Alumni Spotlight

Nick Morris - Teacher, researcher, and practitioner in environmental education

Alumnus Nick Morris and his son

Nick Morris, Ph.D. (2016)

Nick Morris came to the Cultural Foundations program at Kent State University with a background in science and education.  Nick completed his bachelor’s degree in biology at Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio and earned his master’s degree in education from Walsh University in Canton.  Prior to his work with Stark Parks, Nick had taught biology at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Louisville and at Jackson High School in Massillon.  He also taught multicultural education courses at Walsh University.

Why Cultural Foundations?

As Nick was researching doctoral programs, much of what other institutions were offering did not appeal to him.  When he came across the Cultural Foundations program here at Kent State, Nick realized that this is the place where he could ask the questions he had and find the answers.  Nick notes that he was always a critical student and teacher.  He was drawn to Cultural Foundations where he could ask why do we do education this way?  “It just seemed to be the right program for me”, Nick said about the types of classes being taught in the Cultural Foundations program.

Highlights of the program

"Working with such a diverse group of classmates was the most profound aspect for me.  This program puts people together in a room who may not otherwise be together.  The discussions among these groups were always interesting because of the varied perspectives".  Nick fondly recalls a social perspectives course in which Dr. Averil McClelland would drop a “bombshell question” at the start of class and sustain a dynamic discussion drawing on the varying perspectives of the eight people in the course.  He identifies the Humanities-Oriented Research in Education course with Dr. Natasha Levinson as having the most significant academic impact on his studies.  “I was not planning on taking the course.  Then it altered the direction of my research”.

Current work

Nick currently serves as special projects coordinator with the Stark County park district.  “This has me continuing my collaborative efforts with universities, using arts-based thinking to build a sense of place and self for visitors, and also working to ensure appropriate visitor experiences for visitors from underserved communities, visitors with special needs, and those recovering from addiction and other related issues”.  Nick says that his studies in foundations continues to impact his work.  “It is forcing me to dig deeper into the everyday process I'm involved with; to get into the underlying philosophies and perspectives of what we do.  Why are we doing this? What could we do differently?  It has made me be a foundational thinker about what parks are for”. 

Nick’s work is integrated with his ongoing research collaboration with colleagues in the US and in Finland.  Their research explores arts-based ways of thinking into the design of parks.  “It is about arts for parks instead of arts in parks” Nick says about their research.  “The focus is on the parks and the experience; using the arts for furthering the park's mission”.  Nick was invited to deliver the keynote at the closing symposium at the Art Eco Project in Tampere, Finland in December 2017. 

Nick also teaches courses in the Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management program at Kent State University.  Among the courses he teaches are Foundations of Recreation and LeisureEnvironmental Education and Conservation, and the practicum, internship and internship seminar for the program.  Nick states that his studies in foundations have also made him a more inquisitive teacher.

Advice to those in the program

“Just dig in and immerse yourself in it.  Open yourself up to it and take in everything to which this program exposes you.  Welcome the change that is going to come because you are going to be a different person than when you started".

Nick lives in Louisville with his wife and two children.  They live on a functioning farm with pigs, goats, and chickens.