UM-DeSoto 2022 Graduate Leads Security Team at Orpheum
Williams completes degree almost twenty years after initial tenure at Ole Miss
Photo: University of Mississippi-DeSoto's Brett Williams of Southaven will graduate with his Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice at the UM Commencement ceremonies on May 14. Williams took a 20 year break from college before returning to complete his degree. He now oversees security operations at the historic Memphis Orpheum Theatre.
SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – Brett Williams found himself driving along Church Road in fall of 2019 when he stopped and entered a testing center at the University of Mississippi-DeSoto at the DeSoto Center in Southaven.
“It always ate at me that I didn’t finish my degree,” said Williams, a Southaven native. “I walked in to the testing center and realized I was at the wrong location – but it didn’t matter. They sent me to the main building and I started the process of going back to school.”
Almost twenty years after first enrolling at Ole Miss, Williams is slated to complete his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with an emphasis in homeland security this summer.
His journey in higher education began after he graduated from high school in 2004.
“I started off in the business program,” he said. “I picked that major because that’s what people told me I should do. I didn’t like it, so I left there and joined the Army. Joining the Army was the first time I felt God calling me towards something. We were in the heart of the Afghanistan War, and I felt called to do more. “
Williams left for basic training in January of 2009. He was then assigned to the 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Ky.
“During my almost five years in the Army, I deployed twice to Afghanistan,” Williams said. “Once in a recon/sniper unit, and my second deployment was as a bomb dog handler. I left the Army shortly after my second deployment.”
With an honorable discharge and his GI Bill in his back pocket, he decided to enter law enforcement in 2013. He worked at the DeSoto County Sheriff’s Department for eight years, where he was a K-9 handler working with a Belgian Malinois named Don.
In July of 2021, Williams was offered an exciting opportunity outside of typical law enforcement.
“I loved my time at the Sheriff’s Department, but I wanted to try something new,” he said. “I began my current position at the Orpheum as director of safety and security. I am the first ever security director; it was a created position. I am building parts of the security plan that have never been in place.”
At the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis, Williams is responsible for managing the in-house security team, while coordinating contractors and officers from the Memphis Police Department who work each show. In addition, he takes care of security for the Orpheum’s Halloran Centre.
“I also manage the emergency management plan and any emergency management or security issues that may come up.”
Surprisingly, Williams said that the learning curve for this job was not related to security management, but to theater and performing arts itself.
“Coming into the theater world was a big change,” he said. “There is a whole other aspect of this that I had to learn about. I had maybe seen two plays in my entire life, so I definitely learned a lot.”
Williams realized the impact that a degree would have on his career and was determined to finish.
“I was able to take online courses at Northwest Mississippi Community College for a couple of semesters. Then I transferred to the university and began taking nine hours at a time online.
“I have been slowly chipping away at it.”
Kacy Dixon, coordinator of student services at UM-DeSoto, applauds Williams on his success in the criminal justice program.
“Brett has done a wonderful job at Ole Miss-DeSoto,” Dixon said. “He knew how important it was to finish his degree, and he put in the effort to get it done. We are so proud of him and can’t wait to celebrate with him at Commencement.”
Taking classes while juggling family and “real-life” responsibilities was no easy task, Williams said.
“When you’re raising two kids, trying to be a good husband and working full time, it’s challenging,” he said. “It is doable, but challenging. My family is my number one priority and I’ve been trying to do school when I can. There were always three or four students in my classes who were in the same kind of situation, which was encouraging.”
This summer Williams will take a final statistics course to officially complete his degree. After taking a break to spend time with his family, Williams plans to enroll in the university’s Master of Criminal Justice program.
“Ole Miss has a great online program for emergency management,” he said. “I intend to roll right into my master’s and continue my education.”
A criminal justice degree offers a wide range of career paths, Williams said.
“A lot of people think a criminal justice degree limits them to law enforcement,” he said. “There is so much more out there than that. After 9/11 there was an increased demand for corporate security. It’s not just sitting in a guard shack. They have security management teams and those jobs are out there as well.”
For more information about criminal justice programs at the University of Mississippi, visit legalstudies.olemiss.edu.