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Mustapha Williams
Mustapha Williams

Mustapha Williams fell in love with architecture while sketching the Nashville skyline as a middle school student. After five years at UT, coupled with a major scholarship award and study abroad trip, he has expanded his horizons—figuratively and literally.

Williams, of Nashville, graduates Friday with a bachelor’s degree in architecture.

Undergraduate college commencement ceremonies will take place Thursday through Saturday, May 10 through 12, and the graduate hooding ceremony will be held at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 10. The university will award 3,113 undergraduate degrees, 923 graduate degrees, 109 law degrees, and 82 veterinary medicine degrees. See the commencement website for a schedule of ceremonies, speakers, security information, and more.

Last year, Williams received two major awards that changed his outlook and his future: the Gilman International Scholarship, which allowed him to study in Poland, and the Gensler Diversity Scholarship, which included an internship in one of the 46 locations of the global architecture, design, and planning firm.

Mustapha Williams in Morski, Poland.
Mustapha Williams in Morski, Poland.

The Gilman International Scholarship is a grant program that enables students to study or intern abroad, with a focus on skills critical to national security and overall cultural awareness.

Williams said, “Receiving the Gilman Scholarship was a great opportunity to explore the world. I studied abroad in Krakow, Poland, which was the most amazing time in my life. Exploring the different cultures, foods, and people of multiple European countries really opened my mind to how big the world is. I was able to visit 16 different countries during my stay, and all of the places were absolutely amazing!

“The people in Krakow were friendly and genuinely interested in American culture. It opened my mind to how we are all in this struggle called humanity and must work together to make a better life for each other.”

While studying in Poland, Williams learned about the country’s history and how history has influenced the design and urban planning of cities like Krakow. He was reminded how difficult it is to learn a new language and implement it into everyday life.

“The most important thing I learned is tolerance for someone different than me. I experienced some moments of impatience when I could not communicate with a Polish person, so I feel for people that come to America and struggle to learn the language.”

When Williams returned to the United States, he began a summer internship at Gensler in Chicago.

The office had 300 employees—more than Williams had ever worked with before.

“I thought that the size would be overwhelming, but it felt like walking through the Art and Architecture building at UT. There were a lot of people, but I was able to meet enough people to feel comfortable,” he said.

At Gensler, Williams worked with other interns on a research project that explored how design affects the culture and identity of the Midwest. He interviewed people on the streets of Chicago about what people think design is and what they look for in architecture projects.

“Architecture is about serving the people that will occupy the space. Therefore, designers must constantly understand the needs of the people, not just create a beautiful building.”

Once Williams returned to campus, the awards kept rolling in.

He received the Office of Research and Engagement Gold Award, the College of Architecture and Design First Place Award, and the Phi Kappa Phi Award for his thesis project, “Urban Identity.”

After graduation, Williams will return to Chicago to work full time at Gensler. He is looking forward to participating in community events across the Chicago area with professional organizations such as the National Organization of Minority Architects.


Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,