PHOTO CAPTIONS: Connie Morris, a 2017 graduate of Ferris State University’s Criminal Justice-Generalist degree program, is awaiting final word on her thesis to complete her Master of Science in Criminal Justice Administration.
The primary motivation, as a single mother, was the ability to provide for her two children. In 1989, Connie Morris began her career with the Grand Rapids Police Department, with that in mind, but held onto a larger vision.
“I had earned an Associate of Applied Sciences degree from Grand Rapids Community College, with a primary concern about caring for my children who were four and eight years old at that time,” Morris said. “I chose to prioritize my family over my education. So, I took a temporary position as a security clerk with the city’s correctional facility, where the DeVos Place Convention Center is now. Shortly after that, I joined the GRPD in February of 1990.”
As 2019 ends, Morris is awaiting review and approval of her thesis, which will complete her Master of Science degree requirements from Ferris State University’s School of Criminal Justice.
“I retired from the Grand Rapids police force in May of 2015, having decided that I had the time and desire to pursue my educational goals and prepare for a new career,” she said. “I wanted the chance to help others and build off my many professional experiences.”
Morris had a wide variety of responsibilities with the GRPD, advancing from service as a patrol officer to duties as a field training officer. From there, she moved to the special response-tactical team, was assigned as a drug enforcement officer, then served as a youth liaison at the Boys and Girls Club Youth Commonwealth. Morris retired as a GRPD recruiter, with responsibility for bringing in new officers, students for the Police Explorer program and the Police Youth Academy.
“When I was a field training officer, my superiors were very complimentary about my abilities, working with new recruits,” Morris said. “Their kind words gave me confidence.”
With a desire to advance her education, Morris enrolled in the Criminal Justice program based at Ferris’ Grand Rapids campus, in 2015, to pursue a Bachelor of Science as a Criminal Justice-Generalist.
“The university’s collaboration with GRCC, at the Applied Technology Center, was very appealing,” Morris said. “Most of my classes were offered at Ferris-Grand Rapids, which was very convenient for me. It was a straightforward way to pursue my goal, and I was proud to receive my B.S. degree in May of 2017.”
Morris taught sections in GRCC’s Police Academy, as an adjunct instructor, following the completion of her Criminal Justice-Generalist degree.
“It is something that I can do now, and enjoy,” Morris said. “I cannot say if it is the next or final step in my career.”
Morris said returning to higher education after her career in law enforcement presented new but pleasant challenges.
“This was no easy road to complete the master’s program,” Morris said. “My studies and research work took up a significant portion of my time, but I very much enjoyed it. The instruction method was a hybrid program, where I attended class with other students, then submitted my assignments online. I had many classes at Ferris-Grand Rapids but also spent a week on the Big Rapids campus one summer. In my second semester, I commuted to Port Huron for an eight-hour Saturday class. It was an experience to travel across Michigan, and take instruction there, eight hours at a time. My classmates were frequently law enforcement professionals, hoping to advance to administrative roles, along with a couple of students whose experiences were like my own, so the backgrounds were quite diverse.”
College of Education and Human Services Professor Nancy Hogan, the program coordinator for the Criminal Justice Administration Master of Science program, said Morris is a “wonderful student.”
“She is attentive, fully participates in class discussions and has a sense of humor that the entire class enjoys,” Hogan said. “Connie is goal-directed and completes any task given to her, which from a faculty perspective, makes her a delight to have around.”
Students pursuing a Criminal Justice-Administration master’s degree are not required to submit a thesis to complete their studies. Still, Morris was eager to take up this scholarly work.
“The instructors give you the specialized direction to pursue your individual goals, and academic desires,” Morris said. ”Each teacher was encouraging, kind of like a ladder that allowed me to continue toward my academic goals. I am looking forward to the opportunities that will present themselves, thanks to my efforts.”
Hogan and associate professor Timothy Elkin were among the most helpful faculty members, according to Morris, as she prepared to produce her thesis.
“My instructors have been great,” Morris said. “I learned a great deal about the research process and how to be disciplined in my writing so that I deliver an accurate and insightful review of the key concepts. I feel I was well advised in how to develop and present my thesis.”
Morris is immersed in the review and production of her submitted thesis, which deals with implicit bias training for police officers.
“We all have unconscious bias, and an officer needs to be aware of this as they approach both routine and emergency responses,” Morris said. “Understanding ones’ implicit bias, whether it is conscious or not, may be pivotal during a split-second emergency decision as it relates to the safety of that officer, their peers and all those they interact with.”
Morris has already participated in commencement exercises for her Master of Science degree and enjoyed the celebration with her children and grandchildren.
“My career as a police officer allowed me to provide a good life for myself and my children,” she said. “My children know they were my priority and are very proud of my academic accomplishment. It is great to have their support as I continue to pursue my dreams.”
As she awaits word on final steps regarding her thesis, Morris said she is staying focused on that alone, with great anticipation for where it might take her.
“I would love to continue my studies and receive a Ph.D.,” Morris said. “Ferris’ instructors have given me specialized direction so I can pursue academic success and greater accomplishments.”
Past experiences across her law enforcement career and sharing her knowledge at the academy level remain appealing to Morris.
“I could happily pursue greater goals as an instructor,” she said. “I will also admit that the ultimate dream would be to accept a position with the United States Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. The learning I have experienced through Ferris has increased my confidence and given me the capability to pursue greater goals and accomplishments.”
More from Fall 2019 commencement:
- Wrap-up story from Dec. 14
- Fall 2019 Commencement highlight video
- Full video from Dec. 14 morning ceremony
- Full video from Dec. 14 afternoon ceremony
- Fall 2019 Outstanding Graduate: Ryan Meppelink
- Fall 2019 Outstanding Graduate Video: Daniel Rivera
- Fall 2019 Outstanding Graduate Video: Kristen Verrill