Sept. 24, 2020
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What can you do with a degree in history from the University of West Georgia? 

UWG alumna Arden Williams ’98 ’02 can answer that question with years of accomplishments.

Williams was recently recognized for her service as the 2020 recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Georgia Association of Museums and Galleries, which is a private, nonprofit museum and gallery organization dedicated to serving and maintaining a diverse membership of museums across the state. The award honors an individual who has consistently and selflessly worked over multiple decades to improve the state of museums and galleries in their community. 

“I was very touched when I heard I won the award,” she said. “I never thought it was something I would be selected for. It was an amazing honor.” 

Arden Williams at the Fort Oglethorpe opening of the Smithsonian traveling exhibit, "Hometown Teams: Sports Culture in America"
Arden Williams at the Fort Oglethorpe opening of the Smithsonian traveling exhibit, "Hometown Teams: Sports Culture in America"

Following a stint in the airline industry, Williams became an adult learner at UWG Newnan. When she transitioned to the main campus in Carrollton, she met Dr. Ann McCleary, professor of history and director of UWG’s Center for Public History. McCleary later advised Williams to enter her master’s program.

“There was a big stigma in my mind,” Williams confessed. “Since I was an older student, I was concerned I wouldn’t be as successful as a younger person. I really proved myself wrong.” 

After graduating from UWG, Williams’ career path has been fascinating. Her first position was as an archives technician, which reflected her master’s work from school. After being in that position for a few years, she transitioned to working for the Georgia Humanities Council (GHC). As the senior program officer, she oversaw grant programs. Her achievements were beginning to be recognized.

Williams said her most notable project was coordinating the Museum on Main Street program. This program, which is sponsored by GHC, brings traveling exhibits and resources to their own local museums. Luckily, she had museum studies experience from McCleary’s classes. 

“Watching a small Georgia community come together to create a successful exhibit tour in their town was very rewarding,” said Williams.

After years of dedicated work, Williams retired. Yet, she  has never forgotten the impact her experience at UWG had in preparing her for a successful career.

Williams believes in stressing the importance of the humanities to students and communities alike. Williams regularly visits and stays connected with UWG, speaking to McCleary's classes about her vocation and even hired students as interns. 

“My former boss Jamil Zainaldin used to say that without the humanities our civilization would crumble,” she recalled. “In recent years the curtailing of arts and humanities programs has caused challenges for organizations such as GHC.” 

In addition to serving on the Alumni Board, Williams has created a scholarship in memory of her late son. The Danny Williams and Arden Williams Center for Public History Scholarship is offered to any public history student in need of financial assistance. She said it was her most proud contribution to her alma mater.

“UWG was a great place to inspire me and eventually have the courage to change careers successfully,” Williams concluded. “UWG changed my life, and I think it is important to do as much as I can to thank them for it.”

For more information about how you can support UWG through an endowment, scholarship or annual giving, please visit the UWG Give West page.

Note: Photos accompanying this story were taken at events held before face covering and social distancing measures were in place.