University of Arkansas at Little Rock senior Meredith Williams started 2018 with a whirlwind trip that took her 3,500 miles and six time zones away to Iceland for an intensive study of renewable energy.
Williams and others students from around the world heard presentations by industry experts on sustainability, hydropower, geology, biofuels and geothermal energy. She earned two college credits as part of the experience.
“As a child I was always curious about what makes something work, and how it is put together,” Williams said. “Growing up I would always use up my mom’s tape and copy paper to construct models of buildings. She always joked about me becoming an architect. As I got older, construction caught my eye because it is always a growing industry. Constructing facilities in the area was something I wanted to be a part of. Also my grandfather was a superintendent for 30 years in Texas, so I guess I have it in my blood to build.”
Last semester, Williams applied to and was accepted to Reykjavik University Iceland School of Energy Program.
Going in, Williams hoped to learn about the “green aspects” of Iceland such as how the country harnesses energy from dormant volcanoes into geothermal technology to power cities.
“To say the least, my expectations were met above and beyond what I initially thought,” Williams said. “I not only learned about and visited their hydropower and geothermal plants, but I learned about the culture – the way they eat, live, and prosper in such a harsh climate.”
“This program is exactly what I needed for my career goals,” Williams said, “but more importantly, this program and this trip helped fulfill me as a person. Going to Iceland has opened my eyes to technologies that are needed for green energy here in the U.S. I want to help fight for a cleaner earth and help invent and grow the use of green technology.”
The trip was Williams’s first international travel experience. As part of the program, Williams and other students explored the city of Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital and largest city with a population of about 123,000 people. She explored caves and lava tubes and snorkeled between Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. The most memorable highlight, though, was a six-hour hike to a natural hot springs in the Sveitarfelgio mountains. The return hike was in darkness, about 60 miles from the nearest city.
“As we got half way back, we were standing on a high point, and our guide told us to turn off our headlamps and look up,” Williams recalled. “The sight was unbelievable. We gazed upon what looked like thousands of stars and the aurora borealis. We all stopped talking and we seemed mesmerized by what we were looking at.”
“In that moment, I realized how small the human race really was, and how we take things for granted. I thought about everything I have done up until this point, and a fire was relit in me to do more.”
Williams has been working in the construction industry for the past four years at CDI Contractors in Little Rock, where she is the marketing coordinator, a project administrator intern, and administers a hands-on program in partnership with local subcontractors that teaches participants multiple construction trades.
After she graduates later this year, Williams will return to working on job sites.
“Supporting myself through college as a nontraditional student has given me the opportunity to develop my professional skills in construction – from estimating, to working on a job site to business representative and marketing,” Williams said. “In all these varied roles, I am not only learning communication skills but most importantly, leadership skills.”
Williams mentors youth through several programs. She has worked with City of Little Rock’s Summer Youth Employment Programs, encouraging recent high school graduates to consider STEM-related fields. She also has worked with the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas Girls of Promise program, mentoring a group of junior high girls exploring STEM fields.
“I want other women to know that this is not just a man’s field. For a long time it has mainly been dominated by men, but times are changing, and women are becoming a crucial part of the building process,” Williams said. “I want women who have an interest in this industry to take a chance and try it. I want them to speak up and use their voice to break through stereotypes in construction. This experience has taught me to never give up, and never let anyone take away my dreams.”