Passion Propels This First-Generation Student as He Strives to Help Others Succeed as Well

Jeremiah Guy-Williams is driven by both a passion for his career and for giving back to his community.

This drive — not to mention his endless supply of energy and enthusiasm — has opened the door to many opportunities for Guy-Williams, who is pursuing a bachelor of business administration at The University of Texas (UT) at Austin’s McCombs School of Business. Following an internship with Liberty Mutual Insurance and with a focus on information systems, he hopes to work in information technology when he graduates next spring.

Jeremiah Guy-Williams
Jeremiah Guy-Williams

“I’m a very passionate person. I believe passion drives innovation, passion drives improvement. When I do something, I invest myself, all my passion, all my energy, into it,” says Guy-Williams, who is a 2019 and 2020 Competitive Advantage alum. “I’m really passionate about everything I do, and there’s nothing that I do that I’m not 120 percent invested in. That’s just who I am as a person.”

He recently spoke with Competitive Advantage about where this drive has taken him, what he’s learned along the way and where he hopes to go in the future.

Q: I understand that you originally wanted to be an engineer, so what led to your decision to study business?

This by all means was not my intended pathway. I applied to, I think, 11 schools, and UT was actually the only school where I applied to be a business major. My dream was to be an environmental engineer — I was heartset on it — but about five or six days before decisions were going to be made, I was like, “You know what, I’m going to UT.”

I had told myself that if I did business at all, it was going to be at UT. It was mostly because I liked the administration, the thinking, the financial aspects, all of that — the business side of environmental engineering versus sitting down and working through a long problem. I’m glad I made that pivot because, looking back, I don’t think I would have been as invested in environmental engineering as I am in business.

Q: Why did you specifically apply for business only at UT Austin?

I went to some diversity conferences when I was in high school that McCombs hosted. One was a week crash course that teaches you about finance, accounting, information systems, supply chain and management. You have this big case competition at the end, and you have a day and a half to get everything done and present it. I really enjoyed that. I felt comfortable being at UT’s campus, and I returned the following year for another program in accounting, which was amazing. Then I returned the next year for Subiendo: The Academy for Rising Leaders.

When I began applying for college scholarships, everyone at UT was really helpful. I didn’t even know what the FAFSA was then, and they really helped me through that. It made me feel like it was more than just a school, I’m more than just tuition. That was one of the many reasons why I considered UT, and because I had so much experience with the business school, I was like, “If I go to UT, it would only be for business.”

Q: Within your major, you have a concentration in management information systems. What made you choose that focus?

My first semester, I took a management information systems class. It was rough, but the professor taught us so much. I was interested in technology and thought I could apply this to so many different areas. It was a great way to blend the business side that I love with the tech side that I also love.

Q: What obstacles have you faced as a first-generation student, and how have you overcome those?

As far as navigating the whole college scene, that has been very interesting — lots of long nights. Throughout high school I worked to make sure that when I did go to college, I would be able to help support myself. Thankfully, I got scholarships to cover a lot of it, but there were a lot of obstacles. My grandparents didn’t finish middle school and high school; my parents finished high school. So, there was that gap of not knowing what I needed for a dorm, how to apply for scholarships or how to even send in my application. I didn’t know those things.

Thank God I had the support system at UT. I reached out to them quite a bit and asked questions, like what is a good SAT score, because we didn’t have ACT or SAT prep classes at my high school. They were able to guide me in the right direction and be like, “This is what you want; here are some things to help you get there.” That has really helped me overcome some of those obstacles. I do still face them a little bit, but that has also provided me an opportunity to help others.

I’m always a part of volunteer groups that do outreach to high school students, to help those who may be in similar situations, who may not know how to even apply to college. Being able to give back to them and share my experiences really helps them understand that they’re not alone in this. Knowing that I wasn’t alone helped me overcome a lot of obstacles.

Q: Did participating in Competitive Advantage help address some of those obstacles as well?

Absolutely. Being able to hear everyone’s stories during that time and the issues they’ve faced and how they’ve overcome them is inspiring, because I may have faced something similar that I’ve just never talked about or never addressed because I didn’t know how to. Talking to them about what they went through and how they got through it helped me. It builds a deeper bond than if you’d just met in the classroom.

