Career calling

Legendary point guard Monte Morris reflects on a long career that has enriched him and his university

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Elite college basketball players rarely have four-year careers anymore — a fact that makes Monte Morris’ choice to spend four years at Iowa State University one of the most meaningful things he’s ever done.

For Morris, a four-year career meant becoming only the second member of his family to earn a college degree. It meant besting seemingly unbreakable records held by an ISU and NBA legend. It meant becoming so completely immersed in the nation’s college basketball fraternity that, when beating Kansas coach Bill Self on his home court, he gives you a high five during the game.

“I want people to know that even though I struggled at first, I didn’t cut corners,” Morris says. “I didn’t want to leave this place because it’s like home. I was as loyal to this university as it was to me, and I learned a lot, saw a lot. I’m blessed and thankful that I came to Iowa State.”

Growing up in Flint, Mich., Morris spent a lot of time as a gym tagalong with his basketball-coaching single mother, Latonia. In those gyms is where he first met Flint native and Michigan State legend Mateen Cleaves, who remains a close friend and mentor to Morris today. It’s also where he met former ISU star Jeff Grayer, another Flint native who was persistent in telling the young Morris how good he’d look in the Cardinal & Gold gear Grayer was always donning. Both Morris and his mother were skeptical about what Ames had to offer. Until, that is, they saw it for themselves.

“My mom always said we weren’t going down here because ‘What’s in Iowa?’ But they just kept calling,” Morris recalls. “So I went. And after seeing the campus and meeting the people it was literally two days after we got back that I told my mom this is where I wanted to be. I came back with all the gear and Grayer was like, ‘There you go.’ I committed on my birthday in 2012.”

To say Morris committed to Iowa State and has never looked back would not exactly be accurate. He faced dark times during his college career. His home city faced a devastating crisis in 2014 when it was revealed that the city’s drinking water was severely contaminated. He lost his grandfather, with whom he was extremely close. And in 2016, Morris’ former Cyclone teammate and close friend Bryce Dejean-Jones was shot and killed. But he leaned on teammates and friends during those times and became even more grateful for his support networks at home and at Iowa State.

But in 2015, Morris’ foundations were shaken by the news that Fred Hoiberg was departing Ames for a job with the Chicago Bulls. “I honestly thought about transferring,” he admits. “Coach Fred taught me how to be a pro and how to live life in Ames under the microscope. He was just a cool guy. I wondered if the new coach would let us do the same things Coach Fred did.”

But now, Morris says, he hasn’t spent a minute regretting his eventual decision to trust in Steve Prohm.

“He’s someone who’s been good for me in my life, both on the court and spiritually,” Morris says. “I love his kid, Cass, and [Coach Prohm and I] have grown together over the past year and a half.”

During his four years at Iowa State University, Morris says he’s embraced the complete college experience — including football Saturdays with friends, classes and community service, discovering his passion for the fashion industry and even bowling. And yes, making lifelong friendships with teammates like Georges Niang — someone Morris says inspired him to improve his diet and exercise habits, DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim — elder statesmen who helped Morris mature quickly during his freshman season, and Naz Mitrou-Long — someone Morris describes with one simple phrase: “If I had a kid, I would want him to be just like Naz.”

“I’m so glad I stayed. There’s nothing I will regret here at this university,” Morris says. “I did everything I wanted to do here.”

“Everything” includes two very prominent achievements on Morris’ list that couldn’t have happened without a senior season. In January 2017, he was able to change his phone’s screen saver from a picture of the number “665” — the Iowa State career assist record that was formerly held by now-New York Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek — when he surpassed it at Vanderbilt. In February, he also surpassed Hornacek’s career steals milestone.

“I wanted to go somewhere where I could leave my legacy,” Morris says. “But I also wanted to come somewhere where my spot wasn’t just going to be thrown at me, where I could work for minutes and get rewarded for it. And that’s exactly what I’ve been able to do here.”

And in May, Morris will walk across the stage in Hilton Coliseum as a liberal studies graduate — something he hopes will help him pursue his future career goals of working in both the fashion and sports broadcasting industries.

“My mom wasn’t able to get her degree because she had me when she was [a student-athlete] at Grand Valley State,” Morris says. “Without a father figure around my mom took so much on her shoulders. She worked overtime hours so I could get things for Christmas and for my birthday, when things were rough and I didn’t even know how rough they were. Now I just want to give it all back to her.”

Earning his college degree, Morris says, was one of the ways he felt like he could pay back his mom.

