Jamal Rodgers Williams

Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience

When Jamal’s first round with college was stalled by a series of personal roadblocks, he took a hiatus from school and spent several years in the workforce, most recently at Apple. In 2014 he re-started his schooling, and in 2016 transferred to UC San Diego, earning Provost Honors his first quarter. “The experiences I gained outside of academia helped to influence my goals. I know that my goals will require a lot of work and I cannot rely on my intelligence to get me very far. If I cannot put in the work I will fail.”

Clearly, Jamal doesn’t plan to fail. In fact, his trajectory ratcheted up several notches recently when he was awarded the prestigious and highly competitive McNair Scholarship, a federally funded program that partners students with active researchers for two quarters, and includes an intensive independent summer research program. “I am extremely grateful to be honored with this scholarship. I plan to make the most of this opportunity researching memory and attention. In the summer I will conduct my own research and will present it at a minimum of two conferences.”

Earning the McNair was partly the result an earlier opportunity awarded to Jamal: a START scholarship for transfer students, an intensive full-time preparatory program that prepares students for research, including laboratory skills and etiquette, project design and presentation.

Jamal is interested in applying his knowledge to human and machine learning, memory retrieval and plasticity, and psycholinguistics. “Music was my first love,” he says. “Its powerful hold over people and their emotions captivated my imagination. Philosophy was the second. It taught me how to think critically, how to be analytical, and really made me value experience as an educator. Experience has taught me that experience is the best teacher.”

Among Jamal’s formative experiences was a childhood with an absent father. “I was without a template by which to judge myself against as a man. When I was younger I did not realize how valuable that could be until I learned things like shaving, or political savvy by myself.” He hopes to be able to provide a strong role model for others someday, whether his own children or his students.

Returning to college has given him an opportunity to do this, and to see himself and his future in different ways. “I hope that UC San Diego will allow me several experiences: performing research, educating others, becoming fluent in Spanish and growing with new and unexpected opportunities. I am lucky enough to get a scholarship and I take that honor very seriously. I plan to attend graduate school and focus on the cognitive sciences. I’d like to educate at the college level and perform research.”

Jamal Rodgers Williams