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From Patagonia to the Peay: Professor brings "worldly" ideas to the classroom

February 26, 2001

His ramrod-straight posture, strong handshake and twinkling eyes belie his 76 years, as does his red Snoopy tie.

Dr. Allan ("Just call me Al") Williams brushes formality aside and has been known to do the same for dusty teaching traditions. Students show their appreciation by filling his courses quickly.

Williams, a professor of education, has worked in a school setting for 48 years, 38 of them at Austin Peay. And he shows no signs of slowing down. For his part in a Rotary Club international service project, Williams took a trip to Uruguay and Argentina, including Patagonia, north of Antarctica.

"The program was to bring water to a Patagonian school," he explains. "Before, water had to be brought in every 10 days by water buffalo. Now they have water on the premises."

Next month Williams returns to South America, this time to Escuela Vella Vista, a K-12 school in Maracaibo, Venezuela. He is representing the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), which accredits schools not only here and in South America but also in Central America and the Caribbean. Williams has been a SACS member since 1966 and, before that, a member of the New England Association of Colleges and High Schools.

His educational explorations began some four decades ago when he was a principal in Boston. "I wanted to see what people were doing in education in other places," he says.

His receptivity to new teaching methods continued when he became a college professor. "I didn't want to be 'ivory tower,' but a hands-on professor."

Williams loves to share his new ideas with graduate-level students majoring in educational administration.

"I just can't evaluate how much these trips help me in the classroom," Williams says. "It gives me a deep appreciation of the education system in our country and provides another perception of education.

"Every day I get excited to teach. I enjoy it and it keeps me young."