If you ask Bill Morris, he’ll tell you he’s just a typical The University of Olivet student: He’s looking forward to his December 2017 graduation, has a full class load, works to make ends meet, is involved in numerous student activities, lives in student housing, has an internship, enjoys time with friends, and strives to balance life obligations.
Leave it to a 49-year-old to have the confidence to tell you he’s just like any other student.
“I don’t think of myself as a nontraditional student or as old. I’m just a student,” Bill remarked. “You’ve got to never forget that you, too, are a student with one goal: getting your degree.”
Bill first came to Olivet as a student and staff member in 1998. Even then, he was what’s commonly referred to as a nontraditional student – over the age of 24, on his own, a parent, and a commuter. That did not deter Bill from immersing himself as much as he could into the OC culture by getting to know faculty, staff and students, serving as office manager for the department of institutional advancement, and taking part in as many campus activities as his schedule allowed. But, in 2000, life obligations surfaced and Bill found it necessary to step back from his dream of obtaining a college degree.
Fast forward to 2015. Bill was working as “chief agitator” for an organizational management consulting firm and connected with The University of Olivet Provost and Dean Maria Davis, whom he had known previously. The conversation turned to Bill’s time at OC as a student, and Provost Davis said, “You need to finish your education.” Bill agreed. It was that simple.
Or was it? How could he make it work this time? What would he major in after all these years and after already building an extensive professional skillset in organizational management and relationship building? He was old enough to be the father of the majority of students (and even some faculty and staff) – how was that going to work?
Provost Davis and others at The University of Olivet didn’t see the problem. Bill’s life experiences would be used to his advantage. After much deliberation, it seemed the perfect fit for someone interested in the way society influences people’s lives and who has a desire to promote understanding among diverse groups would be sociology (the examination of social structures) and anthropology (the examination of cultures). Bill had his major.
Next, they wrestled with Bill’s desire to immerse himself totally into the OC culture, which is hard to do as a commuter student. The University of Olivet came up with a proposition: Would Bill agree to live in Oak Hill Apartments and serve as its resident manager? The OC residence apartment complex sits on the edge of campus, which can create a sense of detachment from the college community. For most of the residents, it’s also the first time they’ve experienced total independence. A manager, similar to a residence hall director, was needed to guide and manage the more than 60 students living in the complex. So, Bill packed up his belongings and moved into student housing.
Once classes started, Bill submerged himself into the role of full-time student. “By walking the campus, listening to the students talk, getting to know the faculty and staff, spending time at the Kirk Center, and taking part in campus life, I began to feel and experience the culture of today’s students and faculty. As a commuter student the first time around I didn’t really get to experience all that is The University of Olivet,” he said.
You might think that the age gap between Bill and other students left him feeling alienated. Quite the opposite. “It’s true I don’t spend time socializing with students in the same way they socialize with each other. But, then, my age allows me to accept that. My age allows me to understand my primary reason for being here is to graduate and get my diploma,” he explained. To connect with the other students he became active in multiple student organizations. “Regardless of age, you all have something in common within that student organization. I’ve developed lasting relationships by taking an active role in the Black Student Union and by helping to establish the Xicano Club to raise awareness of the Hispanic culture.”
Bill also found a marketing internship on campus. “I spent so much time in the Kirk Center I got to know Eric Young, the Chartwells director of dining services, and he asked me if I knew anyone that would like a marketing internship. I said, yes, me.” Bill’s responsibilities include messaging, assisting in the development of a campus dining portal and helping to improve food choices. His experience in organizational management has even allowed him to take on added responsibilities.
It seemed all that was left for Bill the Student was to DJ a show on WOCR 89.1, Olivet’s student-run radio station. So he did. Here again, his past professional experiences and connections paid off: He knew the station manager, he knew Joanne Williams, associate professor of journalism and mass communications, he had produced audio programs for Michigan Business Network, and has an appreciation for all genres of music. Bill saw this as the perfect opportunity to educate OC’s 18-24-year-old students on the influence jazz has played in music, including hip hop. The popular 2-hour show, “The Jazz Duplex,” was hosted by Bill’s alter-ego, Bill Mixby and was a mix of music, education and live interviews with musicians from across the board influenced by jazz.
With graduation within reach, Bill is now focusing his efforts on his studies. Bill Mixby and “The Jazz Duplex” signs off tonight, April 21, with a special 6-8 p.m. two-hour tribute to Prince, who himself was inspired by many jazz greats, including his father John Nelson, a jazz musician. In between honoring Prince, Bill Mixby will thank his listeners and talk about his WOCR experience, hoping to provide an educational road map for younger students.
Bill sees being an anomaly within the student body as mainly positive. “Being younger, you don’t have the vision or patience. I, on the other hand, can see a student’s future because I’ve already lived it,” he said. “It can be hard for me not to tell them what to do or how to react to things. I have to let them figure it out. I will offer guidance, but I can’t tell them. That can be hard, but it’s worked out well. The students I spend time with trust me and know I mean well.”
What’s next for Bill? Like other typical OC students, he’s applying to graduate schools (he wants to earn a doctoral degree in organizational management) and exploring job opportunities. And come December he’ll be headed to Florida. No, not for the traditional student break, but to spend time with his mother and show her his college diploma.
The University of Olivet understands each student, regardless of age, has distinct academic and career ambitions. From the moment you take an interest in us, we take an interest in getting to know you, too. See for yourself by scheduling a visit or calling 800.456.7189.
Don’t let age or life obligations get in your way of attaining your dream of a The University of Olivet education. Just ask Bill: “It’s an experience that’s lying in wait for you.”