The Amazing Dr. Julie Morrison

The winner of the Innovator Awards and Psychology Department Chair.

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Dr. Julie Morrison is, in one word, magnificent.

The department chair is known for her fine organization skills, her flexible and collectively built teaching style and her strong dedication to the students at Glendale Community College. Students have described her as someone who is tenacious and caring, she often goes above what is expected of.

Morrison at Convocation. Photo courtesy of John Heckenlaible.

“She made me believe that there are people with PhDs that can still teach and are still humble. She is inspiring,” student Terry Pelaez said.

Pelaez took Morrison’s Research Methods class last semester, a class that is notorious for being a demanding and work intensive class. She was advised to take the class at a community college because of the amount of the workload that was associated with it.

The smaller class sizes would allow her to receive more help from a teacher if needed. This proved true, as she created a strong working relationship with Morrison.

Pelaez is a nontraditional student. She went back to school ten years after her high school graduation to complete her degree in psychology. She is also a mother with several obligations other than her education, which made the process even more difficult.

Pelaez recalled several times where Morrison was understanding of her situation. She recounted a time when she missed a whole week of school because her children were sick Pelaez reached out to Morrison and informed her of the trouble that she was having with the assignment that was due that week.

Pelaez said that Morrison assisted her with the project by using Google Docs and was sensitive towards the situation that Pelaez was in. Morrison helped her after hours so that Pelaez was able to turn in the assignment and get a good grade. Her availability is something that students often note of in her class.

“In order for her to actually reach us she has to reach us at our level,” Pelaez said.

Morrison understood that many students at GCC have a full plate of priorities bigger than their education.

“Coming here [GCC] what we see is what students are dealing with; they have intense pressures… they have so much more going on in their lives. That awareness for me and respect for what the students were doing to be successful made me realize I need to help as much as I can to support that,” Morrison said.

Photo Courtesy of Dr. Julie Morrison.

Morrison was so well organized and had such a connection with her students, that Pelaez believes if she had never had Morrison as a teacher she would have dropped out, unable to cope with the stress and other priorities piled on her plate.

“I appreciate her as a teacher and a person. Hands down the best teacher I’ve ever had… She showed me I can push myself to the limit to succeed,” Pelaez said.

Another former student of Morrison, Andrew Mason, agrees with Pelaez. Mason took Morrison’s research methods class before transferring to ASU to complete his bachelors.

“She would tell us the bones of the material but then allowed us to do individual work. We did a lot of group projects and she would listen in the background and offer feedback,” Mason said, “She would allow us to come to our own conclusions… I personally believe you soak up material when it is coming from your own thought. It cemented a little bit better than if it was just ‘read this textbook and do a project and home,’ kind of thing.”

Morrison is also recognized by students for her flexibility in her teaching. She often goes to leadership conferences and attends seminars to learn new tactics to improve her teaching skills when she was a psychology and now as department chair. She observed other teachers’ practices in the classroom and adopted those tactics.

“A lot of the ideas I have, I take from other people and if anyone has any questions about the way I do things I share it back out… I’ve been teaching now for 17 years and I’ve changed a lot,” Morrison says.

Morrison also allows her students to judge the class at the end of the semester. It is a way for the students to communicate what were the high and low points of the class and feedback on how to improve. Morrison then holds onto these piles of feedback and reads them all to improve her skills.

From the student evaluations, Morrison says she has taken up tricks such as compiling all her guided notes into a book so students will not lose them. She also provides study guides for students after receiving feedback that it should be included in the curriculum. These are among the many things that Morrison has included to make the learning process more efficient for her students.

“I don’t think I would have been as successful overall if I hadn’t had her as a professor because it wasn’t just in that class but other classes,” Mason said.

Morrison became Mason’s mentor soon after he finished her class. She often gave him help in other classes and even continued to guide him once he had transferred to ASU. Morrison also assisted Mason in landing his first job after obtaining his bachelor’s degree.

