Faculty Profile: O. Dale Williams

Growing up as a self-described “hillbilly” in the Ozark Mountains in Southwestern Missouri, O. Dale Williams most likely never envisioned himself heading up two academic departments at a major state university in Florida. But that’s exactly what happened. 

Williams was spotted in his small hometown by a traveling “blue jean salesman” and recruited to play college football at Southeastern Louisiana University. Majoring in math, he played ball for four years and got his BS in mathematics at Southeastern Louisiana. He then went on to obtain a Master of Public Health and a doctorate in biostatistics from University of North Carolina.

Williams joined FIU in the summer of 2011 from University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he served as dean of the School of Public Health and as professor of medicine and biostatistics in the Division of Preventive Medicine.

Currently Williams is chair of the Department of Biostatistics and interim chair of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health in FIU’s Robert Stempel College of Public Health. “The College is fortunate to have Dr. Williams join our team. He is an internationally recognized leader in clinical trials and collaborative studies and has an extraordinary research portfolio,” says College of Public Health Interim Dean Michele Cicazzo. “The wealth of information and experience he brings is truly an asset to help FIU showcase the research capabilities of our faculty.”

Williams has big plans outlined for the future of the two FIU departments. “I want to create a Biostatistics Resource Center that would provide assistance with strategic planning for major research projects, help design research study questions, provide analytical plans, data management and quality assurance for studies—the latter being items that are not typically included in research proposals,” he says. “I want there to be a group of people on site with a range of skills, who will help enhance the research going on at the university.”

Williams notes that grant proposals that clearly include a biostatistician and defined data controls tend to be reviewed more favorably in the intensely and increasingly competitive research funding process. 

“If you don’t take into account data transfer points – how many, what is where and error rate – your project won’t be as good. This is a critical foundational component of research.”

Williams feels that collaboration is another one of the keys to successful research.

In his dual role as chair of Biostatistics and interim chair of Environmental and Occupational Health, Williams hopes to enhance interdisciplinary collaborative projects, not only between the two departments, but also among the College of Medicine, School of Public Health, College of Nursing and Arts and Sciences.

He has been combining numbers and people in projects for more than 35 years, including a stint on the steering committee for the multi-national World Health Organization Monitoring Trends and Determinants in Cardiovascular Disease Project, for which he led much of the design for the data collection and handling systems synchronizing diverse data from multiple sites in multiple languages over 26 countries. He is the principal investigator for the Fogarty International Center sponsored Clinical Research Training in Non-Communicable Diseases in India program, which is enhancing clinical research expertise. Funding for the project was recently renewed for an additional five years.

“I am proud to be part of a university that wants to push their research infrastructure to move forward, and I want to help make the Robert Stempel School of Public Health and Social Work a better school in a manner that enhances the overall university,” says Williams.