But, despite her heartfelt desire to see him come back to ISU for his senior season, she never pressured him. Latonia Morris, who still lives in a home piled with bottled water in Flint, is the ultimate example of a strong woman, her son says. She’s Iowa State’s biggest fan, traveling to many Cyclone games and storing every one on her DVR so she can break down film with her son. (“When I broke the career assists record at Vanderbilt, I also fouled out,” Morris remembers, laughing. “She didn’t say anything about [the record]; she just said ‘Stop fouling, stop going over guys’ backs.’”) She’s been a loving and steady influence on her son, who has achieved at college basketball’s highest levels with her support.

But she also, Morris says, never forced a basketball into her son’s hands.

“I think basketball, they say, sometimes can find you,” Morris says. “[Mom] had me at the gym a lot but she never forced me. The game definitely found me. I think it called on me.”

Iowa State is all the better for Morris’ answer.


This article was originally published in VISIONS magazine. To receive the full issue delivered to your mailbox four times per year, become a member of the ISU Alumni Association.

World Food Prize puts Iowa in the international spotlight

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When Keegan Kautzky was a freshman at Iowa State, he was signed up for a study-abroad experience in Italy that was cancelled because of the September 11th attacks.

Liz Beck (L)(’74 history, MA ’77), then the head of the ISU Honors Program, told Kautzky (L)(’04 political science) at the time that if he wanted to start learning about global issues he didn’t need to travel to Europe. He just needed to intern at the World Food Prize in Des Moines.

“So that’s what I did,” Kautzky said. “I met Norm [Borlaug] and Ambassador [Kenneth] Quinn, and it changed everything and the rest of my life. And it’s fascinating because it was in my backyard that I could make a real difference and interact with world leaders and tackle these issues; it wasn’t just in traveling globally on a study-abroad. It was 30 minutes from campus and 25 miles from my hometown.”

Thus began Kautzky’s 15-year adventure with the World Food Prize and its many facets: state and global youth institutes, the Iowa Hunger Summit, the Borlaug Dialogue, and World Food Prize laureate program.

Today Kautzky is a director of national education programs along with fellow Iowa State graduate Libby Pederson Crimmings (’04 art and design). They travel “non-stop” for months every year, organizing and facilitating youth institutes in 21 states, a program that has seen exponential growth.

“Nine years ago [the youth institute program] was [only] in Iowa, with about 55 to 60 students who participated, and now we’re in 20 more states with about 10,000 students participating nationally,” Kautzky said. It’s conceivable, he said, that in the next fi ve years, the program could scale up to reach a million students in 50 states.

The World Food Prize youth institutes are culminations of year-round work by high school students across the nation. In Iowa last year, about 6,000 students were involved in school- and community-based service-learning activities, research projects, and papers, and of those students about 300 came to the day-long Iowa Youth Institute on the ISU campus in April, hosted by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Each fall, during the Borlaug Dialogue event week – which attracts leaders from all over the globe who come together to discuss the many possible solutions to solving world hunger and poverty – a three-day Global Youth Institute engages 200 high school delegates from the state youth institutes and internationally.

The students chosen for that event are not necessarily the school valedictorians, Kautzky explained. “It’s the students who are the most passionate,” he said. “They have just incredible promise; they want to work hard and make a difference in their community. A big part of what we’re trying to create through those youth institutes is a way to engage broadly all students with these issues and to identify kids that really care. There’s a
lot of energy, a lot of ideas, a lot of passion.”

“Dr. Borlaug’s idea was that we need to create a way not just to engage and educate but to identify those passionate young people and then help them see the pathways and how they can use their interests to make a real difference in the world,” Crimmings added.

In addition to the youth programs and Borlaug Dialogue, the 12-person staff of the World Food Prize Foundation also facilitates an annual Iowa Hunger Summit, an Iowa Hunger Directory, World Food Prize internships, special events, and more.

Catherine Swoboda (L)(’08 agronomy, MS ’10 crop production & physiology) has been a big part of the planning and execution of those events. From 2011 through the end of 2016, Swoboda worked first as the World Food Prize director of Iowa and Midwest education programs and most recently as director of planning for the Borlaug Dialogue. So she knows what it takes for a small staff to pull off local, international, and international events – sometimes simultaneously.

“This is a small staff that works yearround to plan those events. And when I reflect on what that’s like, I guess the thing that really comes to my mind is the tremendous sense of mission here,” she said. “It’s really amazing what you can accomplish with a small team when they’re devoted to the mission.”

Swoboda, now a lecturer in ISU’s Department of Global Resource Systems, was born and raised in Des Moines. She became involved with the World Food Prize in high school.