“I asked Dr. Morrison if she would be a reference and she was more than happy to help. Unfortunately, I had a previously gotten a felony and so that job said they would hire me, but I would need to get a fingerprint clearance card from DPS which they don’t give to people with felonies. I appealed the DPS decision and asked Dr. Morrison again to be a reference for me in my appeal which she did, and I was eventually granted an exemption, received the card, and got the job,” Mason said. Morrison was so influential, she attended his wedding.

Dr. David Boninger and Morrison both taught the research methods class at GCC, Morrison was the teacher that welcomed Boninger to the program when he started teaching at GCC.

“She’s stellar in a lot of ways. Dr. Morrison is one of the most thoughtful and well-organized people you will ever meet. She will take the most complex tasks and will figure out a way to organize it and make it digestible,” Boninger said.

Morrison organized the class in Canvas, so the class is split up into parts of the semester. On canvas each part has its own tab with the work for that part of the class in it. It is an easy and systematic way for the students to be able to keep up with their work and know where they are in the class. Boninger adopted this structure Morrison set up, and swears it is the secret to the course’s success.

“It is a very very difficult class to teach because it is a class and two labs, and the students do a semester long research project. It’s like managing six different research projects at the same time. When I came in and started teaching, the only reason I was able to succeed my first semester was because Dr. Morrison gave me a framework built around the class that made it organized, systematic, digestible and doable,” Boninger said.

Boninger has worked at several other colleges and universities and has never seen a research methods class taught in the style that it is taught at GCC. Most universities teach it in a lecture style with a few projects instead of one semester long research project. It is not as labor intensive. The way the class is set up requires a very good teacher to structure it and make it successful, and that is the embodiment of Morrison.

“She stands out because not everyone does this [organizes the class the way she does] this kind of dedication to her craft… some people just mail it in which means they do the least they need to do. Dr. Morrison’s the opposite of that. She does whatever it takes to create quality, effective teaching, administration, organizing all of that stuff.”

Morrison became chair of the Psychology Department at GCC, which means that she is no longer teaching students, but overlooking how they are being taught overall. She is also the Director of the College Assessment and Review Taskforce.

Morrison created the “My One Thing” survey to collect student input on what were the good and bad things about GCC while working with Taskforce. Morrison collaborated with Dr. David Boninger on the project and eventually they were both awarded the Innovation of the Year Award for 2019 for their hard work. The survey circulated in from Nov. 17, 2017 until Feb. 4, 2018. The survey asked GCC students one thing they felt the school was exceling at and one thing that they needed to improve on.

“We wanted to make this very open-ended meaning we didn’t want to give students a predetermined list of things that might be good or bad here at GCC. We wanted it to be open,” Boninger said.

“My One Thing” allowed students to voice their opinions anonymously without the fear of receiving backlash. Morrison and Boninger were expecting 500 responses, but instead received 1713 responses from students on campus, which was about 8 percent of the student body.

“Here we’ve asked students what we’ve done well in and what we could do better in and 1700 of them wanted to tell us. To me that was really powerful, they wanted to share, they wanted us to know what these answers are,” Morrison said.

Boninger and Morrison then hired three students to help them assess the responses and organize them into categories. The study allowed areas of the school to assess what they were doing and either fix or continue with it.

Many students have called Morrison their hero. Morrison says she wants to be like her hero: her father.

“My father is the person that I would identify with [as my hero] because he just cared really deeply for his family and others… He passed away about a decade ago and in the last conversation we had he said he had no regrets… I thought if I could go through to the end of my life and say I’ve done what I’ve came here to do that would be a pretty amazing thing to say. That’s how I would like to live my life,” Morrison says.

Many people want to assume what Morrison will do in the future. Some of her students hope to see her go back to teaching, believing that she is needed in the classroom to change more students’ lives. Others believe she will continue her work and chair and perfecting GCC at the college level. Whatever she plans to do, Morrison is expected by her peers to inspire others and make the world a better place.