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By Lisa Hamilton
Growing up in the rural village of Belladrum on the West Coast of Berbice, 33-year-old Dr. Colwayne Morris didn’t know then that he would go on to achieve his PhD at the University of Missouri and therefore fulfil his dream. All he had was his passion, determination and his trust in God. In the end, these turned out to be his unique recipe for success.
Morris was born while his mother was just 16-years-old. His father, also a teen at the time, was a pork knocker working in Guyana’s interior. For the most part, he was raised by his grandmother in Belladrum within an extended family. The family produced crops and reared livestock. Every time an animal became sick they would phone the veterinarian but there were instances when an animal died before the veterinarian arrived. As a youngster, Morris often wondered what could be done to prevent this.
There and then, intrigued by the vet’s know-how to treat animals and propelled by his own desire to prevent sick animals from dying, Morris decided he wanted to become a veterinarian.
However, growing up wasn’t easy. Not coming from an affluent family, there were things Morris wanted for himself but couldn’t afford. Before he became a young entrepreneur in his own way by selling items such as pickled mangoes and pointer brooms. He continued doing so all the way up to high school.
When he began attending the Bygeval Multilateral School — at the time the second-highest ranked High School in Region Five — though he initially chose the Science stream, fate would have it that, in the first week, he’d move over to the Agriculture Science stream. While at Bygeval Multilateral, Morris’ passion for agriculture, particularly animals, grew. One of his teachers would always make reference to the Guyana School of Agriculture (GSA), so, after he graduated high school with passes in six subjects, he enrolled at the GSA.
Pursuing a Diploma in Animal Health and Veterinary Public Health, Morris got off to a rough start when he failed four courses within three terms which was termed as a failed year. However, because he had an overall high percentage, the institution offered him a repeat. “That’s what humbled me, that failure.” Morris said. “From then on I started to develop a habit of studying with my classmates and I left GSA passing with credit. I was the person with about the third-highest percentage in my batch.”
Looking back, he considers his time at GSA as the best of his academic life — both socially and academically. At GSA, he developed an interest in animal nutrition through his interactions with Dr. Patsy Francis and through the institution’s merging of theoretical and practical teaching.
Morris said: “I was doing surgery and nutrition at the same time — two courses together — and I realised the importance of nutrition in wound healing and management, and the importance of preventive medicine…I tell people I’m still running on GSA fluid right now because the amount of stuff I learned at that institution I haven’t picked up anywhere else.”
After successfully completing his training, the institution hired Morris as the Assistant Veterinarian and he began working on the livestock farm the following week after his final exams. He worked there for approximately two years assisting veterinarians in handling, diagnosis, treatment, surgeries and necropsies of farm animals. He also conducted laboratory and other practical sessions primarily with Animal Health and Veterinary Public Health students and was the Supervisor responsible for the Small Ruminant section of the Farm.
Referring to the GSA as “a good investment”, Morris now encourages other persons to attend the institution. Meanwhile, he advises the GSA to put greater emphasis on encouraging and assisting its students to become entrepreneurs to improve the future of agriculture in Guyana.
“If you have that entrepreneurial component to the curriculum, folks won’t be leaving GSA trying to look for a job, they would already have something going,” he suggested.
IT TAKES SACRIFICE
After being encouraged by his former lecturers to enroll at the University of Guyana (UG), Morris did so at the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry in 2009. He pursued a B.Sc. in Agriculture selecting the Animal Science option. While there, he was still involved in providing animal health service in various parts of the country. He volunteered as a veterinary technician during the quarantining of improved genetic materials (pigs) into Guyana from the United States.
He volunteered as a stockman and a veterinary technician during the introduction of the Texel breed and Texana (sheep) to Guyana. Between 2008 to 2010, he assisted with Artificial Insemination and Embryo transfer in Guyana’s local Barbados Black Belly Ewes. He also volunteered as a veterinary technician during the Swine Flu surveillance in Guyana with Dr. Gavin Peters of the Guyana Livestock Development Authority (GLDA).
That was not all, Morris also worked on a part-time basis at Pets 2000 Veterinary Clinic, where he assisted Dr. Nicholas Waldron in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of cats, dogs and farm animals, as well as in a wide array of surgical veterinary procedures and necropsies. These involvements were apart from his participation in other extracurricular activities on and off-campus.
What some did not know at that time was that Morris was struggling financially. He had moved from Belladrum to South Georgetown but still faced difficulties. While working at the GSA he had saved money to study at UG for two years but in one year his money dried up, spent on transportation, food and other expenses. “Many times I walked to UG [from South Georgetown], many times I ate bread alone all week, many times I slept in UG in the classroom. I had friends who I studied with who had similar struggles and we did it together,” Morris recalled.