“It was really stunning to be a part of the World Food Prize staff ,” she said, “and it really wasn’t until then that I had an appreciation of the regard with which such leaders from all over the world hold our state, and the respect and admiration that they have for our state’s legacy in terms of agriculture and humanitarianism.”


This article was originally published in VISIONS magazine. To receive the full issue delivered to your mailbox four times per year, become a member of the ISU Alumni Association.

Five Things

Happy Monday from rainy Ames! Here are five things to know that will get you up to speed on Iowa State this week:

1) Today is the last day of the Steven Leath administration at Iowa State, as former ISU provost and University of Northern Iowa president Ben Allen becomes interim president until a permanent successor for Leath — who is headed to Auburn University — is named in October. On Friday, the Iowa Board of Regents announced that it had hired AGB Search from Washington, D.C. as the firm to assist with the selection of the next ISU president. AGB will be paid $110,000, plus expenses, for its services assisting with the search. AGB will work with the official search committee, which was announced April 20. The search committee is expected to meet for the first time later this month.

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2) This weekend 5,093 Iowa State students participated in commencement ceremonies, marking an increase of nearly 500 graduates over last year’s record-breaking spring class. Welcome to our newest alumni!

3) Also this weekend the Iowa State softball team, under the direction of first-year head coach Jamie Trachsel, swept Kansas to finish fifth in the Big 12 standings — the Cyclones’ best finish since 1994 — and earn a berth to the conference championships. ISU will take on Oklahoma State and Baylor Friday in the opening round of the Big 12 tournament in Oklahoma City.

4) Speaking of sports, the Iowa State women’s golf team opens play at the NCAA Lubbock Regional this morning in hope of earning a berth to the national championships May 19-24 in Sugar Grove, Ill. The men’s team starts its NCAA run next Monday, May 15 at the regional in Austin, Texas.

5) It’s officially summer break here at Iowa State now that graduation has come and gone, but spring is definitely still in the air. Check out the latest “Postcard from Campus” video and take a virtual tour of springtime on the most beautiful campus in the world.

Have a great week — and a great summer. We’re starting our summer hours today, so please note that we’ll be closed at 4 p.m. daily starting today until Aug. 11.

 

Five Things

Happy Monday to Cyclones everywhere. Here are five things to put on your radar this week as we start the month of May:

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1) It’s Finals/Commencement Week already! The Graduate College ceremony is Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Hilton Coliseum; the Veterinary Medicine ceremony is Saturday at noon at Stephens Auditorium, and the undergraduate ceremony featuring commencement speaker Dennis Muilenberg (’86 aero engr) — chairman, president, and CEO of The Boeing Company — will begin at 1:30 p.m. in Jack Trice Stadium. (In the event of inclement weather, which we’ve had in spades for the past week, the event will be moved into Hilton Coliseum — but you’ll need tickets from a grad.) The Dean of Students’ Office will also once again be hosting Lavender Graduation for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, and ally community.

Congratulations to all our very-soon-to-be alumni. Follow all the excitement of commencement throughout the week online via hashtag #cyclONEgrad.

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2) April has now officially ended, so make sure to take a few minutes to log your participation in “Cy’s Days of Service” — our worldwide service initiative for Cyclones everywhere. If you participated in a community service project, a regular volunteer initiative, or even a board or committee that serves the community, please log the hours your spent during the month of April and help us accurately reflect the impact of Iowa Staters during April 2017. (Oh — and send us your best photos, too, please!)

3) We hope you’ve been enjoying “Cyclone Stories” on our new CyclonesEverywhere.com website. Our latest stories are of Syria-born artist and architect Mohamad Hafez (’09 arch), NBA Development League Rookie of the Year Abdel Nader (’15 liberal studies), and the ISU women’s basketball stat crew, which traveled to Dallas in April to serve as official statisticians for the Final Four. You can also go back and meet all the previously featured Cyclones in our Cyclone Stories archive. “Cyclone Stories” is our way of helping keep you up to date on how Cyclones everywhere are making a difference. If you ever have a suggestion of a newsworthy Cyclone who would make a great feature, be sure to contact us. You can email Kate Bruns (’99 journalism) at kbruns@iastate.edu.

4) The NFL Draft was this weekend, and no Cyclone names were called. But three signed free agent contracts: Jomal Wiltz, Jhaustin Thomas, and Nigel Tribune.

5) The spring hiring spree continues at the Alumni Association: We have a new job posting this week for a full-time Graphic Designer. Apply online by May 12.