Editor’s note: Three women who hail from Wheeling — Jordan Miller, Karen Laska, Morgan Harris — have been awarded Fulbright scholarships. Weelunk writer Ryan Norman corresponded with them amid their preparations for travel and research and got a glimpse of how they’ve each arrived at this honor. In the conversations with them, you’ll find a young girl imploring house guests to read to her, you’ll learn what Zimna Wojna means, and you’ll hear about a winner of the Karl Popper Prize for Global and National Affairs. Today, meet Morgan Harris.
Morgan Harris, the daughter of Judy and Paul Harris, graduated from Choate Rosemary Hall, a boarding school in Wallingford, Connecticut, in 2015. But locally, she was a “proud graduate” of Wheeling Country Day School. She attended Mount de Chantal for middle school, until it closed in 2008, and then went to Lyceum Preparatory Academy for the remainder of middle school and early high school.
She graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in Justice and Law (Terrorism & Security Studies) and a minor in Literature from American University in Washington, D.C.
Morgan embarks on her Fulbright adventure tomorrow, Aug. 28.
What follows is writer Ryan Norman’s Q&A with Morgan.
Ryan: Please tell us about your studies and accomplishments in college.
Morgan: I recently won the Karl Popper Prize for Global and National Affairs for my recently published undergraduate thesis “Punishment & Power: An Examination of the European Union’s Use of Lawfare Since 1993” and was awarded Best in International Relations at my university’s 2018 research symposium.
I’ve presented at numerous additional conferences including the National Conference of Undergraduate Research (NCUR) at the University of Memphis in 2017 and the 2018 NCUR at University of Central Oklahoma.
During my time at American University, I spent two years conducting research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies — a D.C.-based national security and foreign policy think tank — first as a Congressional Relations Intern and then as a human rights researcher. I also served as an Educational Diplomacy Intern through the U.S Department of State. In that year-long position, I organized virtual cultural diplomacy presentations for school groups in Russia and spent the summer in Berdsk, Siberia, Russia, teaching English.
I was recently selected as an academic member and ambassador for the Communication Institute of Greece after I presented my original research project “What About Colonialism? The Contentious Drafting History of the International Criminal Court” at the International Hellenic Conference of Political Science in Athens, Greece on April 17.
My research agenda primarily focuses on strategies and tactics of violent political groups and actors, warfare tactics, lawfare, security policy and international law.
Ryan: Do you remember a moment when you realized that you loved school?
Morgan: When I was 14, I filled out boarding school applications myself and begged my parents to send me to Choate Rosemary Hall up in Connecticut because I couldn’t imagine anything better than living and studying in such an immersive academic environment. Needless to say, I ’ve been seeking and enjoying these types of experiences for a long time now.
But school definitely wasn’t always “my thing.” My best friend Nara and I still joke how, in elementary school, we’d sneak into the girls’ bathroom and rip up our poor test grades before our parents could rifle through our backpacks. Little did we know that because of those grades, our teachers already had our mothers’ numbers on speed dial, so our master plan didn’t work at all.
Life changed entirely when I was diagnosed with reflex neurovascular dystrophy my first year of middle school at Mount de Chantal. I woke up one morning barely able to walk, and suddenly I was completely wheelchair-bound. In that confusing time when everything else felt out of my control, academics became my refuge — and my identity, in a sense.
It was too exhausting to get around, so when my classmates ran off to chapel, recess, gym, etc., I was alone and didn’t have anything to do but study and review equations with my math teacher who had been teaching me every year since third grade. Being alone like that could have been isolating, but instead of being known as the girl in a wheelchair, I became the girl who wouldn’t, and couldn’t, get anything less than a 95. It’s funny — that newfound identity was empowering in a time when I should have been at my lowest.
Thanks to my parents and the Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh, I started walking again later that year. But I’m thankful that even when I no longer needed the wheelchair, I somewhat unconsciously recognized that I still needed academics to get me where I needed in life.
Ryan: Have you always been on the path that the Fulbright will be advancing? Were you ever interested in something totally different?
Morgan: At the end of the college selection process, I was actually debating between Animal Science at Bucknell or Justice & Law at American University — two entirely different programs, I know. I’ve never regretted picking AU and heading to Washington, D.C., but I like to think that, in a different life, I’m Dian Fossey or Jane Goodall hanging out in far-away jungles studying gorillas and wildlife. I worked at Oglebay Good Zoo for six years, first as a teen docent and then as an educator. And Vickie Markey-Tekely, the curator of education at the zoo, was actually one of my amazing recommenders for Fulbright.
Although I’m not still doing animal-education programs, and I probably won’t get to hang out in jungles anytime soon, it’s so wonderfully overwhelming to see how that part of my life was critical in getting the Fulbright.
Ryan: With so many schools reducing their offerings to “practical, marketable majors,” which often takes the form of eliminating humanities, there is less opportunity for people to get the kind of well-rounded education it seems you have received. What do you think about the state of the university?
Morgan: Especially in our area, you’re right that we’ve definitely seen schools reducing their liberal arts offerings in exchange for these sorts of practical/marketable majors. And these types of majors certainly have immediate value. They really are critical to secure definite employment. Many of my friends have chosen that path, and I’m really in awe of how efficient these programs are in finding employment for them.
Still, the beautiful thing about university and a well-rounded liberal arts education is that it provides students the ability to transition into successful employment in a variety of fields. I’ve jumped from working at D.C. think tanks to the State Department; my roommate was working on the Hill and now is doing developmental work for USAID; and another friend jumped onto a congressional campaign after graduation and is now doing environmental policy research.
