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Making a difference, one handshake at a time

Williams poses for a photo on Zoom with members of the UMKC Enactus team during their virtual national competition in May 2020. (Lindsey Temaat)

Ben Williams is a shining example of a professor who knows how to support his students during the pandemic.  

Williams is the assistant teaching professor for the Global Entrepreneurship and Innovation Department at the UMKC Bloch School of Management and is the managing director of the Regnier Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.  

He’s also the faculty co-advisor for UMKC Enactus, a social entrepreneurship organization.  

For Williams, the hardest part about remote learning is missing the connection that random encouragement can provide.  

“I feel like the biggest missing piece is the interaction with the students, or interaction with people in general,” said Williams. “I think it’s really important to talk to people face to face or shake their hands. There are times when people just need a pat on the shoulder to say, ‘Hey you did a really good job on that.’” 

UMKC freshman Benjamin Wilson is just one of the many recipients of Williams’ guidance.  

“Ben has always been helpful, even after my class ended,” said Wilson. “He would always say ‘hi’ to me, send me information about an internship and is just overall super helpful and positive in and outside of class!” 

By the time Williams started his career at UMKC in 2014, he had already received a law degree from the University of Connecticut Law School. He had been living in Springfield, running his own business and adjunct teaching at Drury University where he received his bachelor’s degree in 2008.  

After a few introductions to people at the Bloch School from his fellow Drury faculty, he decided to pursue an MBA with an emphasis in entrepreneurship at UMKC.  

Williams says he is motivated by making a difference in people’s lives, so the choice to work at a university was straightforward.  

“I was lucky enough to have some really great mentors and people in my life over the years that really pushed me in the right direction,” said Williams. “So finding a place where I could feel like I was actually having an effect on people’s lives and making a difference was inspiring to me and felt like the purpose that I needed in my career.” 

While supporting students is a top priority for Williams, he admits “virtual handshakes” and random encouragement are harder in an online environment.  

“If I want to have a conversation with a student or colleague, I’ve either got to send them an email, send a text or schedule a Zoom meeting with them,” said Williams. “It’s just an awkward way to stay in touch with people and do all of the little things that I think make a ton of difference in getting all of us through the day.” 

However, UMKC Enactus President Ali Brandolino says Williams does a good job of keeping in touch with students despite the circumstances.  

“Ben holds students to a high standard, as I believe he should,” said Brandolino. “He is always willing to go out of his way to meet with students, understand their needs and create solutions that work for them.” 

Other students said they appreciated that certain professors went out of their way to make classes more engaging and helpful.  

Caitlin Easter, a psychology major, says she’s had Dr. Ricardo Marte almost every semester she’s been at UMKC and appreciates how understanding he’s been both before and during the pandemic. 

“He is understanding, flexible and works with you personally to make sure you succeed,” said Easter. “He’s by far my favorite professor I have ever had, and I actively search for his classes.” 

Sophomore Sagi Rudnick said he took Discourse 200 and 300 from Professor Niki Casady, who was flexible with due dates, upfront with expectations and adjusted the class schedule due to COVID-19 and student stress.  

“Professor (Jon) Welsh has continually focused the class’s efforts on how the things we are learning pertain to the real life stock market and why they are important instead of just showing us how to calculate various formulas,” said Isaiah Asher, a senior pursuing his BBA in finance. “Professor Welsh has taken a very analytical class and has made it extremely engaging. I’m thankful for his commitment to teaching, even in this online format!”  

Senior Betty Trinh, a business administration and marketing major, said professor Phillip Gonsher always goes out of his way to make sure that every student succeeds by letting students know about any upcoming opportunities.  

“Professor Gonsher takes time to read everyone’s work and make valuable comments or leave words of encouragement to keep students motivated,” said Trinh. “Overall, the best professor I have ever had, and is genuinely eager to learn about his students and get to know them.”   

So, how do you make a difference in a student’s life? What makes a good professor?  

For Williams, the answer is simple:  

“I think how much a professor cares will make them good at their job,” said Williams. “If they really care about helping students improve, develop, and learn things, ultimately that’s where you have a really great professor.”  

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