BizTimes Milwaukee: What did you learn from the pandemic crisis? How is MIAD stronger?
Jeff Morin: After 35 years in higher education, I have hundreds of inspirational stories from students who have persevered, failed and bounced back, or created a path where there wasn’t one for them. The pandemic created so much hardship and occasional moments of inspiration. When David Gabriel, 2020 MIAD Industrial Design alumnus, left for spring break in 2020, he was in the process of building a lunar habitat module for his senior thesis project in our 3D Lab. During the break, MIAD was forced to close the campus because of the pandemic, making it impossible for David to complete his life-sized structure. He pivoted the project to a virtual reality experience for the lunar habitat module. David Gabriel is now a Virtual Reality Developer and Space Division Project Engineer at Dynetics, Inc. Every student faced a version of this challenge and had to summon the problem-solving skills they had been developing. As faculty and staff, we quickly learned how to support experiential learning from afar and the examples of individuals going the extra mile are plentiful and affirm our institutional values. We added resources for mental health and wellness initiatives because the pandemic has been more traumatic than we wish to acknowledge. And we know that the need for these resources will be there for the foreseeable future. MIAD will be stronger from what we have learned about education during the pandemic, but we will have to take the time to reestablish our very pronounced sense of community.
BizTimes: What do you see as your most important responsibility to students?
Morin: I wholeheartedly believe that a college education is an economic way up and out for some and transformative for most. It was both for me. Consequently, it is our duty within higher education to do anything and everything to help students cross the stage to collect that diploma. We must commit to decision making that does not impede student progress. If students leave college without the diploma, they leave with debt and no credential to help clear that debt.
BizTimes: Who was your hero when you began your career? Who is it now?
Morin: In the beginning, it was teachers like Martha Keezer, my high school art teacher, who spent two years working with me on my portfolio to get into college. One’s portfolio often plays an important role in college scholarship awards. Marty also drove me the eight hours to my first campus tour. Even with a full tuition scholarship, grants and loans, it was a financial struggle to put myself through college. Today, my heroes are philanthropists who support students, not because they know them personally, but because they value the students’ potential as individuals, to community, for society.
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