SUMTER, S.C. (courtesy Morris College and The Sumter Item) — State senators, representatives, and alumni gathered April 12 to celebrate more than 100 years of innovation and excellence at Morris College’s first Charter Day.
The day kicked off with the celebration and unveiling of the new John L. Scott Jr. Institute of Network Information Technology and Security Lab. As the theme for the first charter day was “Honoring the Past While Charting a New Course,” college President Leroy Staggers explained that Morris College has showed tremendous growth from its humble beginnings. “Founded in 1908 by the South Carolina Baptist Educational and Missionary Convention, Morris College started as a “vision” to provide educational opportunities to Black students denied of proper education,” Staggers said. The campus once served as an elementary school, high school and college for Sumter’s youth. Fast forward 114 years, and the college is a thriving, accredited four-year liberal arts and career-focused institution being recognized for achievements and innovations on the state level.
Staggers said while there have been many days of significance in the college’s history, this day marked a “moment where Morris College takes a step higher” in its journey of excellence with the help of the South Carolina Institutes of Innovation and Information.
Morris is one of seven HBCUs in the state supported by the South Carolina Institutes of Innovation and Information, a nonprofit organization established to support and assist the efforts of South Carolina’s seven historically Black colleges and universities. Under the leadership of Sen. John L. Scott Jr. (D-Richland), Allen University, Benedict College, Claflin University, Clinton College, Morris College, South Carolina State University, and Voorhees University are provided funding, resources, and network partnerships with leaders in the business and philanthropic community.
Reps. David Weeks (D-Sumter) and Rep. Murrell Smith (R-Sumter), along with Sens. Kevin Johnson (D-Clarendon) and Thomas McElveen (D-Sumter), recognized SCIII and Morris for their devotion to the success of HBCU students and presented a resolution to honor the college’s legacy and congratulate its announcement of the Institute of Network Information Technology and Security Lab.
“Today is the manifestation of power of the institution to embrace innovation by implementing the John L. Scott Jr. Institute. It is another step forward for this institution as the pride of Black Baptists in South Carolina but also the pride of Sumter,” Weeks said. “I want to tell Morris College that we’re proud of the work the college has done. It started out with the education of the preachers and teachers, and now we’ve gone way beyond that.” Following the resolution, Radman Ali, chairman of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and professor of biology, introduced the new cybersecurity lab. Ali shared that money donated to the college was used to purchase and install $87,000 worth of cybersecurity equipment, and the process of hiring a faculty member specializing in cybersecurity and computer science is ongoing. Donated money was also used to award two $7,500 scholarships to junior Javier King, a cybersecurity major, and senior Savannah Bennett, a cybersecurity minor. Eight other students will join King and Bennett and be awarded $15,000 in scholarships to assist in their studies to become cybersecurity professionals, Ali said.
The two students thanked the college and SCIII for their efforts to enhance their education. King spoke passionately about cybersecurity and the opportunities it has created for him. He will begin a one-month internship in May in North Charleston and will participate in the first Hack-A-Thon in November. Bennett spoke about her switch to study cybersecurity following her transfer to Morris and how essential the program has been in getting her ready for the workforce. She will also begin an internship in May in Charleston for hands-on learning to protect the information of major corporations.
A resounding applause followed these students’ announcements.
To add to the excitement, Staggers and Blaze Fire Games CEO and Sumter native Isiah Reese announced Morris’ partnership with Global Imperial Institute, an international university, and Blaze Fire Games, a digital asynchronous and synchronous gaming and E-sports career pathway provider, to offer certifications in areas of cybersecurity like video and E-sports. The partnership will allow the college to develop an E-sports educational innovation center to prepare students to potentially fill one of the 1.5 million jobs within the E-sports industry, Staggers said.
King’s excitement about the partnership filled the new lab, and he expressed gratitude to the college for fueling his passion for cybersecurity. “Coming out of high school into college, I originally wanted to go into E-sports and gaming, so when he introduced it today, I got excited because now I’m going to come back for grad school because that’s what I originally wanted. I enjoy cybersecurity, too, because it’s important, in high demand and it’s relative to E-sports,” King said. “It’s been really like a blessing to me to have people to work with me to enhance my skills in the class, especially when I was the only one in these classes as a freshman. The staff and my fellow students were really here to help me.”
Scott, Staggers, Weeks, Ali and SCIII Executive Director Gwynth Nelson, along with McElveen, Johnson, and Smith, stood in front of the Wilson-Booker building to cut the ribbon and unveil the new lab. Attendees filed inside to get a look at the new space that will soon produce the cybersecurity professionals of the future.
Scott said while his name is on the lab’s plaque, the acronym NITS is the most significant. “It’s not all about John Scott. It’s all about these young people being prepared to meet the challenges in this world,” Scott said. “This is what Morris College has chosen to do, and they just needed a little more help to move from being a small part of the equation to a large part of filling the gap in cybersecurity. We hope that this lab will provide them the knowledge base and that they [future students] want to come to Morris because of its contact nationally and internationally to take them across the world and see what the rest of the world is doing in terms of security.”
Following the ribbon cutting, a luncheon was held in the Garrick–Boykin Human Development Center to honor financial donors for their contributions to the college. Fifty donors were recognized
for their donations of $10,000 or more to the college during its 114 years. Two donors, Solomon Jackson Jr. and James “Ted” Wilson, Sr., whose remarks were given by Fran Geddis, spoke about the importance of investing in the education of HBCU students and the “blessing” it would be for the student, the college, and the community.
Staggers thanked all those in attendance for their donations, big and small, and their belief in the students. The excitement continued into the night with Greek showcases, roundtable discussions, and dancing in the pavilion, filling the campus with great pride in its history and great hope for its future.