For 2007 alumna Valencia Morris, the Tuskegee University brand is something that has always resonated with her. Morris says the thought behind students as former slaves building the very institution she attended, not just for themselves but future generations, should serve as a model for our well-being.
TAKING A CHANCE
Morris, a native of Lake Charles, Louisiana, received her bachelor's of science degree in environmental science with a concentration in natural resources management. Morris says her 15-year career with the federal government, rooted in natural resources management, was not planned and would not have been possible without the help and guidance from Tuskegee University's College of Agriculture, Environment and Nutrition Sciences.
Morris, who began her studies at Tuskegee in chemistry, called the decision to change her major as “truly stepping outside my comfort zone.” That decision put her on a path to eventually becoming an employee of the U.S. Forest Service after graduation.
“Because of the guidance I received from Mr. Louis Black, Tuskegee’s former 1890 USDA liaison, I took a chance and changed my major to environmental science and began working as a co-op student every summer until I graduated,” Morris recalled. “Had he and others not intervened to offer me support and help, I know for certain that I would not be where I am today.”
Today, Morris serves as the recreation supervisor for the U.S. Forestry Service’s Washington Office Enterprise Program.
“My current position allows me to take all of the experiences I’ve had and work across the country on special projects that span wild and scenic rivers, wilderness areas, various landscapes, organizations, and state and local governments,” she noted. “My career continues to reinvent itself and provide me with opportunities — and that is one of the best feelings.”
DEFINING THE PURPOSE
Some of the most important skills Morris says that she’s learned was how to be herself.
“Tuskegee brings out the purpose in you. It may not become evident while you are in school, but the opportunities, support and experience are like none other,” she noted. “It gives you the ability to stand confidently in the world and know that your ‘Skegee experience’ prepared you for everything that comes your way.”
Morris says, because of her academic opportunities as an undergraduate, much of her motivation and passion stems from natural resources.
“I have always loved the environment, but it was not until I enrolled at Tuskegee University and became exposed to content in my major that my passion truly developed,” she explained. “For me now, being a part of work-related projects and an agency that is focused on sustaining for future generations speaks to the purpose and heart of my passion.”
Morris says because of her professional career, she is often motivated to bring youth and young adults of all backgrounds into the conversation around conservation. She added that empowering others to think beyond what is currently known and in place helps to bring out the best in everyone.
“I had no clue about any of the agencies that I have worked for before college and the breadth of opportunities, but now that I do, it is my responsibility to tell people about them,” she noted. “Mentoring is a large part of building a network and preparing future generations to lead. My goal is to always listen and look at how we can bring everyone to the table and use everyone’s talents.”
In addition to her career, Morris says she began working with a nonprofit organization, Greening Youth, whose mission is to diversify the field of natural resources. Morris explained this group is always looking for students, and Tuskegee is one school from which they usually draw from.
MORE THAN A DEGREE
For Morris, Mother Tuskegee has provided her with countless memories and opportunities.
“Tuskegee gave me opportunities to be my best self and define who I wanted to be in this world,” she noted. “Mother Tuskegee cultivated in me a sense of community and taught me how to lean on my extended family. I wouldn’t trade any of memories.”
Morris says her advice to current students is to take advantage of every opportunity that comes their way, even those not directly related to their major or career path.
“We often limit ourselves by not seeing the lessons that can come from experience. Take any position and make it your own, be you and be the leader Tuskegee University has prepared you to be,” she advised.