Skip To Content
Spelman Students

Our Stories

Dr. Talithia Williams: Data Yields Endless Possibilities

January 2016

talithia-williamsColumbus, Georgia, native Talithia Williams, C’2000, had no idea she would add “doctor” before her name when she arrived on Spelman’s campus nearly 20 years ago. Not only did she not realize that Black women got Ph.D.s in mathematics, she didn’t know much about the historical accomplishments of African Americans either. Taking African Diaspora and the World, Spelman’s signature interdisciplinary core course better known as ADW that every student experiences in her first year, changed her perspective. 

“It was my first time being exposed to a history of Black people that showed us in a different light, definitely a more positive light,” revealed the Harvey Mudd College associate professor of mathematics. “I remember some of the books we read, especially The Wretched of the Earth, Quicksand and Passing. I just remember thinking that these weren’t books that I was reading in high school or middle school. I wasn’t exposed to Frederick Douglass or Benjamin E. Mays or all these great Black scholars. The picture that I had prior to coming to Spelman was ‘okay Black people were slaves’ and that was it. So having this class my very first semester was such an awakening that we’re so much more than we’re taught to believe.”

Today, Dr. Williams easily could add her own name to that historical list of accomplished African Americans, as her career as a mathematician led her into healthcare advocacy. Using her professional experiences that include research appointments at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the National Security Agency, and NASA, Dr. Williams created statistical models that emphasize the spatial and temporal structure of data with environmental applications. As a result, she developed a cataract model used to predict the cataract surgical rate for developing countries in Africa. The mathematician’s breakthrough research has garnered her a following outside of the scientific community. Her popular TED Talk, Own Your Own Body’s Data, has received more than a million views.

With this new breed of high-tech self-monitors (capturing heart rate, sleep and steps per day), Dr. Williams makes a compelling case that measuring your body’s data daily can reveal much more than even your doctor may know. She concludes her talk by encouraging her audience to take charge of their personal health by making this simple request to their physician, “Show me the data.”

This article by Ronda Racha Penrice originally appeared in the 2016 winter edition of the Spelman Messenger.

Submit Your Story

We want to hear from you. Briefly tell us about your Spelman achievements. If more information is needed, we will contact you.

Please Note: We appreciate your contribution, but submission of your information does not guarantee you will be featured in Our Stories.
Enter your full name.
For example, C'2020
Limit 500 characters. HTML tags are not allowed. Tell us a little about yourself and why you would like to be profiled in Our Stories.
* Photo
Please provide a large, quality photo.
Be sure the video is marked as Public.
How Did You Hear About Our Stories? (check all that apply)

* Accept Terms