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Johns Hopkins BME junior Jackson Morris receives Truman Scholarship

April 18, 2024
Jackson Morris

Junior Jackson Morris has been named a 2024 Truman Scholar, marking the first time in five years that a Johns Hopkins University student has received the prestigious scholarship.

The Truman Scholarship, which was awarded to 60 students this year, is given to extraordinary undergraduates who are pursuing careers in public service. Awardees are given up to $30,000 for graduate or professional school, as well as special opportunities to work for the federal government and attend professional development programming.

Over the past three years, Morris, a biomedical engineering student, has worked hard to improve the lives of disabled college students both at Johns Hopkins and in Maryland.

“Jackson consistently champions the normalization of disability and fosters a culture of acceptance at Hopkins across all spheres,” said Executive Director of Student Disability Services Cathie Axe. “His standout contribution lies in his ability to unite individuals, even engaging with partners who may initially be perceived as maintaining the status quo. Jackson’s innate talent for building bridges is remarkable, and I eagerly anticipate his continued growth in harnessing these invaluable skills.”

When Morris first applied to Hopkins, he already knew that he wanted to work in the intersection between government and science. This dream was brought into focus when his classmates elected him as a freshman senator.

“I realized that I really, really liked representing people,” explained Morris. “I love being able to talk to someone and being able to say, ‘I will make sure that your concerns are heard and that your voice doesn’t go silenced.’”

From the start, Morris has been a vocal advocate for his peers. As a freshman, he was part of a cross-campus group of students that met the provost to highlight how the university could better serve students with disabilities. Several of the group’s requests were then put into effect, including the creation of a disability advisory group and the hiring of a director of disability, culture, and inclusion; Morris served on the search committee.

As someone diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Morris personally understood how crucial university accommodations and support could be to helping students with disabilities succeed. Although he was excited to see progress being made at JHU after his freshman year, he knew that a lot more needed to be done, and on a much wider scale.

So Morris turned his attention towards the state. Since June 2022, he has worked with other disabled college students across Maryland to meet with policymakers and lobby for disability reforms.

Studies show that nationwide, only 50% of students with disabilities graduate college within six years, as opposed to 68% of non-disabled students. Morris and his allies seek to bridge this gap, giving disabled students the resources and support they need to achieve the same success as their peers. This would include requiring colleges to publish graduation rates for students with disabilities, so prospective students can get a better idea of whether they’ll be supported once enrolled.

Some of the group’s recommendations are currently being investigated by the Maryland Higher Education Commission. It is, the group hopes, one of the first steps towards tangible change.

“Learning to be an effective advocate over the past two years—representing students, dissecting the U.S. legal code, and networking with administrators and legislators to achieve results—has solidified my desire to become a lawyer and disability advocate,” Morris wrote in his application for the Truman Scholarship.

Back at Hopkins, Morris continued to find new ways to support his classmates. In 2022, he was part of a grassroots team that created the university’s first Disability Pride Month program. In 2023, he was involved in the founding of the Disabled Student Community Outreach Council and the creation of a Hopkins chapter of Delta Alpha Pi, an honors society for disabled students. Today, he continues to offer input to Student Disability Services and is campaigning to create a Disability Studies minor.

Morris also works with his biomedical engineering design team to develop improved ventricular catheters for patients with hydrocephalus. He additionally serves as a co-chair for the university’s Cross-Institutional Student Advisory Committee and as the advocacy and activism chair for the Advocates for Disability Awareness club. In his free time, he practices acrobatics with the Johns Hopkins Aerial Circus Club.

After graduation, Morris hopes to work at a federal agency in D.C. before attending law school. There, he plans to study disability-related law before pursuing a career in public service, potentially as an elected representative.

In the short term, Morris will continue his studies at Johns Hopkins University. He will also become the Student Government Association’s Disability Caucus chair next semester, where he will continue to advocate for himself and his peers.

Although Morris is proud of the progress he’s contributed to, he knows there is still a long way left to go.

“There’s a lot of people at the university with disabilities who aren’t comfortable with disclosing their identity,” said Morris. “Ten years from this date, I really hope it’s an institution where people feel differently.”

Read the Johns Hopkins University privacy statement here.