Mama teaches son about knowing folks and making connections

Mara Williams with Jordan and Trey
Mara Williams with Jordan and Trey The Kansas City Star

I’ve always told my boys what my mama always told me when I was on the cusp of starting my professional life: It’s not only what you know but also who you know that will open doors for you.

It’s always worked for me. And it worked for my oldest. So I’m hoping it will work for my baby, who’s finishing up his first year at Vanderbilt in May.

Every time we talk these days it’s about how he’ll spend the summer.

Those programs where college kids go to some third-world country to build water wells are educational and rewarding and right up his alley, but they are also pretty expensive. Too rich for our blood — another one of those things my mama used to say.

So he started applying to engineering firms, practically begging for an internship, preferably one that pays. He quickly found out how competitive the market is and that most of the big firms don’t even take applications from first years. They are looking for kids with at least two years of college course work under their hoods.

Me, I want the young man to come home and fill my empty nest. I miss the guy. I told him that this is probably the last year he has to spend the summer working on the low rung of retail or the service industry, and spending time enjoying his friends and the Kansas City sunshine.

I’m thinking that maybe he could clear his head from all the tough studying he’s had to do just to keep up at Vanderbilt. Maybe he could use the time making some connections with firms here in Kansas City so that next year, landing that internship won’t be quite so challenging.

Jordan always has a comeback when Mom’s doing the suggesting. He tells me: “But, Mom, I don’t know anybody.”

True, but he knows me, and I talk to everyone. Not just for work, but in the grocery stores, in the movie line, in the aisles at the bookstore, everywhere. It’s what used to drive the boys crazy. They would get so embarrassed when I’d strike up a conversation with a perfect stranger.

But that’s how I met a lady who knows some people who might be able to help my son get an internship this summer or next.

I got her number and told Jordan to call her. He didn’t. I ran into the lady again, and she wondered why he hadn’t called.

My reply: He’s a teenager and he still hasn’t grasped the “it’s who you know” part.

She laughed. She understood. And because she believes it takes a village, she took Jordan’s number. Before I could get home and call Jordan to warn him, that lady had called him. No promises were made, but he had made his first connection.

Later he told me, “Mom, she knows people and she said she would introduce me to the people she knows. You know what they say, Mom. It’s not always about what you know …”

His first year of college is nearly over. Thank goodness he learned something.

Mará Rose Williams: 816-234-4419,, @marawilliamskc