Army veteran graduates from Georgia Gwinnett College and aims big
Everyone in Morgan George’s life knew she could be anything she wanted to be – everyone but her, that is. When your deepest desire is to help save the world, it can be hard to believe you can ever make that happen. Through her tenacity and the unwavering support of the people around her, George, 31, of Lawrenceville, discovered that destiny has a way to put you on the path to your dreams despite your own insecurities.
“I was lucky to have unwavering support from my daughter and my parents throughout this journey,” she said.
And what a journey it’s been.
George dropped out of high school when she was 16, “Because I just didn’t want to do it anymore.” Her parents were less than thrilled.
“They are very midwestern folks and said, ‘If you’re quitting school, you better make your own way in life,’” said George. It was tough love, and it worked. She quickly discovered there weren’t a lot of great career options for someone like her. A short period of trial-and-error brought her to a recruiting station, where she signed up to be a U.S. Army soldier.
She became a 68T, the Army’s designation for a veterinary technician, and in 2009, a little more than a year after dropping out of high school, she found herself in Kandahar, Afghanistan, attached to the 101st Airborne Division. She traveled from outpost to outpost, in the most dangerous conditions imaginable, taking care of military working dogs.
As a female, she was a rarity in the combat zone, so the Army placed her in a Female Engagement Team (FET), whose mission was to work with the Army Rangers, acting as liaisons between local Afghan women, who often would not speak to men, and the military units that entered their villages. She was only 18 years old.
Her Afghanistan deployment would change her forever, but it was her second deployment to Japan after the 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake and Tsunami that made the most impact on her life.
“We went out there on a humanitarian mission to help people, especially in the farmlands, with their cattle and other livestock. We also did pet rescue and rehoming,” she said. “I ended up staying there for about two years.” It was during those years that she developed a passion for service and helping animals. It was also there that she had her daughter, Dannilee.
She returned to the U.S. with a new outlook on her future. Her years in the Army had shown her that the people who loved her had been right all along - she was capable of much more than she knew. She left the Army at the rank of sergeant and began what can often be a difficult transition back into the civilian world.
“I was able to get a decent job, but with no upward mobility because of my lack of education. I knew I wanted to be a part of research, so I decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree,” she said. “But the research I wanted to be a part of was something I had no experience in. I didn’t even know what to call it. I only knew it as ‘saving the world.’ I came to find out that it was actually called environmental science.”
She enrolled in Georgia Gwinnett College in 2018 as a non-traditional student: a veteran. She said she was skeptical she’d be able to fit in at first, but it didn’t take long to realize veterans are cherished members of the GGC family.
“GGC is 100% supportive of student veterans. Every question I had during the admission process were answered. All of my questions were about being a non-traditional student because I wasn’t just a veteran; I was a single mother with a full-time job. They said, ‘We will make this work.’ There were not just Veterans Affairs officers but veteran peers who would always be around to help me. After that I didn’t even tour another college.”
George’s dream of helping the world took shape over her four years at GGC. She made the president’s list her freshman year while working a full-time job at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University. She became vice president of the Biology Club and was granted two separate summertime National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates internships.
As time passed, she gravitated from saving animals to saving entire ecosystems through environmental science. All the while keeping her focus on getting her degree so she could move on to make a real impact.
Now, all that work has paid off. After graduation, George will start the next chapter of her life as a researcher in a pathogen laboratory at the University of Georgia.
“I, the girl who dropped out of high school and became a single mother at 22, am graduating with a Bachelor of Science in environmental science,” she said. “I realized through the course of attending GGC that the world is a very finite place. Can you imagine a world where my grandkids would have no idea what a coral reef is? That’s not the world that I want my daughter to see. That’s why I’m taking this journey – because the world needs more help.”