Durham Tech Alumni Spotlight

Carmen Williams ’17
Owner, Blueprint and Ink

Carmen Williams adjusted her mortarboard as she stood along the red velvet ropes that separated her from a growing line of regalia-clad faculty members.

It was still hours from the 2017 Durham Technical Community College Commencement, but Williams was ready. Alone in the line, she thought about her inspiration – Williams’ mother.

“I did it for my mom,” she said.

With her walk across the wood-paneled stage of the Durham Performing Arts Center on May 10, Williams, 38, became the first member of her family to graduate from college.

Her mother, who couldn’t attend commencement, watched at home via Facebook.
Williams earned an Associate in Applied Science in Architectural Technology after initially attending North Carolina A&T State University after high school. During her freshman year, Williams dropped out and moved back home to Durham to help take care of her mother who was recovering from spinal surgery.

While home, Williams lived job-to-job before settling as a Global Administrator at IBM. But the position was a job, not a career, she said, and Williams began looking at Durham Tech programs.

“I took a drafting class in high school and fell in love with architecture,” Williams said. “So I was excited to see that Durham Tech offered an architectural technology program. I read over the course description and it sounded great, so I applied.”

Williams’ father, an electrical engineer at IBM, was excited to hear she was starting this career path.

“I always looked up to my dad growing up,” Williams said. “He was happy to hear I was pursuing architectural technology and it was great to be able to have conversations about design issues.”

While working and attending classes full time, Williams said she was overwhelmed, but persevered. Halfway through the program, her mom had a stroke, which gave Williams new perspective on school.

“I wanted to make my mom proud and I wanted her to see me graduate. I had to hurry and finish school because I didn’t know how much time she had,” Williams said. “I had to finish no matter what it took so I would study for hours and draft for hours. I would come to class early and stay late. It was a difficult time for me, but at no point did I feel like giving up.”

In addition to her mom’s illness, Williams faced financial obstacles as she paid her own way through school.

“It took me three years to complete the program because there were times I couldn’t afford to pay for full-time courses,” Williams said. “Sometimes I paid for school before I bought groceries, but the sacrifice was worth it.”

To relieve the financial stress, Williams applied for the O’Brien/Atkins Associates, PA Architectural Drafting Scholarship from the Durham Tech Foundation.

“I told my instructor I didn’t think I was coming to school that semester because I couldn’t afford it,” Williams said. “A couple days later, I received a letter in the mail from the Durham Tech Foundation that I had been awarded the scholarship. It was a huge help. Had it not been for the scholarship, I was not coming to school that semester.

Standing by her side throughout the program, Williams attributes much of her success to Rick Lawrence, an instructor and director of the Architectural Technology program at Durham Tech.

“He’s just a phenomenal person and teacher,” Williams said. “Sometimes I’d tell Mr. Lawrence that I felt behind in class, but he’d say, ‘I’m not worried about you, you’re going to do great things, just keep at it.’ That was one of the most encouraging things, to have a teacher that knew me as a person.”

Giving back to the Architectural Technology department was a priority, Williams said.

Her dream came true last month when she was offered an adjunct instructor position to teach three courses in the Architectural Technology program at Durham Tech during the fall semester.

“I’m most excited about being able to transition from student to teacher,” Williams said. “Having sat in those same seats, I know how valuable the knowledge is that I will be passing on to students.”

In addition to teaching, Williams started her own business, Blueprint and Ink, a consulting firm that specializes in residential construction and renovations.

“I graduated high school 20 years ago, so you can always finish,” Williams said of her advice to future students. “You can always go back and pursue your dreams. It may not be in the timeline you’ve set for yourself, but it’s always attainable.”