For Melissa Morris, the transition to full-time professor at Oklahoma Wesleyan University wasn’t an extraordinarily difficult one, and that’s for one simple reason: she’s always been teaching.
“As nurses, we always educate,” she said. “[All along] I think God was paving that way—hey, changes are happening and I’m equipping you for that.”
Morris began her first semester of full-time teaching at OKWU this semester, but her connections to the university go back a decade deep. She graduated with her BSN degree in 2011, and most recently graduated from OKWU’s MSN program in 2021. “I kept coming back,” she said. “So that’s a pretty good reference.”
“As nurses, we always educate… I think God was paving that way—hey, changes are happening and I’m equipping you for that.”
Growing into Grace
A native of the Bartlesville area, Morris was always familiar with the university, but OKWU wasn’t always the plan. Nor was nursing—Morris’ original goal was to become a dental hygienist, taking her pre-req courses at OKWU and transferring to a more specialized dental program. But once she started taking classes, things changed fast.
“I was in the dental chair and decided this was not for me,” she said, laughing.
Still, the university played a major part in her formation, specifically in providing a level of spiritual accountability. “It solidified what you were taught as a child,” Morris said. “Even with your walk with Christ, you had some accountability there. You have professors who are holding you accountable—not only to your Christian views, but also in nursing and what’s ethical, what’s moral. You really do grow.”
After graduation, Morris worked at Bartlesville’s Jane Phillips Medical Center, working the night shift at first. She gained experience in the med-surge, then moved to post-surgical. In 2018, she began working as a clinical instructor with OKWU’s School of Nursing. When it came time to choose her master’s program, the decision was easy.
“I liked going here because I already knew the background,” she said. “I knew who I was, who my professors would be, for the most part. I just like the Christian background.”
What Morris didn’t like was the timing. “I thought January 2020 would be the perfect time,” she joked. “And then COVID hit.”
As has been widely documented, the challenge to those in the medical field during the COVID-19 pandemic was extraordinary—to work as a nurse and take master’s level classes was even more difficult. Morris said she started her MSN track with 25 students and graduated with only eight.
Even still, she found the program to be a source of strength during the storm. “We had some spiritual discussions and those really did help,” she said. “Because obviously all of us were going through COVID. All of us were nurses, all of us felt it. And we could really talk to one another and have a community.”
Never Say No to More Education
Within the MSN program, Morris chose the Nursing Education track, always intending to pursue a faculty role with her degree. She began teaching at OKWU on an adjunct basis first, eventually transitioning seamlessly into her current full-time posting. Even now, Morris finds that her goals are similar to the goals she’s always had in her career: it’s about helping those you work with get it.
“It’s always rewarding. It’s the same thing with patients—when you see them getting better, you see that your interventions are meeting your goal,” she said. “With your students, when you see that light bulb come on, and you can see that they’re understanding, or see that they’re applying their knowledge to test questions and making it applicable. As a clinical instructor, when they can master a task, or they actually get to start their first IV… It’s really rewarding.”
While she’s not sure what the future holds—whether or not she’ll want to continue her formal education or eventually go back to serving in a nursing position full-time—Morris’ advice to herself in this stage of life is the same advice she gives to students now: be open to learning and change.
“Never say no to more education. I always said I’d never go back,” she said, chuckling at the students who now say that to her. “Always be involved in education and bettering yourself.”
That’s exactly what she intends to do: stay involved in education, bettering herself and the students who are blessed to be in her orbit.
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