Amazing Students

John Morris

John Morris (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski/UGA)

John Morris is committed to improving the lives of other people, and he has put that into practice through his extracurricular involvement. The economics major has also built a community around him involving research, his faith and his love for music.

Suwanee, Georgia

High school: 
Wesleyan School

Current employment: 
According to the IRS, I am employed by both the Terry College of Business for CURO research and Acumen Fiscal Services as a caretaker for a few different families. I am also a program intern at Extra Special People.

Family ties to UGA:
My older brother, Blake Morris, graduated from UGA with a computer science degree and art minor back in 2018.

Expected graduation:
Spring 2021

Degree objective:

Other degrees: 
Certificates: Music Business, Personal and Organizational Leadership

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships: 
Before I go into the stuff that I do, I just want to say that I am thankful for the friends that have invested in me. My life has radically changed over the last 2 1/2 years because of you, and, left to myself, I don’t see myself having gone through those positive changes. You have helped me refocus when I lose sight of who I want to be and supported me no matter what. And to my mother, sorry if you had no idea what I’ve been up to, but thanks for teaching me what selfless love looks like. Finally, faith has played a huge role in my life thus far, so I am thankful to all of those who have assisted me in my spiritual walk.

In my first week at UGA, I found two organizations that changed my life — Athens PBJ and Extra Special People (ESP).

When I first attended Athens PBJ, a nonprofit dedicated to bridging friendships between those that are homeless and those that are not, I didn’t know what to expect. I realized very quickly that people experiencing homelessness are all unique individuals. They have interesting stories and personal preferences just like everyone else. These friendships have taught me to have empathy, but I have also learned how similar seemingly different people can be. We all just want to be loved.

My initial interest at ESP stemmed from having a close family member with Down syndrome, my younger sister. I volunteered at ESP for a year because it was a fun way to fill two afternoons each week and then ended up making a decision to join their summer staff after my first year. That summer in Athens was absolutely incredible, and I was fortunate enough to receive the Ash Service Award from the Honors Program. Those eight weeks at ESP taught me how to effectively love, connect and work with people of all ability levels.

I remained on staff at ESP as a program Intern where I have worked to support the annual Big Hearts Production, taken adult-aged participants on weekly outings to volunteer in the community, taught a music class, and currently teach a yoga class. Instructing in the after-school program is a lot of fun, and it has connected me with so many great families, some of which employ me as a part-time caretaker outside of ESP programming. I am thankful for the tremendous amounts of joy that our participants are able to give, and ESP does a great job allowing them to thrive.

Muse UGA is another service organization that I love. Muse UGA seeks to share music with local middle schoolers through free music lessons in an after-school program. Currently, in my third year on the executive board, it is crazy to see how far this organization has come. Being able to see the faces of children light up as they realize that they too can play music is genuinely awesome.

To stay on the music theme, so many of my friends are incredible musicians, and supporting them got me really interested in music. I decided to pursue a Certificate in Music Business during my second year and began managing a local rock band, Everyday Dogs, to get some real experience. This experience has been fun and taught me so much about the importance of organization, long-term planning and maintaining relationships.

Once I started my Music Business coursework a year later (during my third year), the music scene had become pretty familiar to me, and the classes quickly became among my favorites. Two other friends had recently started a new band, Hotel Fiction, and I have started supporting them in a management role as well. In addition, I got an internship doing music production at the 40 Watt Club through the Music Business Program.

My other economics coursework has been incredible. I am interested more in the urban development side of economics and love learning how different policies can be crucial in improving well-being in a community. I also work in the newly founded Terry Data Analytics Lab amongst several other students committed to advising/tutoring econometric students and thesis students.

Currently, I am doing a CURO project with one of my best friends, William Ross, on analyzing factors correlated with Athens residents self-reporting a fear of eviction/foreclosure. This is especially fulfilling because eviction/foreclosure is a direct cause of homelessness and has affected many of my Athens PBJ friends. We hope to produce a housing fragility index as a deliverable to the local government to better preemptively identify and support at-risk households to prevent eviction/foreclosure.

Within the Honors Program at UGA, I have remained regularly involved as an Honors teaching assistant, where I teach 15 first-years in a seminar covering Honors policies and professionalism, and in other programming such as lunchbox lectures. I was also fortunate enough to receive recognition during my third year as a Crane Leadership Scholar.

Beyond the Honors Program, I am thankful for the supportive community in the Dean William Tate Honor Society, where I currently serve as co-dean, as well as all of the friends that I made during my two years as an active member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. Both of these communities have provided me with my closest friends as well as mentors that have changed my life for the better.

The Institute for Leadership Advancement has also been a wonderful network of people as well. Being in the Fellow program has given me a diverse group of friends from all over campus, and I am thrilled to be working on a service-learning project with ESP for my ILA service-learning project!

