By Scotty Striegel
and Leslie Moon
After 21 years of service in the military, Chris Morris retired and found a new way to help others, especially other veterans. Morris is an admissions counselor here at IU Southeast, but more than that he is also a veteran and a Southeast alum while still continuing his education.
Morris’ enthusiastic and open attitude toward the students exemplifies the atmosphere that he experienced at IU Southeast and the same atmosphere he hopes potential students will encounter as well.
Morris works to make non-traditional students feel comfortable attending a traditional university. Every admissions counselor has a group of people to which they specifically relate. Morris’ group of students is adult students and even more specifically, veterans.
Morris feels especially connected to veterans. Because of his own time as a service member, he knows the struggles that veterans specifically encounter when attending college after serving in the military. He retired from active duty as an E-7 Sergeant First Class, a Platoon Sergeant. His military career took him to Iraq in 1990 and 1991 in the First Armored Division, to Haiti in 1994 and 1995 in the 82nd Airborne Division and 1998 in Germany in the First Armored Division and back to Iraq in 2004 and 2005 in the First Calvary Division.
After his service, he faced many challenges upon re-entrance into civilian life. Almost immediately he realized that his high school diploma didn’t carry the same weight it had when he had enlisted in the military. He also suffered from PTSD which would eventually provide inspiration for a career studying abnormal psychology. Hard choices were in front of him that he had to make fast. The decision to go back to school was among his first, and he is thankful for his choice in IU Southeast.
Choosing IU Southeast
Morris said he was immediately welcomed and embraced by the faculty, staff and students at IU Southeast. Professors welcomed him into their classes and valued the diversity of perspectives that he brought along. Professor Dawson, an adjunct English professor, had a special impact on his academic career. He said, “[She] recognized something in me that I, myself wasn’t aware of. She was able to take my raw talent for writing and polish it so as to motivate me to continue perfecting my communication skills.” She was the first person that he felt took a special interest in him and in his writing.
The university’s atmosphere absorbed and comforted him in a way that he said helped him “to overcome many of the challenges that so many of our nation’s veterans face every day.” He felt his involvement at Southeast allowed him to be part of something bigger. This is a large part of what veterans miss upon returning home, the idea of a community all striving towards the same goal. He was able to find that community at IU Southeast. His leadership to the younger, more inexperienced students provided himself with the experience of mentorship in the classroom. Even more, it allowed him to learn from those younger students the things he had missed out on while being a soldier.
Thriving in the environment Southeast offered him, Morris was able to use to the full extent his United States GI Bill, and he graduated from IU Southeast with not one but two bachelors’ degrees, general studies and psychology, in the Bill’s four year term. He is now taking classes in order to continue learning until the Master’s in Psychology program is launched at Southeast. He hopes to complete this post-graduate degree in order to teach at Southeast in the future.
Finding his new purpose
While still an undergraduate student, Morris says, “Writing became a way for me to express thoughts and ideas. It worked as a sort of therapy, relieving a lot of the symptoms of PTSD.” Morris began looking for more opportunities to write at IU Southeast. He worked with professor and The Writing Center Director Leigh Ann Meyer, who helped him to not only further his writing skills but also to hone his verbal communications. As he began studying psychology, Morris realized, “I was in the process of a transition from combat soldier to a successful student and citizen in the civilian sector.”
Writing worked as a sort of therapy.
Lucinda Woodward, assistant professor of psychology, recognized his abilities to effectively communicate the complex ideas Morris was studying in his psychology classes. He says, “As two worlds merged, psychology became my passion and writing, the preferred vessel of conveyance from thought to publication.” Morris learned that using writing as a form of therapy can be effective in helping veterans to transition from soldier to civilian. With the help of Meyer and Woodward, Morris was able to present at multiple conferences around the country on topics that concerned veterans and PTSD. He began to correlate his research with the veterans he had met at IU Southeast and other places.
Through his own experiences with writing and his own research in psychology, Morris began working on the Veterans Writing Project (VWP) to help veterans overcome the difficulties of returning from war. Alongside Leigh Ann Meyer, the Academic Affairs Diversity Coordinator Michael Jackman, and Professor Diane Reid, he is developing a program where veterans can learn to tell their stories through creative writing.
Morris was inspired by the writings of famous veteran and Times Magazine contributor of the Battle-lands Blog, Ron Capps. With Capps’ permission, his book, Writing War: A Guide to Telling Your Own Story will serve as the curriculum for VWP seminars and workshops.
Capps is famous for saying “every veteran has a story, but some of us need a little help telling that story.” Morris said that their plan is to provide a no cost, two day seminar/workshop for veterans/service members, and family members. This seminar will be open to the public and set up so that all the vital instruction be delivered on the first day.
Every veteran has a story, but some of us need a little help telling that story.
This means that even if a veteran cannot make the second day, he/she still has the tools necessary to get started. The second day is to be used to start writing their story while instructors go into further detail and provide one-on-one assistance with the development of an outline.
The program will be advertised at local Veterans of Foreign Wars’ (VFW) American Legion Posts, and it will also be open to any IU Southeast student veteran. Eventually, the stories are to be published in a yearly or quarterly journal and archived in Southeast’s library. The hope is that this project will provide veterans with a way to share their stories and also help to integrate them more into the Southeast family, because Morris’ own involvement at Southeast as a student helped him to gain success as a student and as a person.
Morris worked as the veterans’ special projects facilitator at Southeast during his time as an undergraduate. He said this experience provided him with opportunities to bring more visibility to the veteran population and clear the way for easier transitioning for future veterans. Fresh off of graduation, Morris was eager to find work with his degree. His love for this campus, its students and faculty led him to want to stay at IU Southeast.
He was able to land in the admissions office as an admissions counselor where he work to recruit students to attend IU Southeast. His office is draped with Indiana University banners, displaying for all who enter his office his love and commitment to the university. Morris is able to connect with potential students, especially veterans, and explain why IU Southeast is a university that they should consider.
Although his current position doesn’t deal exclusively in veteran students, vets are never off his mind. Morris knew that he wanted to further his research, and the admissions office allowed him to remain in “the world of academia,” giving him opportunities to continue to share his research. |t|
Transformations is a publication of IU Southeast Diversity.