Everyone in Morgan K. 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 discovered that destiny has a way of putting 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.
Originally from Carthage, Missouri, she moved to Georgia as a teenager and dropped out of high school when she was 16. 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 join the U.S. Army.
She became a 68T, the Army’s designation for a veterinary technician, and in 2009, she found herself in Kandahar, Afghanistan, attached to the 101st Airborne Division. She traveled from outpost to outpost, in the most dangerous conditions imaginable, to care for military drug- and bomb-sniffing dogs.
As a female, she was a rarity in the combat zone, so the Army placed her in a Female Engagement Team. The team’s mission was to work with the Army Rangers, acting as liaisons between Afghan women, who often would not speak to men, and the military units that entered their villages. It was a great responsibility for someone only 18 years old.
George’s 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. The magnitude 9.1 quake and resulting tsunami killed more than 18,000 people and devastated a large area.
“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.
George returned to the U.S. with a new outlook. 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 found out that it was actually called environmental science.”
She enrolled at 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 admissions process was answered,” George said. “All of my questions were about being a nontraditional 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.’ After that, I didn’t even tour another college.”
During her freshman orientation, she found inspiration in a statement by a former GGC president: “It doesn’t matter if you go to college. A lot of people go to college. It matters if you succeed in college, finish and graduate.”
“With him saying that, I knew I didn’t just want to go to college,” George said. “I wanted to succeed and graduate from college … for me, for my daughter, for our future.”
George’s dream of helping the world took shape at GGC. She made the president’s list her freshman year while working full-time at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University in Atlanta. Being a full-time student and employee left little time for being a full-time mom, so she quit her job.
“I was very grateful that the GI Bill’s financial support allowed me to fully immerse myself in school,” she said.
She became vice president of the Biology Club and was granted two summertime National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates internships. One was held in the marine biology department at Savannah State University and Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. The other was in University of Georgia’s microbiology department.
“These were outstanding opportunities,” she said. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciated my faculty’s advice and encouragement. The mentors I found at GGC led me down amazing paths.”
As time passed, George gravitated from saving animals to saving entire ecosystems through environmental science, all the while keeping focused on getting her degree so she could move on to make a real impact.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in environmental science, she started the next chapter of her life as a researcher in a pathogen laboratory at the University of Georgia. George said her years at GGC taught her 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.”
Read more about the college, its student and alumni in GGC's Engage Magazine.