Get to know Mercer University‘s faculty members a little better through our “Faculty Flashback” series. Some of our professors will be sharing personal and professional details of their lives in a Q&A as well as then-and-now photos from today and their college days.
Dr. Mary Alice Morgan, professor of English and women’s and gender studies and senior vice provost for service learning, has worked at Mercer for 22 years. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Duke University and a Master of Arts and Ph.D. in English from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.
1. What advice, related to life or college, would you offer students at Mercer now?
To sum up my advice in one sentence: Take advantage of faculty advisers, career counselors and support offices, such as the Scholarships-Fellowships office, MOM (Mercer On Mission) and CCPD (Center for Career and Professional Development), to name just three. When I was in college (over 40 years ago!), my adviser and I had 15-minute appointments just to get my class schedule signed. No mentoring or career advice. Mercer advisers welcome working with you to seek out research opportunities, internships and career planning advice. Do Mercer On Mission! You’ll learn about U.S. cultural assumptions and about yourself — your adaptability and commitment to others. The folks in CCPD are amazing in helping you stand out from the crowd when you’re job seeking.
2. What is something you wish you knew in college that you know now?
I wish I had known that failure isn’t failure if you can learn from your struggles and develop new skills and strategies for making progress toward your goals. Like most students, I worried about not doing well in courses and pushed myself in classes. But stress and anxiety sometimes got in the way of my actually absorbing the course content and seeing how I might integrate it into my knowledge base and life goals vs. for a class grade. I wish I had taken more control of my college career.
3. What made you want to join the team at Mercer?
I actually joined Mercer “by marriage” when my husband, Gary Richardson, joined the English department in 1983. We were part of the early wave of “dual career couples” in academia. I actually taught for a year or two as an adjunct faculty member at Mercer before being hired at Macon State College (now Middle Georgia State University). Dual career couples are now quite common in many professions, but it was more unusual then, and we have been incredibly fortunate to be able to practice our professions in the same town when lots of other couples had “commuter marriages” or one member had to switch professions in order for them to be together. That said, I have always loved Mercer students and the Mercer ethos of moral education.
4. What do you love most about your work?
Like all professors, I love being able to share my passion for my discipline (literature) with students. I love the challenge of creating coursework that will involve students in meaningful dialogue and critical thinking. But one of the many things that sets Mercer apart from other institutions is our wholehearted commitment to students’ holistic growth — not just as thinkers and future professionals but also as people who want to work for social justice and apply their skills to better our world.
5. What are some of the projects/accomplishments you’ve been most proud of in your career so far?
I will be forever grateful that Mercer provided me with the leadership role to create opportunities for faculty and students to partner with our communities in order to address real community needs. As Senior Vice Provost for Service Learning for 12 years, I helped spearhead LEAP (Local Engagement Against Poverty) and STOP (Sex Trafficking Opposition Project). These initiatives, in turn, motivated colleagues to innovate new classes, such as Dr. Tammy Crutchfield’s “Traffick Jam” course. Students were inspired to organize MerServe. Read2Suceed, our tutoring program, has had helped hundreds of school students reach third-grade reading level, a predictor of their future success in school.
6. What is your favorite spot on Mercer’s campus?
We have a beautiful campus, so it would be hard for me to name a favorite spot to hang out. I love the fountain area between Willingham and Newton Hall, for instance. But a really meaningful spot to me is the Phi Beta Kappa plaza located between Willingham Hall and the Administration Building. Phi Beta Kappa embodies the highest purposes of a liberal arts education — encouraging and recognizing not only students’ academic excellence but also breadth of knowledge and moral reflection. I was part of a team that worked to bring PBK to Mercer and being able to induct our most distinguished students into PBK is a joy.
7. What are some of your hobbies and interests outside of work?
I am stupid crazy about my dog and, honestly, all dogs. When my two kids come to visit, we’ve had as many as five puppers in the house at once. My other vice is detective novels. When I was young I loved Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. Now, I’m a Donna Leon and Paul Mendelson fan. I’d love to teach a course on detective fiction at Mercer.