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Ron MOrris delivers speech during Women in Engineering Naming Event

Financial Gift Leads to Jessica M. Morris Women in Engineering Program

Ronald T. Morris (’69) was looking for inspiration on ways to properly honor his late wife at the University of Tennessee. He found it during a visit to the Tickle College of Engineering after he spoke to three female engineering students.

They provided Morris with their insight on what they needed to succeed in school and what they would like to see happen within the college in the future. They convinced him more support for students like them could make a significant impact.

On April 6 at the ConNEXTion Day, the Women in Engineering Program (WiE) will be publicly named the Jessica M. Morris Women in Engineering Program in recognition of the Morris family’s significant gift for an endowment to the program.

Jessica attended the first WiE event in 2017. Since that time, the WiE Program has experienced significant growth, striving to redefine engineering as community-engaged, meaningful work focused on solving problems that face our society and world. 

The Morris family gift will facilitate student attendance at conferences, seminars, and workshops related to engineering. Those opportunities will empower students to showcase their research, connect with industry professionals, and gain exposure to the latest developments in their fields.

It will also enable WiE to organize virtual and on-site visits by accomplished women in engineering, provide outreach efforts to high school students who are considering engineering as a career path, and provide support for staff dedicated to the WiE program.

“I have no doubt in my mind she would have really appreciated all we are doing right now,” Ron Morris said. “She was very supportive of the University of Tennessee and always wanted to help female engineering students excel in the field. That was very important to her.”

Jessica, who passed away on February 15, 2023, at age 76, graduated as a math major from the University of Tennessee in 1971 with a Bachelor of Science in Education. She worked for Exxon for 17 years in Baytown and Memphis and was a trailblazer for professional women in computer system support.

Jessica and Ron enjoyed 57 years of marriage. They met in junior high in Mrs. Wallace’s Latin class. They were in the same homeroom class for three years in high school because their last names ended in ‘M.’ Ron finally mustered the courage to ask her on a date in the fall of his senior year.

Jessica worked as a cashier at Kroger’s during her freshman year at the University of Memphis to support her family after her dad, a truck driver, had a heart attack and was disabled. She kept working to help Ron get through school at UT when they got married after their freshman years. Ron worked as a Co-op student and they both saved enough money for Jessica to go back to school and finish her degree.

“She was very smart,” Ron said. “I couldn’t compete with her even in my engineering grades. She had a 3.92 GPA and could have been great at any major she chose.”

Jessica was known as “Wonder Woman” to the personnel at the Exxon Memphis terminal because she always came through in solving their electronic card reader system problems. In 1991, she left Exxon to form her own personnel computer consulting business, counting among her many clients, the Memphis Symphony, and Rhodes College.

Jessica became a Master Gardner in 2005 and gave talks about orchids to garden clubs throughout Memphis. An avid bridge player, she enjoyed throwing lavish dinner parties and her Rave Review Coconut Cake lived up to its name.

Once Ron retired from his career at DuPont, he wanted to get more involved with UT and Jessica did as well. They established the West Tennessee Engineering Day Initiative Endowment Fund to provide chartered bus transportation, lodging, and meals for high school students from west Tennessee to attend Engineer’s Day at TCE; the Ron and Jessica Morris Endowed International Travel Fund to assist TCE students with approved internal experience; and the Ron and Jessica Morris Engineering Scholarship Endowment.

“This was really a team thing,” Ron said. “She was with me every step of the way for as long as she could. Everything our family has contributed to UT has been done together.”

Blake Hudson, Jeremy Kirk, Matthew Mench, Ronald Morris, and Hannah Olberding at the Jessica M. Morris Women in Engineering ConNEXTion Day event where the programs new name was announced.

Having donors like Ron and Jessica Morris is essential for the college to enhance the educational experience for students and professors.

“It provides an infusion of resources that just wouldn’t be possible otherwise within the college budget,” said Blake Hudson, UT’s interim executive director of development. “It enables things to happen quickly, allows us to be more nimble, and it encourages others to get involved and raises the profile of whatever the gift is directed to.”

Ron is proud to have his wife’s name representing a program that is important to them both. He hopes the gift will provide female engineering students with opportunities that will change their lives for the better.

Only three females graduated in Ron’s UT engineering class in 1969. The female enrollment in the college has increased to 25 percent of the undergraduates and 24 percent of graduate students being female.

“I want to see that percentage go up even more because the female population in the United States is a lot higher than 25 percent,” he said. “I worked around a lot of female engineers during my career at DuPont and they are a valuable asset. I really want UT to become one of the major universities that is recognized for being a place for females to go and get a degree in engineering.”


Rhiannon Potkey (865-974-0683,