organization’s Long Welcome program as part of her International Public Service Project. The research helped Canopy NWA to better gauge the success of meeting its goals of assisting resettled refugees to thrive in Northwest Arkansas.
This year, Williams is working with UAMS on her final Capstone project. She will collect data and conduct a program evaluation for an element of Project Heal, a research study that seeks to understand ways to address the mental and behavioral needs of African American adult men and women in the Pulaski County area who are involved in the criminal justice system, have a substance use disorder – particularly alcohol, marijuana, and/or opioid abuse – or co-occurring SUD/mental illness, and are at high risk for HIV/Viral Hepatitis infection or transmission.
Through the Clinton School’s courses and field service projects, and her conversations with Dr. Driver, Williams has been able to unlock her talents for research, and showcase her passion for public service through her work.
“Students come (to the Clinton School) with all kinds of passions; some have surfaced and others haven't quite yet,” Williams said. “Through the classroom instruction, field service, and networking with faculty, staff, and other students, I think students are really empowered to feel like those passions are meaningful and can grow in the Clinton School environment.”
The Clinton School Speaker Series not only enhances the education of Clinton School students, but also provides a venue for the public to engage in intellectual discussions on the issues of the day.