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Morris Challenge Gets Director and Direction

Aaron King
Publication date: 
August 9, 2021

Doug ReedDoug Reed has been named director of the Morris Challenge, a new program that will work with teams from rural communities to tackle challenges facing rural areas. Reed says, "My first step is building awareness for the Challenge and getting people excited about rural development." The Morris Challenge will prioritize problems chosen by community consensus—Reed said this might include affordable housing, healthcare, small business support, and retention of young people via economic and cultural investment.

Having grown up in rural Illinois, Reed and his entire family recently moved to Morris. As a new community member, he speaks highly of Morris's past successes. "Morris is a revelation—better than advertised. People work together in the spirit of partnership and cooperation, and everyone thrives when people lock arms and get things done together. I look forward to sharing our stories with other rural communities."

Morris's unique issues are important to many stakeholders in the Challenge. Bryan Herrmann, vice chancellor for finance and facilities, says, "The flexibility of the Challenge, with new problems proposed each year, is important. Issues change, and a solution for Morris isn't necessarily going to be a solution for someone in California." He pointed to projects like the Regional Fitness Center and the new softball complex as examples of community cooperation, something he hopes to see more of in the Challenge. "A lot of it comes from the Morris Model," he says, referring to the community plan, created in 2018, for reducing energy consumption. "Sustainability, practical solutions, and community cooperation—that's what I'm hoping to see."

The Morris Challenge was the brainchild of retired chancellor Michelle Behr. While the Challenge's planned flexibility makes it difficult to predict what solutions it may bring, Behr had this to say about its future: "In my wildest dreams, it will become a national competition creating viable solutions for rural communities worldwide. People make the conscious choice to live in rural areas for the quality of life and the community. We want the Challenge to be a model for what can be done in and for those areas."

Acting Chancellor Janet Schrunk Ericksen is also excited about the Challenge. "The university has always had a unique and inspiring connection to the Morris community, and we can learn a lot about how people here come together to solve problems." She specifically referenced the Morris Theater Cooperative, who bought the town theater in 2007 and turned it into a volunteer-run business. "I hope the Morris Challenge will help students become invested in the community and think about the ways their actions can help others. And I hope the solutions that emerge will show everyone the real ingenuity and passion that Morris residents already know is here."