Marco Morrison was welcomed in September as the new Executive Director of College Possible Milwaukee. He brings special insight to the role as both a Milwaukee native and Milwaukee Public School alum. He attended UW – Parkside and Eastern Illinois University. For over 20 years, he has been committed to youth development in Milwaukee previously working for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee and as Executive Director of Operation DREAM.
Marco and I recently discussed how he first found his passion for youth development, what Milwaukee means to him and the way he sees College Possible Milwaukee evolving.
What drew you to College Possible?
I’d say that what drew me to College Possible was its focus on young people accessing higher education and achieving a college degree. From my own personal experiences, I know how important it has been for me to have gotten my undergraduate and graduate degree. It’s opened up more opportunities for my personal and professional development.
I also see that a degree is the most impactful thing that a young person can attain to change the mindset of not just themselves, but their families. It changes that cycle and generation of poverty that a lot of our young people come from. It allows them to dream bigger and have more opportunities for different careers and be able to expand on the particular knowledge that they want.
College Possible also focuses on a particular demographic: one that’s often left out of certain opportunities and resources. I think that College Possible does a great job focusing on that demographic of young people who really just need additional mentoring opportunities and resources to maximize their best selves. That’s always been a passion of mine to be able to serve those who are typically underserved.
Where did you first find your passion for youth development?
My passion for youth development goes back to when I was a freshman in college. As a first-generation college student, I filled out my financial aid wrong. After the fall semester, I was going to drop out of school. But, a friend of mine connected me to the UW – Parkside pre-college department. The director, Mary Day, ended up giving me a full-time job working at the pre-college. Having never worked with young people, it was somewhat intimidating. After connecting with young people and asking what they’d like to see, I ended up establishing a program called Academic Achievers. That gave me something to hone in on. I think that the responsibility that I felt was Mary putting these kids’ lives in my hands. I was serving young minority students, so I wanted to be a role model and mentor for them. From that moment on, I decided to just give my life to the thing that I believe saved my life to a degree. I grew up in 53206. I knew that for me, dropping out and going back to my old community was not going to be in my best interest. Mary and the pre-college department were a saving grace because I didn’t have a passion until then.
What does Milwaukee mean to you?
Milwaukee means everything to me. I grew up here. Milwaukee is home. I believe that it’s because of the experiences that I’ve had and the things that I’ve gone through, I’ve been able to develop a higher level of resiliency and grit to be able to succeed no matter what the circumstances are. It’s a place that I know gets a bad rep to a large degree. But, I believe that there are individuals like myself that want to see Milwaukee be a better place. I went off to school and I decided to come back because most of my friends who graduated from college and went to school in different states decided that Milwaukee was not the place that they were gonna call home moving forward. My outlook has always been if nobody goes back home, how do we make this place better? I believe that I can be part of that catalyst of change in mindset that Milwaukee does have more to offer than what most people give it credit for. I have to give credit to Milwaukee for making me who I am.
What is your mantra and why?
It is what it is until it’s something different. You can become so discouraged by the reality that you live in every day, but you can learn to accept it for what it is, knowing that it can and will be different. But, the only way that it becomes different is if you actively participate in what it takes to make it different. It’s not just accepting it and sitting back, but it’s thinking about what you need to do in order to change those circumstances. Different is inevitable. Things are always going to change and you should be an active participant in that change. I learn to work with whatever systems and structures are currently in place, knowing that I have the ability to influence change.
When you look at things that way, you become less frustrated with the state of now. It is what is, but when I knew that I could be a person of change and influence I had to add, “until it’s something different”.
What is a strength you see in College Possible?
One of the biggest strengths within College Possible is our ability to increase our capacity to serve more and impact more. I don’t see a lot of other organizations like ours doing this work at this level. When you think about changing the lives of more and more young people, I don’t think that there’s another organization that has the level of capacity that we do. It is truly one of our strengths that we have a model that can be replicated with different partnerships and within high school institutions that we partner with. We’re not just targeting a particular higher-level achieving student. We are looking to give any student who sees getting a college degree as life-changing the opportunity to participate in what we have to offer and to embrace the support that we’re able to give.
Is there something you’ve learned in your first month at College Possible?
What I’ve learned is that College Possible has always required a certain level of evolution. We started out as helping scholars access college and then it became seeing scholars through their collegiate experience to obtaining their degree. And the next level that I see for College Possible is access to career exploration, internships and future employment.
There has to be an evolution over time in order to meet the demands of the changing times and to be truly impactful and service young people. You have to build in those additional levels of support. Needs are going to develop and need to be addressed over time. I think that I’ve joined College Possible in a very unique time of change and also evolution. Those are the things that excite me. College Possible prides itself on being innovative and bringing new things to the table. I’m looking forward to honing in on that and developing new opportunities, programs and partnerships for us to evolve to an even greater height.
What is your why?
The appreciation for people. The support of people from a non-judgmental perspective. My love for people and being able to just appreciate the differences and uniqueness of us as individuals, embracing that first and then figuring out what role I play in their lives to be impactful. I think that making connections to each other and to different people is key to my why. Because I love people. I was raised to embrace people for who they are. You can learn so much from people. I remember my mom used to always say don’t judge anybody based on superficial things because you never know when somebody’s gonna give you the best advice of your life. And that could come from anybody. My love for people is definitely a huge part of my why, but also being happy for other people’s successes. I get enjoyment when I see somebody else accomplish a goal and be successful and know that I was a part of their journey.