Spotlight on Faculty: Sierra Williams, Assistant Professor of Chemistry

Sierra Williams, Assistant Professor of Chemistry

As part of our ongoing series on Scripps’ faculty, the Office of Marketing and Communications spoke with Sierra Williams, assistant professor of chemistry, to discuss bacteria, inclusive scientific practices, and painting.

Marketing and Communications: Your research involves exploring proteins as potential therapeutics to combat harmful bacteria. How did you first become interested in the field of chemistry, and in this research in particular?

Sierra Williams: My interest in chemistry started in high school, but it was solidified during my first year of college. My general chemistry professor made connections between what we were learning in the classroom and how they applied to the real world. This made me excited to learn about the world through a chemical lens. While in college, I had the opportunity to conduct research on campus. The lab I worked in focused on fighting harmful bacteria at their different life stages using small molecules. I really enjoyed the real-world application of the work and found bacteria to be fascinating. I ended up studying a different area in graduate school, but my interest in bacteria lingered.

MC: You’re also passionate about mentoring students, especially from underrepresented and first-generation backgrounds. How do you encourage future generations of scientists, and how are you continuing this mentorship at the W.M. Keck Science Department?

SW: I encourage future generations by providing resources about research opportunities that students may not have known about. I had the opportunity to do this as a leadership coach through a mentorship program I was a part of at the University of California, Irvine. I plan to continue this in the classroom by sharing opportunities (on and off campus) with my students. At Keck, I aim to create a safe space for students from all backgrounds to explore their career interests. This includes having conversations with my students about inclusive practices and exposing them to underrepresented scientists in our field of study, to name a few. I’m also looking forward to working with underrepresented populations on campus. I hope to do this by hosting workshops through Scripps Community of Resources and Empowerment (SCORE) and being a faculty mentor for student organizations.

MC: Which courses are you most excited about teaching?

SW: I’m most excited about teaching organic chemistry. I really enjoyed the course when I took it, partially due to the amazing professor that taught the class. I know organic chemistry gets a bad reputation, so I hope that students who leave my course enjoy it as much as I did.

MC: What’s one fun fact about yourself?

SW: I like to paint in my free time.