Q&A: SCPS Student Shares How You Can Do It All with the Right Support System

As the daughter of two educators, Morgan Williams-Harrington has always held a love for education. Her mother just completed her 40th year of teaching, while her father is now retired from the profession. A psychology concentrator in UVA’s Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies program, Williams-Harrington has no immediate plans for teaching as her vocation. However, her love for lifelong learning is evident as she works toward finishing her degree through the School of Continuing and Professional Studies.

Like most SCPS students, Williams-Harrington works a full-time job while taking online courses. Her life would have been busy enough if she was just a working adult learner. Yet, during the past six months, her schedule also consisted of planning and executing her recent wedding, becoming a new stepmother, coaching a youth soccer team and fulfilling a quest to have her beloved uncle recognized with a posthumously awarded degree from UVA. Astoundingly, she was successful with all these pursuits. 

Williams-Harrington Coaching Soccer
Williams-Harrington adds coaching a youth soccer team to her busy mix of activities.

Williams-Harrington is currently writing and researching for her capstone project at SCPS, a two-semester process in which students pursue independent research on a question or problem of their choice, engage with the scholarly debates in the relevant disciplines and — with the guidance of a faculty mentor — produce a substantial paper that reflects a deep understanding of the topic. Satisfactory completion of the project is the final step required for graduation, which means she is close to receiving her Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies degree. She made time to share how she seems to be “doing it all.”

Q. What was your educational background before you began courses at UVA’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies?

A. I started off at Thomas Nelson Community College. I had no idea what I wanted to do until I had one professor there who taught psychology. I’ve always had a desire to help people and the community the way my parents have for countless years, and I thought, ‘Wow. I really love this.’

I finished up at Thomas Nelson in May 2022 and began classes at SCPS in August 2022. I thought if I lost my momentum, it could be rough.

Q. Why did you choose SCPS? 

A. At the end of getting my associate degree in health science, I realized I wanted to further my education. I knew that online was the route for me, but I didn’t want to settle for just any online school. I wanted a school that had meaning to me.

I knew my uncle (Clarence Halbert ‘Willie’ Williams, Jr.) went to UVA (in the ’70s and ’80s). We were moving my 91-year-old grandmother out of her home in Newport News, and we started finding little things of his. It would be simple things like his UVA transcripts, a triangle-shaped UVA banner that was his, and a letter from the UVA Alumni Association that he had kept in pristine condition. We found his wallet with his UVA alumni card in it, front and center. They were so old, but it was like an Easter egg hunt in a way, leading me and pointing me in this direction.

I could feel what he felt. And I do feel it now, attending UVA. You’re proud. It’s a good feeling.

Q. You recently accepted a posthumously awarded degree on your uncle’s behalf. This was in part due to your thoughtful testimony about him, his love for the University and his battle with AIDS and subsequent death from related causes, which kept him from graduating. What support did you receive during the process to have him honored in this way?

Williams-Harrington Accepting Posthumously Awarded Degree
Williams-Harrington accepts a posthumous degree at UVA on behalf of her late uncle.

A. I felt overwhelmed in a sense of, ‘I didn’t even know what a posthumous degree was.’ I love Dr. Horton (SCPS faculty member). He is the best advisor I’ve ever had. He just knows his stuff, and he is always willing to help. He’s made that clear from the first meeting I ever had with him.

I emailed him with the subject line, ‘Strange Inquiry.’ It was never shot down. He thought it was interesting and said he had never done anything like this either. He said he’d need to do a little research. Within an hour, he reached back out. We even set up a Zoom call for that night to go over the requirements.

Q. What support did you receive while accomplishing everything else you were doing — pursuing your degree, working full-time, planning a wedding and coaching? 

Williams-Harrington Wedding Family Photo
Williams-Harrington asserts her encouraging and supportive family has been an integral key to her success.

A. You do have to have partnerships and balance. And it does take a village. 

I have a husband who is so supportive. He works full-time from home but always picks up where I can’t. He is the rock of our growing family, and I am endlessly grateful.

My parents have been incredibly encouraging. My mom and I are practically inseparable — we make a great team. I coach for an inner-city soccer league, and she’s my assistant coach. It’s our special escape from the demands of school and work, and I’m grateful we get to share it with my stepson. 

My work family is also an integral part of support in helping me.

Q. Is there anything else you would like to share about your student experience?

A. This is a welcoming community, and I felt that from the start. Even online, with the professors and my peers. Everybody roots for you. I wanted interaction, and the BIS program does that. The conversations with my peers have been so special. 

It is okay to be different here. It’s okay to have a different path than others. UVA has given both me and my uncle what we wanted.