Sunday school friendship to second career: Williams’ journey to the classroom

Williams brings the same structure and discipline he learned during his time as a police officer to the classroom. Kenneth Prabhakar | Photographer

By Caitlyn Meisner | Staff Writer

Paul Williams was a Sunday school teacher in Waco when his friend recruited him to be a part-time lecturer at Baylor, teaching a juvenile deliquency course on top of his full-time career.

Williams said he started his career as a police officer in Raleigh, N.C., but only for a short period of time since he felt he wasn’t suited for preventive patrol.

Williams then moved to a job as a juvenile probation officer with at-risk juveniles, spending 10 years in McLennan, Coryell and Fort Bend Counties.

Afterward, Williams got a job with the federal government, working with adults as a pre-sentence investigator. He has held this position for 12 years, allowing him to move back to Waco — a town he said he loves.

“I met my wife in Waco and she went to Baylor, so we really enjoyed Waco when we were here,” Williams said. “We couldn’t wait to get back to being close to family, and it’s just a great town.”

In his current role as a senior probation officer, Williams said there is a process he must go through with his clients.

“I sit down with someone who has committed an offense, and they’ve either been convicted by plea or found true by a trial,” Williams said. “I’ll sit down with the offender and find out everything that I can about them, and essentially find out everything about their life that goes to the sentencing judge.”

Williams said this report typically includes their background, what led to the current circumstances, their criminal history and facts of the current offense. After compiling this information, he makes a sentencing recommendation to the judge. He said this recommendation is likely a range of months and/or an appropriate rehabilitation program.

Williams said he transitioned to working with adults because working with adolescents was challenging.

“It felt like I was building sandcastles next to water’s edge,” Williams said. “It’s difficult work, and it wears you out. I always want the best for these kids. I’m glad to work with adults because I like telling people’s stories.”

Williams said he encourages students to reach out in their communities to mentor these adolescents. Students can work with them one-on-one and mentor them through school, family issues or anything that’s needed.

Sociology professor Dr. Kevin Dougherty said he met Williams at their church, Highland Baptist Church. Williams was an adult Sunday school teacher at the time, and Dougherty was a part of the class. Dougherty said he knew Williams was passionate about his work and was a good teacher, so he asked him to be a part of the sociology faculty.

“I thought, ‘Wow, my friend and my teacher could be a good colleague,’” Dougherty said. “He brings extensive background in law enforcement from the local and federal level. Rather than someone who’s read about and studied these issues, he’s been involved with it at a practical level.”

Dougherty said he is very happy Williams took up his offer to join the department because he is someone of deep faith.

“His work is motivated in his faith,” Dougherty said. “That pairing of his practical background and his faith commitments that motivate that work make him a great fit at Baylor.”

Williams also said his work is motivated by his Christian faith.

“When I’m talking about justice, I want them to know who Jesus is,” Williams said. “Working with our youth is how we show love to our neighbor.”

Dougherty said the teaching Williams does is an act of service, and he said he sees the sense of commitment his friend has to teaching the next generation.

“He’s giving to Baylor something not because he needs another job,” Dougherty said. “It’s an opportunity to help other people through the eyes of someone who’s been there. He stayed during COVID, even though that wasn’t what he signed up for. I really appreciate his desire to make his course a meaningful experience for his students.”

Guangzhou, China, junior Tommy Lin said he took Williams’ class last spring and really enjoyed both the material and the structure. He said he chose the juvenile delinquency course over the criminology course because he knew it was interesting.

“The class is very fun, and it’s not about taking notes,” Lin said. “We focus on learning something in sociology.”

Lin said Williams often brought in guest speakers to talk about different fields and career outcomes that are possible. He said he shared some personal experiences with Williams because during his childhood, Lin’s father was a police officer.

Williams also has four children, three of whom were once fostered and are now adopted. Due to the time commitment of working a full-time job, teaching and maintaining family responsibilities, Williams said he is taking the spring semester off.

Dougherty said he isn’t sure how Williams is able to balance all that he does.

“He’s an active leader in the church, coordinates adult Bible fellowship [and] runs half-marathons,” Dougherty said. “I’m not sure how he does it. He demonstrates excellence in every aspect, and I’m grateful to have him as a colleague at Baylor.”