Only about 1 in 4 SPEA graduate students are first-generation college students. Count Morgan Farnworth among them.
“In my immediate sphere I didn’t know a lot of people with college degrees,” Farnworth admits.
She became the first in her family to attend college. She will also become the first to earn a master’s degree and to pursue a doctoral degree.
Morgan’s academic journey began with a daily commute from Indianapolis to Bloomington, while working full-time to support her mother and younger siblings. Despite the distance and challenges, she was committed to her education. Her life trajectory changed when a faculty member at SPEA Bloomington asked her if she had considered pursing a doctoral degree.
“I was just shocked that I was on campus getting a bachelor’s degree, yet alone thinking about a doctorate,” she recalls. “That really pushed me to think about ways I could achieve my personal goals: making a true impact in a community and helping craft another generation of leaders and scholars.”
The decision to continue her education wasn’t an easy one for Farnworth.
“As a first-generation student, you go through four years of undergraduate and struggle financially to put yourself through school,” she says. “You have to decide whether you’d like financial stability now, or if you’re willing to put that off and struggle a little more. Those are the trade-offs and it’s hard.”
Farnworth chose the latter. To stay closer to home and to governmental opportunities, she enrolled in SPEA Indianapolis’ Master of Public Affairs program and will earn her degree in May. But her path won’t end there.
“I am committed to being a part of the mission of educating the next generation of leaders,” she says.
In order to accomplish her next goal, Farnworth set her sights on becoming a tenure-track professor at a research university, modeling her plans after her mentor, SPEA assistant professor, Cullen Merritt.
Farnworth works alongside Merritt as a graduate research assistant, engaging in organizational leadership-focused research projects, collaborating on reports, and co-authoring publications. In the fall, she’ll begin the public administration doctoral program at Merritt’s alma mater, the University of Kansas. She is interested in educational policy and school-based initiatives that promote equity and inclusion for K-12 students.
“Dr. Merritt has been instrumental in honing my research skills and applying for doctorate programs,” Farnworth says. “I told him right when I met him that I wanted to pursue a Ph.D.”
“When a student is clear in their objective, that’s when I come into play,” Merritt says. “Given her work ethic, passion, and resilience, I knew if I did my job as a mentor she would have a strong record going into any Ph.D. program.”
Farnworth will leave SPEA with at least three publications before she enters her doctoral program. She credits Merritt with providing her opportunities, guiding her through her research work and into the next stage of her academic career.
“I don’t think I could do this without him,” she says. “I can see how I’ve grown as a scholar, a student and an academic during my time here. The support and mentorship Dr. Merritt provided augmented my development as a graduate student and set me up for success.”
Yet Merritt is quick to point out that Farnworth would have gone onto greatness without him.
“I probably helped 1 percent,” he says. “The other 99 percent was her. I’m glad I was able to play a small role in helping her get there.”
Morgan’s unique qualities were recently recognized through the campus-wide Sherry Queener Graduate Student Excellence Award. The annual award honors one graduate student each year who demonstrates academic and service excellence.
“There are so many bright and qualified people on IUPUI’s campus that it floored me that I was selected. I actually cried when I found out,” she laughs.
“It’s been a really long journey through undergrad and commuting. I’ve worked really hard these last six years, so this was affirmation that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing and that I was succeeding in it.”
“Morgan is a triple threat,” Merritt says. “She’s an excellent researcher, she will be a great teacher, and she will serve effectively within the university and the broader community.”
She’s a triple threat focused on the three prongs to which SPEA faculty are called: research, teaching, and service.
“There’s a reason those three prongs exist,” Farnworth says. “The service component gives meaning to the research we’re doing. We must then bring those learnings and experiences into the classroom to students. It’s practicing what we preach.”
Farnworth is already practicing what she preaches. She recently finished a grant-writing fellowship for the city of Indianapolis and currently works for the United Way of Central Indiana as an early childhood education policy fellow. Those experiences came after working in a kindergarten classroom as part of the Near Eastside Education Americorp Program.
“The AmeriCorps experience changed my whole perspective on how real-life experiences inform research and the policy implications of that research,” she says. “Who am I to say what works best in the classroom if I’ve never been in a classroom as an educator?”
She says the combination of these experiences bring her research journey full circle by allowing her to see the full impact of her work and her calling.
“Higher education is an indispensable tool,” Farnworth says. “It’s a means of changing life situations and allowing individuals to realize their true potential. I’ve been given these opportunities to receive higher education and I think it’s my civic duty to give back and make sure others have the same opportunities.