As a young high school teacher in the 1980s, Judy Morris got her bus-driver’s licence so she could take students from low-income and immigrant families on field trips.
To the dismay of school administrators at Bramalea Secondary, however, baboons set upon her school bus during a well-intentioned trip to African Lion Safari, and the curious apes stripped it of mirrors and trim.
“You can imagine,” Morris said with a laugh, “how thrilled the high school principal was with me.”
That kind of enthusiastic leadership has characterized Morris’s tenure as president of Lambton College over the past seven years.
Under her direction, Lambton has undertaken $35 million worth of expansions and renovations, and is now ranked the #1 applied research college in Canada.
Her team has attracted nearly 1,000 international students, and empowered student entrepreneurs to create a middle class in parts of rural Zambia.
For that and more, the Sarnia-Lambton Chamber of Commerce presented Morris last month with an Outstanding Business Achievement Award for leadership.
“To be honest with you, I never envisioned becoming a president,” she said with a smile, noting that joining the faculty at Sault College over 20 years was “amazing” in itself.
“To be here is just shocking to me.”
Morris grew up in New Liskeard, Ont., where her mom was a schoolteacher and dad a businessman. She has an older brother, and spent her summers teaching swimming lessons at the family cottage.
After studying sociology at Western University, Morris worked with developmentally challenged youth at an Oakville group home.
“I could tell you every one of those young people’s names,” she said. “They had great meaning and impact.”
She earned an education degree at the University of Toronto and began her first teaching job at Bramalea Secondary, an ethnically diverse school with behavioural challenges.
Morris said she found common ground by embracing the culture and music of her students and encouraged them to broaden their horizons.
“My intention was to make the world bigger,” she said. “I decided that young people should be out in the world, and they should have opportunities to see things around them.”
She moved to Sault Ste. Marie when her husband Gerry was appointed dean of Sault College in the late ‘80s.
Newly married and pregnant, Morris did tutoring and supply teaching, and after their son was born worked for Community Living.
Hired by Sault College, she led a training program that immersed special-needs students in the general student body, she said.
“They were treated as we would treat any regular student,” said Morris, noting its similarities to Lambton’s wildly popular Community Integration through Co-operative Education (CICE) program.
Then, in 2003, Morris arrived at Lambton College. She had been recruited by president Tony Hanlon for the newly created position of VP of academics and student success, and after Hanlon retired, she beat out 40 other candidates to become the college’s president in 2012.
In her first year, Lambton recorded an 8% enrolment increase.
Morris said her philosophy is one of inclusion and empathy, and trying to make education real and tangible.
In Ontario and abroad, Lambton College is getting noticed for its accomplishments, and Morris is enjoying the ride.
And she still has her bus licence.