Class of 2021 Senior Spotlight: Sarah Williams

Trust in Big Dreams and Those Who Support You
By Rhea Swain (’22, SAS/HC), HC Media Team

Sarah Williams (’21, RBS/SAS/HC) recalls the Rutgers memories and experiences that have set her on a uniquely interdisciplinary trajectory in finance and art history—a journey fueled by the people around her and by her enthusiasm for the arts, accessibility, equity, and student-led innovation.

This past year has taught Sarah some important lessons as she looks toward the future: “I want to do things even more intentionally. I really want to move towards doing and acting and not just being a thinker.” She adds, “Being home with my family, who wholeheartedly believe in me, has given me a sense of peace as well as the confidence and motivation to grow.

As I move forward, I know that everything's going to be okay. All the decisions I've made up to this point, mistakes, everything that has happened, I'm going to be okay.”

The best advice Sarah has received came from her boss at ChampAmerica Inc., an education technology startup: “...You want to perennially pull back the layers of the onion. Go forth and be really inquisitive, because this is the time to do that. Don't be satisfied with just what you're told about anything.”

Sarah’s first-year experience inspired her to explore and to ultimately lead. “I took the Honors College mission course (the Forum) and met people involved with the Innovation Lab within and beyond the Honors College who had an affiliation with a community of sustainability, entrepreneurship, and student innovations for social good. That led me to an organization called Hult Prize, a social pitch competition where student teams develop ideas based on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in pursuit of a million dollars in seed funding. I ultimately served as the campus director for two years, during which time I helped guide the Honors College team, Sulis, to place among the top ten in the world.”

Among the relationships that have been central to her growth, one that grew from mentorship to friendship, was with her RA Sridhar Sriram, who influenced her academic epiphany. “My RA recognized early on that

there was something missing academically for me...what was clear though was the excitement we shared when we talked about art, local artists and famous artists, it did not matter if it was in the street or in galleries and museums. It was a conversation topic that we always came back to.”

Another key person for Sarah was her professor, Dawn Lilley. After discovering the work of the anonymous street artist Banksy, Sarah wrote a paper for an assignment. Following multiple rounds of revisions, “I finally got my paper back and read Dr. Lilley’s comments. She said she cried reading it because she knew the depth of the work was there all along.” This experience made clear for Sarah that she should lean into her artistic inclinations. “Here I am today, studying both finance and art history. Both majors, together, will make up the cornerstone of future work that I'd like to do.” she said.

As a senior, Sarah recently completed her honors thesis on “The Commodification of Art Identities in Contemporary Visual Culture,” under the supervision of Dr. Amber Wiley, a professor of one of her favorite classes at Rutgers, “African American Art.” This thesis has been a formative scholarly endeavor and has given her a glimpse into her personal and professional missions going forward.

Sarah envisions a future where art is more convivial and community-based. “I want to make art more accessible to the average person. I want little kids to know the names of artists in their community, I want people to be able to explore their talents, be inspired, and not feel limited because art isn't necessarily an income-producing field or viable career option. I would like to develop a community platform that would bridge some of these gaps. In the meantime, I have a job in finance that is connecting me with people who engage with art so that I can get better acquainted with the concept of art as an asset.”

Sarah foresees pursuing a PhD to research and write about art not only in a financial context, but to have the time and space to holistically theorize and philosophize over art and questions that are central for her, such as “why do people not care about art the way they care about music?” By marrying her passions for finance and art with her natural pragmatism, Sarah emphasizes the importance of being fearless and receptive to what your heart says.

“Don't pigeonhole yourself into doing the one thing that you think you're good at, or what you think you're supposed to do. College is a period of time where you have the freedom to say, ‘I want to try it all.’ And you absolutely should.”