Freed by philanthropy

Cole Williams
Cole Williams. Hometown: Davis, Calif. Major: Genetics and Genomics

By Yinon Raviv

When he was 5 years old, Cole Williams '19, asked his mom for pumpkins. He had an idea.

"My mom was confused at first, but I insisted that I wanted pumpkins", he said.

Williams took a whole shopping cart full of pumpkins home and laid them out on the lawn. Halloween was right around the corner, and he sold them all. Once he finished counting his money, he went over and gave it to his mom.

"I was 5 years old, so I didn't really understand it that well, but I handed my mom the money," Williams said. "I knew she needed it after my dad passed away."

Compassion In His Genes

William's father lost his battle with cancer a few months prior, meaning he had to grow up quickly. He recounts feeling responsible for his family all throughout his childhood and his teenage years. He's been working for as long as he could remember and was always aware of his family's financial situation.

When he came to UC Davis and received the Beeghly-Merritt Memorial Scholarship, the Davis native felt, for the first time, he didn’t have to worry so much about working.

“It was freeing. It’s the obvious things, like knowing that I can spend all my time learning about my passion—genetics,” Williams said. “But it’s also the things like realizing that I can live in the freshman dorms instead of at home.”

Williams describes his current arrangement at Tercero as the perfect balance - home is always a short bike ride away, and he gets to be a part of the UC Davis community and live with his friends. He’s also closer to his classes, where he’s studying a subject he’s been enraptured by since he was in the fifth grade - genetics. For his future career, he’s considering research, but he’s also really interested in genetic counseling.

As genetic testing becomes commonplace, families will need help to work through making hard decisions and having hard conversations. Williams hopes to help those people navigate their results.

“Genetic counseling lets me marry two things in life that I really value: studying something I love and helping people out. When I opened up about my dad to my community, people were really supportive,” Williams said. “I hope anyone going through any situation can find support in me too.”