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Paving the Way

Gadd, Robinson, Oster

Gadd, Robinson, Oster: Michigan Photography, Lon Horwedel; Morrison: Courtesy of Jean Robinson

In 2014, Kolby Gadd journeyed to Ann Arbor from Utah for graduate studies in the School of Education. Gadd chose U-M for its academic excellence, its culture of interdisciplinary work, and "the message that you make the experience what you want it to be," said Gadd, who holds undergraduate and master's degrees in mathematics education. "It gave me the best opportunity to explore find excellent faculty members...who could help me develop my ideas."

Initially, Gadd was to work as a research assistant or graduate student instructor in exchange for tuition and a stipend. Then he learned that instead, he would receive full support his first year from the Dr. Betty Mae Morrison Endowed Fund for Doctoral Student Support. Being a Morrison Scholar liberated Gadd to join a research team regardless of its ability to pay him. That gave Gadd "the freedom to explore," he said, "and to work with faculty that I just wouldn't have had time to work with otherwise."

Among other research interests, Gadd is pursuing the potential use of quantitative methods to help teachers "diagnose" students' level of understanding and make their instruction more responsive. "In order for the work of research—or any work—to move forward, it's important to allow innovation and adaptation," he said. "Using the time in training as a researcher as a time to explore and press on ideas and find out how new ideas can fit with, and build on, more established ideas—there's value in that."

Second-year graduate student and Morrison Scholar Meghan Oster agrees. To understand student loan borrowing, she and a faculty member are using a quantitative technique previously used primarily among economics scholars. If Morrison knew of their approach, Oster surmised, she would applaud the use of quasi-experimental methods.

The late Professor Emerita Betty Mae Morrison (AB '52, AM '65, PhD '66) joined the faculty as assistant professor in 1970, rose to full professor, and retired as professor emerita in 1992. Students and colleagues remember her as spirited, dynamic, and inspirational. As an African American woman—and, for much of her time at the school, the only woman to achieve the rank of professor—she pioneered a pathway into what had been traditionally male fields: research and statistics.

When Morrison died on November 30, 2008, her estate plan included the largest bequest ever made to the School of Education: more than $1.6 million. Jean M. Robinson (MSW '57) served as the estate's personal representative. The two became friends when Morrison was in graduate school and would often cheer side by side at Michigan football games. 

In keeping with Morrison's wishes, Robinson established the fund in honor of Morrison's parents, George W. Morrison and Elizabeth Sophia Jacobean Burkhart Morrison. It provides tuition, fees, and stipends for doctoral students doing scholarly work using quantitative research methods.

"Professor Morrison was devoted to the success of her students," said School of Education Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Carla O'Connor, an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor. "She kindled their passion for quantitative research, and her generous gift ensures ongoing support for doctoral students with a demonstrated interest in methodological rigor."

"It's feel a connection to her," Gadd said of Morrison. "I feel grateful to carry on work similar to work that she had an interest in during her career."

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