Tracy Morris, M.S.Ed. ’99, Ed.D. ’12, Aims to Change Lives as IVCC President
By Eva Richards
Tracy Morris, M.S.Ed. '99, Ed.D. '12, grew up in the Illinois Valley region and knows first-hand how much community college can do for young people pursuing their dreams.
When Tracy Morris was a kid growing up in the Illinois Valley region—she set her sights high.
“As a child, I wanted to be a lawyer, the President of the United States, or a professional roller-skater. It wasn’t until I went to Illinois Valley Community College (IVCC) as a student that education became a career path that I was interested in,” Morris said. “I had amazing faculty who sparked an interest in psychology and education.”
After earning her master's degree and doctorate from NIU, Morris will step into the role of IVCC’s president on July 1, where she will still set lofty goals for herself and the college.
“It is difficult to express how much IVCC has meant to me, to my family and to the community where my husband and I have chosen to raise our children,” she said. The Illinois Valley is commonly thought of as the areas of central Illinois bordered by the towns of Mendota, Streator, Princeton and Marseilles. “Community colleges have the ability to change lives, and IVCC did that for my mom, for me, and for so many people that I have met over my 13 years working there," Morris said. "The student stories are so unique, but they all speak to the importance of education and of supportive faculty and staff. To return to IVCC as the 11th president is an honor and a privilege.”
Morris’ mother Nancy (Ossola) Burress attended IVCC as a single parent decades ago while training to become a nurse, and witnessing that made a huge impact on Morris. Nancy earned her LPN in 1980 and RN in 1984.
“Those are my first memories of the college—seeing my mom dressed up for her LPN nurse pinning. At that time, I had no idea the sacrifices she had made to get to that point, but in my 21 years in higher education, I have met so many students who have battled like she did to make a better life for themselves and their families.”
By the time Morris graduated from high school, she understood that IVCC was the best path forward for her. After attending the community college, she went on to earn a B.S. in psychology from Western Illinois University with a minor in English.
“I was fortunate to be hired as a high school teacher at the school where I did my student teaching,” she said. “It was a great experience, and there, I saw the innovative work that the guidance department was doing. That is what inspired me to go back to school to earn my master's degree. At that time, I saw myself staying in K-12 but when an opportunity arose to return to IVCC in a counseling role, I jumped at the opportunity.”
Morris earned her M.S.Ed., with an emphasis in school counseling, from NIU in 1999. Her rapport with her professors inspired her to take on a higher education leadership role.
“I have so much respect for the amazing faculty in the counseling department. Dr. Toni Tollerud was a role model for me in how she advocated for the profession, which is something I have worked to do throughout my career,” Morris said.
From there, Morris worked for 13 years at IVCC, earning promotions and increasing her leadership within the college’s counseling and student services departments. Morris credits her mentor, Dr. Robert Marshall, for encouraging her to go back to earn her doctorate in 2012.
“At that time, I never saw myself advancing beyond a director role, but the Ed.D. program at NIU was amazing!” she said. “My program was a cohort model, with classes on the weekends and online. It was truly one of the best experiences and provided me with support, encouragement and lifelong connections.”
The doctoral coursework inspired Morris, and she branched out and grew as a professional. Being able to use her dissertation research—"An Examination of the Relationship Between Living On-Campus and Engagement, Estimate of Gains, and Satisfaction for Community College Students”—in her role as the vice president for student services at Illinois Central College was a personal highpoint.
"We were able to completely transform the student housing experience there by using a student life model. which helped the students and the institution to thrive," she said.
As Morris begins a new chapter at IVCC, she draws from positive experiences she had at NIU, wanting to provide current students experiences and guidance that will help them identify their inherent potential and gifts.
“NIU provided me the foundation for my career, but more importantly it gave me the opportunity to see myself doing more,” Morris said. “The first time one of my cohort members proudly said, ‘I want to be a college president’ was a pivotal moment and one that lit that spark for me, as well. My cohort friends lifted me up when I was down and have continued to inspire me as we have pursued varied paths in education.”