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Meet the Speakers: Career turning point drove pursuit of master's degree

Charean Williams
Charean Williams is set to deliver the graduate student commencement speech May 5 at 5 p.m. in Frost Arena.

Charean Williams has never been to Brookings but she is about to receive a Master of Mass Communication degree from South Dakota State University and deliver a speech at the graduate commencement May 5.

Williams has been a journalist since graduating from Texas A&M University in May 1986. She has been covering the National Football League since 1994, has been to 24 Super Bowls and seven Olympic Games. She was the first woman president of Pro Football Writers of America and a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector. When the Arlington, Texas, woman reflects on her career as a sports journalist, she said one of her favorite stories didn’t necessarily include any big names or events.

“On Tuesdays, we would take a [Dallas Cowboys football] player and follow that player and do whatever they did,” she said. “They were small-time type players, but that was really fun to see what they did in their off-time.”

In Williams’ commencement speech, she has written, “We all have a story.” This is a philosophy she truly lives by.

“I do think everyone has a story, it’s a matter of figuring out what their story is … everybody’s stories are so different and so interesting, you just have to get them to talk about it,” she said.

Williams’ story starts as early as 7 years old, when she was going to elementary school in Beaumont, Texas. 

“I asked my teacher … how far it was to Dallas. She said, ‘300 miles. Why do you want to know?’ I said, ‘Because I’m going to marry [Cowboys quarterback] Roger Staubach.’”

Williams’ teacher adored that statement and called the local newspapers.

“I had on my Roger Staubach jersey, my football pants,” she said. 

The newspapers called her, “The Cowboys’ Youngest Fan.” 

“I mentioned not only did I want to marry Roger Staubach (former quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys), but I wanted to cover the Dallas Cowboys,” Williams said.

She would go on to do exactly that. Her beat at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram was to cover the Dallas Cowboys since 1999. Williams can see AT&T Stadium from her house.

“I reached the dream I always wanted,” she said. 

After achieving her dreams, Williams was at a crossroads, so she decided to get her master’s degree.

“Once you fulfill what you wanted to do, it’s like ‘OK now what,’” she said. “[It’s] kind of why I went back to school, to think about a second career.”

It was in 2015, when Williams was working at the Star-Telegram that she had considered pursuing her master’s degree. A former manager at the newspaper, Jean Marie Brown, now an assistant professor for the Bob Schieffer College of Communication at Texas Christian University, had been her mentor through this consideration.

“She [Brown] made me think about getting my master’s, going back and wanting to teach,” Williams said. 

In January 2016, Williams enrolled in the online Master of Communication program at SDSU. After searching through several online programs, she said SDSU’s curriculum piqued her interest.

“I came to the conclusion that the classes matched up with what I wanted to do. I wanted to take a couple of education classes, which I ended up doing last summer,” she said. “Every class seemed to match up at the perfect time with what I was doing in my professional life.”

Williams said that she was able to use some of her classwork and apply it to what she was covering while at the Star-Telegram and while completing freelance work for Texas A&M University.

“The classes tell you that this is valuable and what you are learning in the class, you can take it and apply that knowledge and apply it in the profession,” she said. 

She used different multimedia techniques for a story determining if Dallas is still “America’s Team” while at the Star-Telegram. 

In May 2017, after 18 years of working for the Star-Telegram, Williams was laid off. She had about one year left to complete her master’s degree. This life change reaffirmed her choice to further her education even more.

“I’ve gotten to go back to school. I’ve gotten to have a backup plan,” Wiliams said. “It’s all worked out well. I quickly found a job; I was very fortunate.”

She has continued to work while completing her master’s degree, now reporting on the NFL with Pro Football Talk on NBCSports.com. After receiving her degree, Williams said she would like to pursue teaching part time. 

“I think it’s [master’s degree] valuable and I think it’s going to benefit me and transition into something else, like maybe my second career,” she said.

Her family will be there to support her at commencement, with several of them having master’s degrees and working as teachers. Williams looks to them as mentors as she writes the next chapter of her story, going from a 7-year-old girl practicing play-by-plays of Roger Staubach throwing touchdowns to Drew Pearson, to a hopeful teacher of mass communication.