I Spy Someone making a difference.
Charlai Williams — A shining example of a CCU studentby Russell Alston
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A student walks into the dean’s office, looking for permission to enroll in a class, only to be offered a job. Coastal Carolina University senior Charlai Williams, an exercise sports science major from Orangeburg, received just such an offer her sophomore year.
In her position in the Office of the Dean in the College of Science, Williams handles interoffice deliveries that carry her into many of the administrative offices of CCU, as well as its colleges. Any typical day will include stops in the Office of the Registrar, the Office of the Provost, Accounts Payable, academic research and more.
“I’m pretty much everywhere,” she says. “Sometimes I’ll deliver office mail to every building on campus. I meet so many people through my job.”
That may be an understatement for the humble senior. Williams has been an active student since her freshman year, when she was a member of CCU’s gospel choir, the Coastal Inspirational Ambassadors. She also tutored second and third grades online in math that year. She moved to tutoring college students in statistics her sophomore year, in addition to beginning her employment in the Office of the Dean. Over the summer, Williams worked with incoming freshmen, helping them adjust to the beginning of their college experience by offering tips and advice.
A campus job and 12-15 course hours a semester is enough for the average student, but Williams is far from ordinary. She currently works three jobs. In addition to her position in the dean’s office, Williams was hired by CCU’s Office of Institutional Research in May, where she works on CCU’s Quality Experiential Program (QEP). The dual jobs net her 30 hours per week. Her weekends are spent at the Seaboard Commons’ T.J. Maxx where she clocks in for 15 to 20 hours. Add 12 more hours of classes, and one begins to wonder how Williams spends her precious and limited free time. One way she relaxes is by working on a project that’s more than a year in the making.
“If I do have free time, I crotchet,” she says. “I’ve been doing it for years. Since the summer of 2012, I’ve been crocheting a teal-and-bronze afghan to represent my time at Coastal.”
Crocheting isn’t the only skill in Williams’ arsenal of talents. She became interested in the piano at the age of 4, and trained herself in the instrument until she was 8 years old. From fifth to eight grade, she played the clarinet in the school band. Her curiosity for Spanish led her to purchase an instruction book to learn the language. That was before enrolling in Hunter Kinard Tyler High School, where she would be required to take a foreign language.
At the Orangeburg high school, Williams continued to fill her plate. As a freshman, she was a member of the Student Government Association. Sophomore year she was elected treasurer, and she became a member of the Beta Club and National Honor Society. In her junior year, she continued to rise by joining her school’s chapter of the NAACP and being elected vice president of the student government. She wrapped up her senior year as class president, National Honor Society president, salutatorian at her class’s graduation -- where she spoke about being successful, staying on the right path in life and not letting anything distract you from achieving your goals -- and winning Miss Hunter Kinard Tyler.
Competing for crowns was nothing new to Williams. She had been active in the pageant scene since she was 7 years old. After capturing her high school’s competition, however, her interest began to wane.
“Pageants aren’t something you can take to the bank,” she says, “and they weren’t something I wanted to make a career out of. I wanted to come to college and try to make something else out of myself.”
CCU wasn’t Williams’ original choice for college, however. She almost went farther south to Spelman College. Her mother and twin brother Deondre Williams had other plans for her, however.
“Deondre was accepted at CCU, and I was accepted at Spelman, but my mom thought my brother and I should stay together, so I came to Coastal.”
The family atmosphere and friendly nature of the CCU community quickly won Williams over, assuring her that she made the right choice. An apprenticeship at a local drug store in Orangeburg soured her original plan of pharmaceutical studies. Her passion for healthy living provided an alternative path of study. For a person who “worked out seven days a week,” CCU’s exercise and sports science program was an attractive prospect. It’s a career Williams has considered since her junior year of high school. Her hope is to one day become an occupational therapist.
“I believe that’s the career that would suit me,” she says. “I like hands-on work. I like to help people regain and maximize the use of their motor skills. And I’m a healthy person by nature, so it’s a good fit.”
So the phrase “mother knows best” can be applied to Williams and her past three-plus years at CCU. It’s also an admission she has no qualms about making.
“I have to admit, my mom was right,” she says. “I feel like Coastal has been a second home for me, and I couldn’t imagine myself at any another school. I thank my mom for suggesting I come here. Still, I wouldn’t mind living in Atlanta.”