Skip to content Skip to main navigation Report an accessibility issue
UT's Deadric Williams, College of Sociology

Internal Competitions Lift Up Rising Stars

Deadric Williams, assistant professor of sociology, was surprised when he received the nomination to apply to the William T. Grant Jr. Scholars program. He came to the University of Tennessee in January 2020 with expertise on the impact of racism on Black families. In 2021, he also became a joint faculty assistant professor in the Department of Child and Family Studies.

“Deadric Williams is a rising star who is already creating considerable stir among sociologists and demographers for his radical reimagining of racial inequality,” said Stephanie Bohon, department head of sociology. His work has been published in journals such as Issues in Race and Society, Social Problems, Family Relations, Population Research and Policy Review, and the Journal of Family Issues. A former American Sociological Association Minority Fellow, his work is currently funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Williams’ nomination to pursue the William T. Grant program resulted from a new approach to limited faculty fellowships and awards in the Office of Research, Innovation, and Economic Development. Managed by Hannah Schmidt, research development coordinator, this approach coordinates about two dozen internal competitions for opportunities offered by private foundations and corporations. In February 2020, Schmidt worked with department heads across campus to identify such nominees simultaneously.

“The goal is to streamline the process, find the best-fit applicants, and decrease the burden on faculty members,” Schmidt said. “Instead of the often-hasty turnaround of a few weeks, nominees now have several months to develop strong, competitive proposals for these prestigious awards.”

In addition to the William T. Grant Foundation, other programs included in this process include Sloan Research Fellowships, Whiting Fellowships, and Carnegie Fellowships.

With Williams’ nomination, he was invited to work with Alan Rutenberg, research development manager, who helped him align the application with the interests of the foundation. As he waits to hear the results, Williams said his decision to apply has already generated benefits, despite the application’s outcome.

“While it has been a ton of work, the process stretches you beyond the work you do now,” Williams said, noting that the application asked him to lay out his research plans for the next five years.

“For example, scholars who use quantitative methods like myself might do qualitative work. My stretch dealt with state-level inequality, how to scale up my research to the state level and the effect on families with children,” he said. In addition, he said the program stretches researchers’ networks by requiring mentors and explaining why they were selected and how they will contribute to the project.

Williams also worked with Diana Moyer, research development manager, who he said provided both detailed editing and big-picture suggestions to help him strengthen the application. In addition, he said Kelle Knight, grants and contracts coordinator in the College of Arts and Sciences, was a really big help with the budgeting.

Based on this experience, Williams advises his colleagues who are going up for tenure to take time and think about their next five years, with effort to avoid the “post-tenure slump.” This application forced him to do that, which he said is one of the benefits of the process.

“Be explicit about it,” he said. “If I’m funded, then I will execute the proposal. If I’m not funded, as I approach tenure, the proposal actually maps out the next five years of my research plan, explicitly. Literally, I’ve mapped out five years of research, all attainable, with or without the funding.”

For more information on UT’s limited submission process or faculty fellowships, please contact Hannah Schmidt at