Inside The Office with Higher Education Leader Karen Patricia Williams

What is your "day job"?

I serve as a Distinguished Professor of Women's Health and the Director of the Research Center for Women, Children, and Youth at The Ohio State University College of Nursing.

In my role, I am charged with thought leadership within and outside of the Center. This includes faculty recruitment, development and management, education, research, and expanding the Center's footprint throughout the community engagement. My goal is to help foster the Center’s vision to align with the College of Nursing as well as President Drakes’ goals for the university. I have developed what I like to call the ‘Capital C Initiative,’ going from a small c to a big C.

Since introducing the ‘Capital C Initiative,’ I had an “aha moment.” I realized I need to make sure that I carve out the time to advance my own research that has expanded several decades, The Kin Keeper, focused on breast and cervical cancer prevention and control.

Who were your heroes, or mentors?

I do not have to look far. The earliest “sheroes”, as I like to say, are the women in my family; my mother, grandmothers, great-grandmothers as well as several aunts. They provided a firm foundation for me. Each of them taught me something different with a common expectation that I would do my best. Anything less than my best was unacceptable.

I have always been keenly aware of the many sacrifices my family made for me. Some sacrifices were financial but others have been the gift of time and nurturing while planting seeds that bloomed years later. I also know all too well that I stand on the shoulders of many African-American women who paved paths for me in order for me to have a seat at the table. I am determined while I am at the table, I will bring solutions to address issues that affect our women and community.

A non-family shero that I greatly admire is Mary McLeod Bethune. Coincidentally, when my mother was 14, she was photographed with Ms. McLeod Bethune and Marian Anderson! What a legacy!

After reading She Wanted to Read, a story about Ms. McCloud Bethune, in the fifth grade, I was in awe of her humble beginnings as a former slave whose belief in education and civil rights led her to becoming a trusted advisor to U.S. Presidents Coolidge, Hoover and Roosevelt. And, she built a college that is still in existence today. My admiration for her contributions to society has been unending!

When so many wonderful women have poured into my life, I believe it is my responsibility to “pay it forward.” I have my own daughters who I have invested in and made sacrifices for like my mother and others did for me. I am also blessed to be a part of several civic organizations that specifically focus on women and meeting the needs of women — Delta Sigma Theta, The Links Incorporated, Michigan Women's Foundation and the YWCA. My faith and church have taught me, “To much is given, much is required.” I contribute to various scholarships and endeavors that empower women and girls. These are a few examples of how I pay it forward and give back.

When did you decide you were a researcher, that this would be your journey?

I started my career as a journalist. In the late 80s, I read a book by Brian Lanker, I Dream A World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America. The photographs of accomplished African-American women inspired me to rethink my career. Three of the women profiled were presidents at Spelman, Lincoln University, and Bennett College. I thought, “I want to be like them.”

In order become a college president at that time, I needed a terminal degree. I had my Bachelor's. With the determination to become a college president, I received my Master’s and PhD. I am not a college president, but when I joined the faculty ranks I fell in love. I was bitten by the research bug; I still enjoy it. I really do!

If you weren't a researcher, what would life look like?

More than likely, I would be at the helm of a large nonprofit or working with a foundation. I love working with nonprofits. It is truly servant leadership.

If you had it all to do over again, would you do anything differently?

I am blessed I have the life that I have. I have made mistakes and, hopefully, I have learned from my mistakes. But my mistakes have educated my journey, in mighty ways.

What do you do for you that brings you absolute joy or peace?

My joy is my grandchildren! Need I say more! I love being around them!

Nothing can top my grandchildren, but I am fond of museums and art galleries. Strolling through a museum by myself is relaxation to me. My love for reading was developed early in life so reading a good book is another way I find joy. And let me not forget my love of the beach. For the past twenty years, my husband and I visited the Caribbean Islands for our winter vacation.

I am strong in my faith and that brings me peace. With implementing faith, there are things in life that one may see clearly that others do not. I have relied on my faith in good and bad times, which has helped crowd out voices and noises that are distracting. Each and every obstacle has been faced with a firm belief that God is in control. I am a strong believer in prayer, without ceasing. My prayer life is where I find refuge and refueling.

What would you like your epitaph to be?

She did well with the cards that were dealt. Her word was her bond. She loved life.

If you only had one word, what is it that you want people to remember about you?


Is there anything else you wish I'd asked you?

I wish you had asked me, “What’s the next chapter going to be?” One of my goals in 2017 is to leverage my nonprofit experiences for a for-profit appointment. This is part of my continuing journey to having a seat at the table, to expand the voices of women and our community in the boardroom. We need representation in various sectors to help drive corporate decisions that will empower us in leadership roles at the C-Suite level. That starts with board representation.

How can readers connect with you?

I would love to connect with readers via Twitter @williams5963, or email at!

Inside The Office is a monthly blog that features female executive, entrepreneurial and creative leaders from diverse industries sharing wisdom and insight from their personal and professional journeys.