January 22, 2008
John McWilliams loves to teach about order, detail and complexity. When it comes to his own experience, the detail and complexity are there. He accepts the order of his life by faith.
In his eighth year on the OBU faculty, the assistant professor of natural science said his arrival on Bison Hill was part of God’s providence.
“I was at the right place at the right name,” said Dr. McWilliams. “I enjoy teaching. I’d rather be doing that than just about anything.”
When he says “anything,” he speaks with a significant degree of experience. A native of the southwestern Arkansas town of Prescott, McWilliams headed to the University of Arkansas in the mid-1970s to study medicine. He didn’t like the pre-med program as much as he hoped, and he changed his major to music. But when he realized his future wife, Sherry, also was planning a career in music, he decided one band director in the family would be sufficient. Hence, he wound up as a biology education major.
The third choice turned out to be a good one. After just seven years on the OBU faculty, McWilliams received the University’s Distinguished Teacher Award in May 2007, the highest honor for an OBU educator.
He started his teaching career in 1980 as a science instructor at Shiloh Christian School in Springdale, Ark. He became chair of the school’s science department in 1988 and filled that role until 1996, when he left the state’s largest Christian school to complete his master’s and doctoral degrees from Arkansas.
His background in secondary education gives him a unique skill set to work with OBU’s science education majors.
McWilliams supervises about a dozen OBU students planning for careers as science teachers. He also works with 40 to 60 elementary education majors.
His role today gives him a greater appreciation for the way a college educator can affect the future. By helping new teachers to love science and adopt a sound philosophy, he can see his work multiplied.
“You have the ability to influence hundreds of thousands of students,” he said.
Making a positive difference in the lives of others is not a new goal for McWilliams. He is a licensed Baptist minister, and has served as a youth pastor and supply preacher. That is just another part of the complexity of his career which has resulted in an ordered progression even though it is marked with significant changes.
To hear him explain his career, one gets the sense there is a confluence of interests and gifts. His teaching allows him to help others. His field of expertise allows him to learn more about his Creator. He bases his desire to teach science on a concept Paul conveyed in Romans 1:20: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”
“You look at the creation around you and see what God is like,” he said. “You see the order and detail. Students who don’t really like science have seen it and they ask questions. There is too much complexity to explain.”