Why I Give: Quinn Morris ’06

Quinn Morris ’06 and his wife, Jennifer, are looking forward to attending Alumni Weekend October 7-9.

The doctoral student in math reflects on how NCSSM helped him find his path, and why he donates what he can — living on a grad school stipend — to help the school.

Not many people can work the phrase “abstract beauty of derivatives” seamlessly into a conversation. Quinn Morris ’06 can. Speaking recently about his time as a student at NCSSM and his journey since then, he shared his continuing love of both math and of Science and Math, and why he chooses to give back to the school that gave him so much.

After completing undergraduate and master’s degrees in mathematics at Wake Forest University, Morris is now completing his PhD in math at UNC Greensboro, where he teaches three classes each semester on top of completing his thesis. You might think that someone who spends so much time thinking and talking about math must innately be a “math person.” But his field wasn’t always so focused, says Morris.

“When I started undergrad, I really thought I wanted to be a chemistry major,” he says, after taking AP chemistry and being involved in Research in Chemistry while at NCSSM. But after being grouped into a particularly difficult section of organic chemistry during his first semester at Wake Forest, he says, “I decided that chemistry was maybe not the passion of mine that I thought it was.” While doing some soul searching, he thought about what else had stuck out to him during his years at NCSSM: math. “Up until that point, I had thought math was just something I was really good at,” Morris says. But that first semester, he really enjoyed a differential equations class. “So I took one more, then two more, and then three more,” and soon enough he was a math major.

Now, a few math degrees later, Morris has shifted to the other side of the classroom. He sees the “inherent usefulness and beauty” of math, and that passion is one he shares with his students each day. The impact of Science and Math has been significant, he says, by shaping not only his path but the way he teaches as well. This week, Morris was named the inaugural winner of UNCG’s Mathematics and Statistics Graduate Teaching Excellence Award, and he is quick to thank those who helped him along the way, including many of his instructors at NCSSM.

A few instances had a particular impact on him, like learning derivatives in Jo Ann Lutz’s calculus class. “I remember distinctly in that class, she introduced derivatives in such a fundamental way, it made so much sense that I almost felt like an idiot that I hadn’t figured it out on my own. It was so easy! Teaching calculus now, I realize what a monumental feat that was of hers to make that so clear,” Morris remembers. “I would love to think that I can do the same, but after grading their first exams, I’m not sure!” 

Having high standards is important, he says, another lesson learned at NCSSM. “At Science and Math, the standards were high, but they weren’t set high for you to fail, they were set high so that there would be some accomplishment there for you to achieve them,” he says. “I try to bring that to the classroom. It’s ok to have really high standards as long as you provide the support for students to achieve those standards.”

Morris wants to ensure that future Science and Math students have impactful experiences as well. He realizes that so many of the opportunities that had such an impact on him would not have happened without private support, like traveling to Thailand with his Research in Chemistry team to compete in the International Science Fair. “I may not have realized it at the time, but that money came from somewhere,” he says.

“I know that those things were made possible for me,” he says. He chooses to financially support the school to make those opportunities possible for other students. “I’m in a weird situation. I’m a grad student, and I have a grad student stipend, so I can’t give much. But I believe that it’s important, with however much you can do or give, that you do that if it’s something you believe in.”

It doesn’t take calculus to figure out the impact such gifts can make. “My hope is that I can give a little bit, and someone else is giving a little bit, and somebody else is giving a lot, and somebody else is giving a medium amount, and when you add up all those little, medium, and big bits, it makes a significant impact,” says Morris. “I feel like my life would be vastly different had I not gone to Science and Math. I can’t afford to send four students to Thailand, but I can give a little bit to get them there.”

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