“It was tough. Have you ever had involuntary fasting? No food. I remember myself and a friend of mine walking from the Agriculture Department to the printing area at UG, walking and looking for money on the ground, looking for coins because we didn’t have it…stay positive, even in sad situations. The bible tells us that — in good times and bad times, praise Him.”
He is thankful to God and his family and friends who assisted him along the way. In 2012, Morris completed the four-year program at UG with honours, graduating in just three years due to his previous experience at the GSA. That same year, he began his career by working with the Partners of the Americas on the Farmer to Farmer program as a Field Officer, assisting the Country Coordinator in designing and implementing projects. He was also attached as a Senior Field Extension Officer.
A NEW CHAPTER
It was during a symposium at the University of Guyana in 2014 that he met Professor of Animal Sciences at the University of Missouri, Dr. David Ledoux who offered him a six-month internship at his laboratory at the University. The offer came with the possibility of him completing his Master’s Degree there. Around this time, he had received over a dozen scholarship rejection letters from the Public Service Ministry Scholarship Division in Guyana. Coincidentally, also around that time, he was finally accepted for a partial scholarship through the Organization of American States (OAS) to attend the University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Agustine campus. However, Morris declined this offer after getting full confirmation from Dr. Ledoux that he would accept him as a Research Scholar in January 2015. When he arrived at the University of Missouri, just halfway into the year, tragedy struck as he experienced double major heartbreaks. One involved his relationship with the woman he’d planned to get engaged to and the other was the diagnosis of his paternal grandmother with Stage 4 cervical cancer. His grandmother subsequently passed away on November 12, 2015.
“It kind of messed me up because I had anxiety. Before then I never knew what it was like and I would never wish that on my worst enemy. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t breathe. That was my toughest year emotionally but it was probably my best year academically. I had straight A’s right through because I put my energy into something else,” he said. During his time at the university, he was elected the Vice President of the Animal Science Graduate Student Association (AGSA) and representative to the Graduate and Professional Council (GPC) at the University of Missouri-Columbia. In 2015, he also completed a Diploma in Digital Photography and Video Editing. For several years he was the only black graduate student in his Department.
In 2017, Morris went on to graduate with a Master of Science degree (MSc.) in Animal Science with an emphasis in Mono-gastric Nutrition. He was then offered a PhD Graduate Research Assistantship by Dr. Jeffre Firman at the Animal Science Research Center, University of Missouri. There, he honed skills, conducted research trials and analyzed results in order to draw appropriate conclusions with broilers and turkeys on digestive enzymes and mineral digestibility.
He also wrote and reviewed protocols for animal research according to the University of Missouri Animal Care and Use Committee standards. He formulated poultry diets using low-cost computer-based methods. During that time, he also went on to become President of ASGSA and the Department’s representative to the Graduate Professional Council. He was also selected as a Graduate Scholar of Excellence through the division of Inclusion Diversity and Equity where he participated in professional development sessions and provided mentorship to undergraduate students.
In the summer of 2019, he was accepted as a Poultry Nutrition intern at Tyson Foods Inc. in Northwest Arkansas after the connection was made by a professor he knew from another university. During this time he would travel the world and attend several programmes and conferences through Tyson Foods or by applying to attend.
“That helped to build my confidence. There aren’t many people looking like me within my industry so me going out there and manoeuvring and connecting with people, that was a plus and it’s what got me where I am today,” Morris said.
REACH BEYOND WHAT YOU SEE
Following delays brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, on May 7, 2021, Morris graduated with a PhD. in Animal Science – Monogastric Nutrition. It was through his networking efforts that he subsequently began his career as a Technical Account Manager for Poultry in the US with Zinpro Corporation in 2021. He now hopes to gain hands-on experience with the various facets of the poultry industry and develop his knowledge in areas of animal science. He would also like to expand his horizon by applying the techniques learned in his field of study.
Dr. Morris represents Guyana wherever he goes and is always ready to market his country as one of the best places on earth. He said: “Regardless of what goes on in Guyana, I’m very proud of where I’m from, proud of the community I grew up in. It definitely helped me stay grounded and humble and all of those qualities are good for young people going forward.”
When asked for his advice for Guyanese who similarly want to pursue their PhD, Dr. Morris said that it takes discipline, passion and determination.
“First of all, you’ve got to really want it and that’s where that self-motivation comes. For me, it was not just for the betterment of myself but for my family. Then, it takes discipline to focus on what you want. Finances might not be there… but you must believe in yourself that you can do it, that you can do anything you want to do,” he encouraged. He also urged Guyanese young people to pursue areas of study that may not yet exist in Guyana so that their knowledge can eventually become beneficial to others. He encourages them to think globally about the impact they can have not only in Guyana but around the world.