Sheree Williams had never even heard of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology when former Bluffton JV girls basketball coach Kevin Robinson asked her to visit the school.
Four years later, she's preparing to graduate from the school with a degree in biomedical engineering, having established a legacy of winning and hard work on the basketball court.
Williams is a former all-region guard for Bluffton High School, Class of 2011. That year, she decided to forgo the option of staying closer to home on the advice of Robinson, who had left for RHIT the year before.
One day, Williams said she received a call from Robinson, who asked her if she had ever thought about engineering.
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Williams has always had an interest in math and science -- her original goal was to become an athletic trainer -- and after a visit to the Terre Haute, Ind., institute, decided it was the right place for her.
Now, with a December graduation date looming, Williams said she's grateful for her leap of faith.
Rose-Hulman is one of the top-ranked undergraduate academic institutions in the country. U.S. News and World Report rates it as tied for first among schools whose highest offered engineering degree is a bachelor's or master's degree. That puts it in elite company, and makes it a challenge for anyone trying to balance books and basketball.
"She's an amazing kid, she really is," Robinson said. "Rose-Hulman is really hard. When Sheree got to Rose-Hulman, the workload was something that I don't think she was prepared for. Once she adjusted to the workload, she's thrived, just like with everything else she has done. I never once saw her with an attitude. I never saw her complain."
It wasn't easy for Williams, especially during her first year, but she's improved her GPA every subsequent year. It's given her perspective into what it takes to be a student-athlete at a prestigious place like RHIT.
What advice would she give Bluffton's current senior athletes?
"You get out what you put in," Williams said. "It's not easy, but you have to stick with it. Obviously, put books first. You have to earn it so you can get on the court."
She's earned her share of acclaim on the hardwood, too, recovering from a torn ACL in the final game of her junior year to help lead RHIT to their first winning season since 2007. In all, the team accomplished a lot during her time with the program, Williams said. She's most proud of the fact that the number of players has blossomed from seven to 17 in her four years at the Division III school.
"What she's helped bring along is just -- words can can hardly describe it," Robinson said.
"It was really shocking at our senior banquet to learn about all the accomplishments we made," Williams said.
Her attentions can now turn back to school, where she is busy finishing off a degree that she hopes will land her a job working with and designing prosthetics for veterans or injured athletes.
As a senior project, she and a few other students helped design special vibrating shoes for a man who had trouble with sensory perception and positioning in his feet. It's that kind of thing -- finding practical ways to help others -- that drives Williams' prodigious intellectual abilities.
"Originally, I wanted to be an athletic trainer," Williams said. "Now my passion is prosthetics, learning about them and knowing how to mimic the body. It kind of keeps me with people who want to be active."
All of these new opportunities came from Williams' willingness to pull herself out of her geographic and academic comfort zone, and she encourages others making college decisions to broaden their horizons when deciding where to go. Moving away from home may not be the right fit for everyone, but it's a decision she's certainly happy to have made.
"I'd make the same decision," Williams said. "I wanted to be different. I knew I wanted to achieve. Academics is very strong at this school. It's something I felt like I could do."