Susan Morris wasn’t lost. She just took her time finding her passion.
Valparaiso University’s newest International Commerce and Policy faculty member earned a bachelor’s degree in human kinetics, studied dance at the Martha Graham School, and worked as a copywriter in Manhattan — all before finding her way to the dynamic field of international studies.
Now, calling her move to VU last semester “a match made in Heaven,” Morris is proving that her roundabout path to academia was well worth the wait.
What brought you to Valparaiso?
I wanted a private school with smaller classes. … I wanted a school with more of a family feeling [and] less bureaucracy. There’s bureaucracy everywhere, but there’s a little less in private schools … and I liked the student body, the population and the culture at this school. I’m very happy to be here.
Where are you from originally?
I grew up in a small town called Indiana, Pennsylvania, which is the hometown of Jimmy Stewart, so everything is named after Jimmy Stewart. It’s a small, Main Street America [town] that looks like a picture postcard. “It’s a Wonderful Life” was actually patterned after Indiana, Pennsylvania. … It’s beautiful there. I haven’t found a place like it yet. It’s in the Laurel Mountains with lots of deer and snow.
How did a girl from small-town Pennsylvania become interested in international issues?
It wasn’t just a small town. It was a university town, so I was exposed to academia and intellectualism. My father was a professor, so I grew up in that environment. … Plus, my grandparents lived in New York City, and we would visit them, but I think it was the frustration of being so sheltered that caused me to break out and see what the world was like.
Did you have much exposure to the greater world in college?
I went to college at George Washington University and graduated when I was 23 after I had gone through three or four majors. I lived in Washington, D.C. and took classes with people from all over the world. … When I graduated from George Washington, I went to live in New York City for many years.
What did you do in New York?
I was an advertising copywriter. I wrote copy for such accounts as
Eastman Kodak and Burger King, and I wrote copy for human resources recruitment. … That’s how I supported myself. I had actually gone to New York to study dance at The Martha Graham School.
So you were a dancer?
I was. I just studied. I was never [a professional], but I studied with ballet companies and at The Martha Graham School for many years. My parents didn’t think it was very practical to do that, so I went to the School of Visual Arts and put together an ad portfolio. I walked up and down Madison Avenue until an agency took me.
When did you begin studying international studies?
My first master’s [degree] was from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. I got an internship with the World Trade Organization and worked on trade statistics. … I finally found my interest, and it was international studies with a focus on commerce. I’m interested in security issues as well since the two are linked. [She later earned her Ph.D. in international relations from Old Dominion University.]
What made you decide to study international relations after a successful career in advertising?
In New York, I was working for multinational corporations, and I saw globalization happen before my eyes. … I saw mergers and acquisitions and would have to read layers of strategic practices before I could write copy. … That’s where I really learned about strategic trade practices because we had to work with an international marketing team.
It seems like the International Commerce and Policy program is a perfect outlet for your interests.
It’s a match made in heaven I think… It’s a very good match for me, and I hope for the school. I consider myself fortunate that the match was made.
Why is the commerce and policy program relevant and important for students today?
I think it’s definitely relevant because it goes beyond a straight MBA with stats and facts. You have to have politics and policy written into it. … ICP is a very unique degree, and I saw that right away. At the school I just came from, I had the [ICP] master’s of science degree hanging on a bulletin board for a year outside my office. I thought, “Doesn’t this degree look interesting?”
Is there a global leader you find particularly inspiring?
I’m very fond of Mikhail Gorbachev. I think he had the right direction for Russia, which was a social democracy, and I think it’s going back more toward authoritarianism. I think his idea of Russia’s transition was more gradualist and would have been better for Russia.
What are your hobbies outside of academia?
I like music. I play piano. I love art. I grew up in a very artsy family. My mother was a piano teacher, so I love classical music, hearing the Chicago Symphony and the symphonies that come to Valparaiso here at the chapel.
What are your hopes for the ICP program going forward?
[I hope] that the program grows, that more courses are added and [that it has] more students from different countries, including China.
Written by Derek Smith