A few faith-based communities have also helped shaped me into who I am. The first of these is Classic City Church where I regularly attend on Sunday mornings and volunteer monthly. I also grew spiritually from a Christian-led trip to Israel through Passages Israel. I am excited to go back as a trip leader for 40 students from Samford University in January 2020. Lastly, my friend Ryan leads an unofficial group called Monday Morning Worship in which we all gather at 6 a.m. on Monday mornings for an hour of prayer and worship before sunrise. This group is random, loving and obviously fun if they’re willing to get up consistently at 6 a.m.

These people, organizations and communities mean the world to me, and I am so thankful for their impact on my life. Beyond them, so many other people have supported me, loved me and been a guiding light in my life. Without a doubt, they are the amazing students and people, I just get the honor to work alongside them.

I chose to attend UGA because … 
… it made sense! I knew that I wanted to stay in-state for Zell (I’m from Suwanee), and that easy decision quickly narrowed it down to UGA and the nerds in Atlanta. After all of two minutes of thought, I decided that even if I got into both that I would still go to UGA. Then I applied early, got the fireworks email and have never looked back. My final six months of high school were spent doing everything except writing college essays, going on tours and stressing about college.

My favorite things to do on campus are … 
… all related to food! I love going to the Niche Dining Commons for lunch with friends. Also, watching the sunrise come over Sanford Stadium as I drink my Bolton coffee in the Sunrise Cafe is another favorite of mine.

When I have free time, I like … 
… to do things with other people! Free time for me is almost never spent alone; times of solitude are when I am working.

You can catch me with friends at concerts at various venues around town. I also consider my time at Extra Special People to be leisure (even though it’s work?) because it’s always fun and is just spending time with my friends of all abilities. My friend, Charles, and I also do a Friday morning Bible study downtown that is a ton of fun. Lastly, I like to play music in my room. This endeavor has especially bothered my roommates recently as I am working on recrafting my trumpet skills. I also have been teaching one of my roommates, JT, how to play the banjo.

Our house also does family dinner once a week where we cook, eat and hang out together (which is actually crazy because of how busy my roommates are).

The craziest thing I’ve done is … 
… spend my summer in Uganda with a family that I met on Facebook. They (the Harpers) were looking for a short-term special education teacher (which I am not at all capable of being) for their two adopted sons with Down syndrome, Charlie and Levi. After the Harper family talked with me and a few others on Skype calls, they decided to let me come and focus on improving the behaviors of Charlie and Levi while another girl, Katherine, did actual school with them.

Two months later, I met them for the first time in Arua, Uganda, where I would spend the next 2 1/2 months of my life. I could go on with stories from Arua forever, but to recap, I tutored math, plowed land for sweet potatoes in a refugee camp, rode motorcycles everywhere, went on a safari, camped next to a waterfall, and much, much more.

THE CRAZIEST THING that came from that trip, however, was white water rafting the Nile River in Jinja, Uganda. For not much more than $100, we got picked up from a backpackers in Kampala (two hours away), went white water rafting for five hours, got fed, got a night’s stay at a nice hostel overlooking the Nile River, and got a bus ride back to our initial backpackers. In addition, we got free photos that were taken throughout the trip.

On the actual rafting, we were joined by a middle-aged Austrian man who spoke little to no English and two Swedish nurses that spoke decent English. We were worried this language barrier would slow us down in the midst of chaos, but we ended up communicating just fine.

Considering the significantly lower safety requirements, liability, etc. that a white water rafting company is responsible for in Uganda, the actual rafting was quite the thrill. The Nile is massive, and the rapids were insane. We went down multiple Grade 5 rapids, a couple of waterfalls, and had to get out and walk around a Grade 6 at one point. The trip is so intense that four safety kayaks follow closely at all times as rescue kayakers. We flipped twice.

Those 2 1/2 months were some of the best of my life. I got away from the stressors of life here, did crazy things, and developed as an individual, and it was all because of a Facebook post. Maybe the power of social media is the crazy thing here.

My favorite place to study is … 
… the couch in my living room. Almost all of my studying is done there because my study hours are typically 6:30-9 a.m. when things are relatively quiet. Before I moved into the house that I currently live, these hours were spent in the Sunrise Cafe in Bolton (another favorite study spot of mine).

Beyond that, I study whenever I end up having time here and there. I very much dislike huge blocks of time studying and often fill my days with other activities so that I am forced to stay ahead. This scheduling makes me use my time in the margins effectively so I can be ready for bed at a reasonable hour in the evenings.

My favorite professor is … 
… really hard to say definitively, so I will take the shotgun approach.

