Oregon Educator Uses Master’s Degree to Further Post-Retirement Plans

January 18, 2024  |  by Heidi Wells, Global Campus

Theresa Morris
Theresa Morris

Theresa Morris retired in 2022 from a successful 40-year career that spanned multiple industries. At the same time, she enrolled in a master's degree in adult and lifelong learning, graduating last spring.

Her career was varied with the last 20 years engaged in corporate training. The first 20 years were a mix of management and leadership, including working as a general manager in a manufacturing company and at a car dealership. Training adults was always a feature of her roles and ultimately ended up being her passion.

Why get a degree in what you've been doing well for four decades? Morris said she's interested in teaching on the college level, that's why.

Morris lives in Oregon and was interested in the University of Arkansas, in particular, to get an online master's because her husband is a graduate of the U of A. She initially started college in 1977, right out of high school. She did not have an advisor and chose classes that were too advanced. She dropped out when she got a bad grade. She earned her bachelor's degree in 2019 after a 40-year break from college.

"I had a brain injury in 2015, and this was my way to prove my brain could function again like it had before the accident," Morris said about going back to school in 2017. "That D haunted me all those years. I always said I would go back to school."

Taking advantage of a partial tuition reimbursement program from her employer, she earned a bachelor's degree from Southern Oregon University in Business Innovation and Leadership with a Business Administration minor and a focus on business analytics in 2½ years.


Training Career

"I had a career without a degree," Morris said. "I ran a manufacturing company and worked as general manager of a car company. No matter what my job was, I enjoyed teaching other people. I developed a management training program in which people promoted or newly hired in leadership roles would come spend two weeks in our program."

With the financial crisis of 2008, companies cut back on training.

"We regrouped and turned our program into all e-learning at that time," Morris said.

As she neared what she had decided would be her retirement age, Morris said, she took a large pay cut to do something she wanted to do.

"I went to work for an organization that didn't have a formal training program but needed one for customer service and manufacturing," she said. "I developed training for them."

For the past six years, Morris has worked for a credit union, teaching management and leadership training and professional development skills.

Morris wants to teach as an adjunct professor to keep her hand in business and keep her mind sharp, she said.

"My husband made me promise not to go insane and feel like I had to do the master's in nine months," she laughed. "I did it in a year and a half."


Faculty Influence

Morris said choosing an online degree from an institution that also had a brick-and-mortar presence was important to her, and she didn't want any part of a pass/fail degree. She was surprised at the number of online offerings for master's degrees in adult education she found, and she ultimately chose the U of A because of Kenda Grover, associate professor of adult and lifelong learning.

"I connected with her immediately," Morris said. "When I first looked into the program, I really thought the direction I was going to go was the technology strand. I enjoy tech and thought that might be best for what I had in mind after graduation. In speaking to Kenda, she was very informative about the program's expectations, the flexibility for adjusting to fit my needs as a learner, and where I wanted to be academically when I finished. She was warm and understanding as I explained what my current situation was with work at the time. By the time I was finished, I not only knew this was the right program for me but was really looking forward to having Kenda as an advisor."


Life Experience and Learning

Since retiring in 2022, Morris has done some substitute teaching at the high school and elementary levels, which showed her she prefers teaching adults. She has done some mentoring, consulting and developmental planning, and managing investment properties.

"Because I have done a lot of different things, people come to me for different things," she said. "I sit on boards; I joined the local women's leadership council. I absolutely love to learn something new."

Some of the curriculum in the U of A adult and lifelong learning master's program was not new to her, Morris said, but she learned different ways of looking at adult education, some of which she has shared with former colleagues. She took pieces of every class to expand her knowledge, she said.

"I have already recommended the program to others," Morris said. "A co-worker at the credit union wants to get a master's degree. I told him he really needs to look at the U of A. It has a 15-week term, which for me was slow, but for most people raising children, which is his case, trying to balance family and work, I see how the 15-week program gives them latitude to breathe, and not feel so hammered by the workload. For most people, especially adults coming back as nontraditional students, the difficult thing is balancing working full time, kids and relationships."

The program also allowed her to work ahead, which fit her personality, Morris said. Its flexibility allowed her to handle life events such as health issues, for both her and her husband, and keep making progress.

"This program is phenomenal," she said.

Helping Others

Earning a master's degree after completing a successful career in adult education will enable Theresa Morris to help people avoid the challenges she faced when she first tried college in 1977.

"Growing up, I never thought college was even possible for me," she said. "I did not even know a master's program was something I should consider."

Since retiring from her full-time career, Morris would like to teach at a college or university on an adjunct basis.

"I want to help students find their footing in college and be everything they can be," she said. "Nothing makes me happier than helping someone find their way to success."

Morris has not yet embarked on a part-time teaching career, but she has certainly not been idle. She holds several positions with the Women's Leadership Connection, serving as a member of the Executive Committee, the treasurer of the main board, the training coordinator for the mentorship program and as a mentor. She is also involved with the Society of Human Resources Management, serving as secretary of the board of directors of the local chapter. She is secretary of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee for the county in which she lives and is a member of the Innovation and Leadership (INL) Faculty Advisory Committee for Southern Oregon University.

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Heidi Wells

Content Strategist

Heidi Wells is the content strategist for the Global Campus at the University of Arkansas and editor of The Online Learner. Her writing spans more than 30 years as a communicator at the U of A and a reporter and editor at Arkansas newspapers. Wells earned two degrees from the U of A: a master's in 2013 and a bachelor's in 1988.

Wells can be reached at heidiw@uark.edu or 479-575-7239.

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Master of Education in Adult and Lifelong Learning

The M.Ed. in Adult and Lifelong Learning degree will prepare students for employment in programs that provide adult literacy and education, lifelong learning, community and nonprofit organizations, military education, post secondary education, and continuing professional education.

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