Q: What were your expectations for Competitive Advantage, and what did you walk away with?

I expected it to be just like a regular conference, where you’re sitting in seminars all day every day. It way exceeded my expectations by, one, just being able to meet and interact with people from different schools. I got the chance to meet a lot of companies, some of which I am still in contact with. One of them offered me an internship, which I accepted. I didn’t expect that level of personal and professional development.

Q: How did Competitive Advantage help you get closer to achieving your career goals?

For one, it really gave me a different outlook on companies that I should be looking at or interested in. I interned at Liberty Mutual. If you would have asked me a year ago if I would work for an insurance company, I probably would have told you no. I had never even considered Liberty Mutual as a tech employer, but learning about all the different avenues and how technology plays a role in the insurance industry broke that notion.

I also interviewed with Exxon, and I had never thought about working in oil and gas. They had a financial tech program, and I thought that was another career path that I could use my skill set for. Even at Liberty, they have so many different areas, and they made me understand that I don’t have to just do software development; I can do so much more. That’s why if you’d asked me a couple months ago what I want to do, I would have said software development. I thought that’s what everybody in my major and concentration does. Now I’ve seen that you can work in information security, you can work in cybersecurity, you can work in hosting, you can work in DevOps, you can work in front and back end, you can work in mainframe. I have options, especially with the skill sets I have.

Q: What was your internship experience like?

Liberty went above and beyond for their interns. I was actually studying abroad earlier this year; I was in Australia, and because of COVID, I had a week to return to the United States and get my life in order. That was not fun, but … throughout that time, Liberty was extremely supportive. They knew the situation I was going through, and my recruiter would email me and check in to see if there was anything I needed.

They initially gave us the option of being remote or in person. Of course, the severity increased with COVID, so they pushed everybody online, but they sent us computers. If there was anything that we needed to make it work, we just had to send them an email and they would do it. To me, that showed that I was more than just “human capital,” as they say in business. I was a person, and they never made me feel that I was an intern; they made me feel like I was a Liberty employee. The amount of support I had from them and the constant communication showed me that this isn’t just your standard insurance company. They genuinely care. They care about their customers, but they also care about their employees — and they care about all their employees no matter if you’ve been there for 20 years, 30 years or a couple weeks.

Q: What was the most beneficial thing about your internship?

My manager was really adamant about — if you had something that you wanted to learn — connecting you with people in your areas of interest. I met with people on DevOps. I had a mentor who works on the front-end and back-end of LibertyMutual.com. I met with people who do project management at Liberty, information security and application development. If you had an interest, all you had to do was say it and a manager would find whomever it was who can answer any or all of your questions. I feel like that’s not something that many places would do, but I’m thankful for the opportunity because that’s what shifted me away from solely software development.

Q: You mentioned that you like to volunteer, so why is this important to you?

I love giving back. You know how some people need to run to rejuvenate themselves, to me, that’s giving back.

My grandparents are the type of people who will always help somebody else out. It doesn’t matter if it is their last $20 until they get paid, they are still willing to help anybody that they can. I love that. My challenge every day is to make someone’s day at least slightly better than it was before, whether that’s something as big as volunteering at a children’s hospital or something as simple as asking how somebody is or making them smile or laugh. That’s really what drives my passion for community service, because I feel like I’ve been in situations where I’ve wished I had somebody there, a shoulder to lean on or somebody who would just listen. If I can be that for somebody else, I will. So, community service is a huge part of who I am.

Q: What advice do you have for other first-generation college students?

Take the leap of faith. I wouldn’t be in any situation I’ve been in or done anything I’ve done without doing that. I was the second person in my extended family to ever leave the United States, and I was terrified. But I took a leap of faith. As a first-generation student, I was like, “Am I going to make it in college? Am I going to be OK not being home? Am I going to succeed? Am I going to fail?” But I took a leap of faith. Even professionally: “Is this job right for me? Do I have the skills to even do the job?” Take a leap of faith, and trust in yourself. If you believe in yourself and you believe that no matter what obstacles come your way, you’re going to find some way to overcome them — no matter how difficult — you’re going to find a way.

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