Meghan Skira was my first ever economics professor, and I had her during my first semester of college. Her class was engaging and got me interested in the economics major. As we developed a relationship outside of class, Dr. Skira has always been happy to talk to me about my random interests, give me advice on my random ideas, and connect me with people that she sees as useful to my network. She sends me articles that apply to my interests if she comes across them and has never turned me away from her office when I show up unannounced. In a lot of ways, Dr. Skira has helped me find my academic interests and inspired me in more ways than she knows. Thank you, Dr. Skira!

Another economics professor that has impacted my life is Kate McClain. She followed up Dr. Skira’s micro class with a challenging macroeconomics course the following semester. Around halfway through the semester, I found myself in Dr. McClain’s office fascinated by a few extracurricular activities of hers that she had mentioned in class. Since that two-hour conversation, she has become a mentor figure to me. She is kind, caring and invested in her students. The combination of her class, Dr. Skira’s class, and my relationships with each of them have made me fall in love with economics. Thank you, Dr. McClain!

Finally, just because his class has been my favorite class in college, Tom Lewis. I am currently in his music production class, and we are yet to have a class that I do not laugh out loud. He is absolutely hilarious, a legend in music production, and passionate about fostering his students’ creativity. There is nothing that I love more than receiving a late-night, multi-page eLC email from Tom about whatever is on his mind that night. Keep inspiring your students to do what they love!

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with …
… my younger sister, Sarah Grace, on a day that she loves me. I say a day that she loves me because she’s the baby of the family (and a moody teenager) with five older brothers. That family dynamic, paired with Down syndrome, makes her tougher than anyone that I know. Usually, I can crack her shell with a game of putt-putt or trip to the trampoline park on a surprise day that I am home in Suwanee.

Those days start with me driving home for whatever reason and surprising her in the school carpool line. Sometimes she gets excited to see me, other times she gets mad and asks where mom is and why she sent me. We then play her favorite song, “God’s Not Dead” by the Newsboys, as we drive to either the trampoline park or putt-putt course (where she is yet to beat me but refuses to admit it as she conveniently “forgets” that the lower score wins in golf). By this point, she has usually cheered up. We then go home and eat dinner together before finishing the night off with a movie, popcorn and sleepover.

That is a little more than an afternoon, but words can’t begin to describe how much I love my sister. She is the glue in our family, my favorite person in the world, and a source of joy. I am so thankful for the blessing that she is!

If I knew I could not fail, I would … 
… open a coffee shop/music venue accepting of all people. Considering some of my best friends have differing abilities, accessibility concerns, financial backgrounds, religious views and music tastes, there are few places that they naturally intersect. Ideally, this place could bridge those relationships and also provide employment to some of my friends that are often overlooked in the labor market. I would also want it to connect individuals with resources that could be beneficial to them whether it be mental health services, employment assistance, health resources, caretakers, etc. What a beautiful thing it would be if friendships emerged that changed lives!

If money was not a consideration, I would love to … 
… go explore China with my best friend from high school, Richard. He grew up in Guangzhou, China, and moved in with a family friend in Alpharetta to go to high school and now college in the U.S. Though he is enrolled at Babson College in Boston and is currently abroad in London, we prioritize seeing each other whenever possible.

In high school, Richard regularly took me to small “authentic” Chinese places that I never would have found otherwise. We always called it “going to China,” and he would order for both of us in Mandarin. I really do want to go to the real China with him, though. Without money as a limit, we would just fly around to new cities every couple of days and ball out on crazy experiences and food.

What is your passion and how are you committed to pursuing it? 
I am passionate about improving the lives of people around me by loving them well. This passion is mostly pursued through close relationships (like with roommates and best friends) but also in areas that I have influence. Knowledge, to me, is useless if it sits idle in my head, so I often am sharing things that I have learned and am currently learning. Because of this tendency, teaching and mentorship have become a passion of mine as well.

After graduation, I plan to … 
… be forced to figure out what I’m doing! I don’t have a clear-cut career path at this point but am currently considering the following post-grad options/career paths:

Teach for America — I love teaching and mentoring younger people, so I could see myself in education and coaching.

Working at a nonprofit — Ideally something that fits within the demographic that I have grown passionate serving (housing insecure or developmental disability).

Something in city planning/urban development — I highly value efficiency and improvement thus working to improve a community would be a fulfilling gig for me.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be …
… the beauty of seeing people come together, grow together, and make the world a better place together. The seemingly unrelated places that I spend my time surround me with a variety of people whose lives are quite different in obvious ways. Most of these people will hardly ever encounter each other, if at all, and I will never forget the beautiful moments that have emerged in those times.

For example, one time I brought a participant from ESP to an Athens PBJ event, and he quickly became the life of the party. I went outside for five minutes and come back to him straightening a PBJ friend’s hair (he works front desk at a hair salon and loves doing hair). He spread joy that day, and I will always cherish getting to help create those moments.

All of you that share these moments with me are my dearest friends. Your kindness, support, humor and love will always be cherished. You are all amazing; thank you.