That’s all to say that in this changing world, many of us don’t know exactly what that “dream job” is yet. Thankfully, this type of education allows us to pursue opportunities that really are leading us in the direction toward employment that is not only personally fulfilling but will also — as cliché as it sounds — help the world around us, too.
Ryan: What has been the process of getting involved with the Fulbright program? How did you learn that you’d earned a scholarship?
Morgan: I remember last spring rushing into my professor’s office, five minutes until the deadline, to hand in my final term paper. As he was leafing through my analysis, he looked up and asked if I had been to our university’s merit awards office yet to discuss various awards that they were helping students with. I said no and probably that I was too busy working on his essay to do much else.
But I did wind up making an appointment at the office, and it was there that my advisor first suggested that I consider applying for a Fulbright. I had heard of Fulbright before, but I never thought that it was something I should even consider. But I did love teaching and research, so it did seem like the perfect opportunity.
After I returned to the United States in July  after teaching English in Siberia, I spent the rest of the summer drafting essays and application materials in preparation for the fall deadline. And once I returned to AU for my last semester, I’d far too often leave the library at 11 or 12 and would wake up the next day at 5 a.m. just to squeeze in some extra hours to write my application essays.
After a few rounds of interviews with my university, and then semi-finalist interviews with the U.S Department of State and the U.S Embassy in Latvia, I was selected for the Fulbright award earlier this spring. I knew that I would be receiving a notification sometime between March and May, so each day waiting was a strange combination — one of eager anticipation and continual frustration.
When I found out, I coincidentally had just arrived at my father’s office downtown to drop off some paperwork and was talking to some of his colleagues about my backup plan to go back to D.C. if I didn’t receive the Fulbright. Almost as soon as we finished talking, I pulled out my laptop, opened my email, and immediately saw the “Congratulations!” email from the Fulbright Commission.
I ran up to my father, shoving my laptop in his face, and quite practically collapsed with happiness. And hearing my mother’s joy on the other end of the phone was the best feeling in the world. I hated that she almost fainted from excitement in the produce aisle of Kroger, but it was still the best moment, nevertheless.
Ryan: What will you be doing with your Fulbright?
Morgan: My official title with the Fulbright program is English teaching assistant, but I’ll be teaching with the International Relations and European Studies, Politics and Political Communication and Science of Law classes at Riga Stradins University in Riga, Latvia. I’ll also be working with high school students at Riga Grammar School of Nordic Languages.
Ryan: From your studies at home and abroad, who are artists and thinkers that we should know more about?
Morgan: As part of its celebration of 100 years since becoming an independent state, publishers across Europe have been translating well-known Latvian literature into English for the first time. I minored in literature at AU and am just obsessed with books in general, so delving into these new (for me) works has been incredible.
I just started reading Soviet Milk by Nora Ikstena, and I am so thoroughly captivated with this novel that explores the issue of identity and familial relations against the backdrop of life in Latvia under Soviet control. It’s giving me such an intimate glimpse into Latvian history and culture … and that’s really the hallmark of great literature, isn’t it? If it can transport us into such a different experience and make us question the world around us?
I haven’t yet been to Latvia, yet I already have gained such an appreciation for its people just by seeing, or rather feeling, the country’s tumultuous past.
Ryan: Have you studied other languages? If so, how do you learn? Textbooks? Speaking partners from your travels? Duolingo?
Morgan: For better or for worse, I dedicated myself to the study of Latin for nearly a decade, which — as most of us know — isn’t exactly a language that’s spoken all too often. I wouldn’t have traded those days and nights steadfastly translating Virgil’s Aeneid for anything, but as I progressed through university and internships, I soon realized the limitations of not knowing a “modern” language.
After completing my Education Diplomacy internship with the U.S. Department of State junior year, I was invited to spend part of the summer in Siberia, Russia, teaching English and conducting cultural diplomacy work. As I was on the little plane from Moscow to Siberia and couldn’t even ask the flight attendant for water, it hit me, maybe just a little too late, that I was going to live in Russia without speaking a word of Russian.
By God’s grace, my host sisters Dasha and Katya were incredibly patient and immediately started teaching me Russian. And after I would finish teaching my classes in the afternoon, the head of school’s husband would always visit me in the classroom to give me Russian lessons. He didn’t speak any English, and I didn’t speak Russian, so it was definitely an immersive experience. After a few weeks, the day that I went to the little market myself and could ask if the bread on display was vegan was probably the most proud I’d ever been in my life.
After leaving Russia, I continued my Russian lessons, and, since applying for the Fulbright, I have been independently studying Latvian with online resources. Speaking the native language in a host country is such a powerful way to connect, so I am most thankful that the State Department is providing me a stipend to formally take language lessons in Latvia come September. Goodness knows I’ll need it!
Ryan: Do you hope to live in another country for most of your life?
Morgan: I haven’t seriously thought about living abroad more long-term, but now that you mention it, I would never rule it out. Life keeps taking me in so many crazy directions lately, and I’d be foolish to think I know exactly where I’ll wind up.
But between running back and forth from Wheeling to Washington, D.C., for a new research project and working as an ESL teacher, I spend a few hours each day studying for the GREs so I can apply to doctorate programs in the fall. I’d love to stay in academia and pursue research at a university while teaching, but I ultimately want to serve my country in whatever capacity I can. Whether that’ll be in the U.S. or abroad is to be seen!
• Ryan Norman hails from a suburb of Cleveland and earned an English degree at Wheeling Jesuit University. He lives in East Wheeling where you might find him listening to Gustav Mahler or Keith Jarrett, reading David Foster Wallace or Dave Eggers, and thinking along with Martin Heidegger and Roger Scruton. Ryan is also a chorister at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church and a member of The Prosers, a group that performs original poetry and prose at Towngate Theatre.