Alumni Plaza the center of the Dowagiac campus


Tami and her players graduate

Assistant Coach Tami Williams, center, flanked by Juliette Schroeder, team manager Maura Killips, Emma Beckman and Bianca Hobson

SMC Assistant Volleyball Coach Graduates with Her Players

Published on May 8, 2024 - 1 p.m.

Southwestern Michigan College Assistant Volleyball Coach Tami Williams walked in the 57th Commencement May 4 alongside the first volleyball players SMC has graduated since pausing intercollegiate sports in 1997.

Williams enjoyed a 22-year career in education, but she transferred to Western Michigan University just shy of her SMC associate degree by an economics class.

Williams “did a reverse transfer of credits from WMU which satisfied our institutional requirements for a degree,” Registrar Steve Carlson said. “The reverse transfer agreement is very common in higher education. Students still have to satisfy all of our requirements and still have to meet our GPA and residency requirements (a minimum of 30 credits taken at SMC or the final 15 credits of an associate degree through SMC). Tami satisfied all requirements. We were thrilled to be able to do this for her.”

Williams graduated from Niles High School in 1979 and was in her mid-30s by the time she entered college.

She was a student at SMC when athletics went on hiatus in 1997. Her daughter, one of the four of her seven children in college at the time, expected to play volleyball.

“I had one class to go when I transferred to Western to become a teacher,” Williams said.

Williams taught the whole spectrum of social studies for her alma mater — world history, U.S. history, law, civics and, ironically, economics, which she studied at Western.

In fact, she immersed herself in economics, almost enough for another master’s degree to pair with the WMU master’s degree she added in 2012 to go with her 2002 bachelor’s degree.

These days, besides her place alongside Head Volleyball Coach Jenny Nate, who brought Williams with her from Niles two years ago, Tami and her husband, Verlin, are Roadrunners superfans who love to travel.

They watched in person when Todd Hesson’s SMC wrestlers competed in Iowa and Jay Jenkins’ women’s basketball team advanced to the Division II National Championship in Joplin, Mo., capping a 25-7 season.

Intensive professional development efforts through the Foundation for Teaching Economics took her to the classroom where President Obama taught law at the University of Chicago from 1992 until his election to the U.S. Senate in 2004 and onto a research vessel in Lake Michigan.

“I retired last Halloween from Niles High School after 22 years,” Williams said. “I didn’t graduate until I was 40. My husband went here and our granddaughter graduated from here last year, so we have three generations. So many students I taught in Niles are here now, like the basketball team.”

With 18 grandchildren, “We go in every direction because now I’ve got grandkids in three MAC (Mid-American Conference) schools” — WMU, Central Michigan and Northern Illinois universities.

Williams’ story tacitly transmits a message to current players of, “You can get it done at any age. I never thought I would get to go to school.  I wanted to go for nursing and my parents said I didn’t like needles, but they didn’t have the money to send me anyway.”