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Lainie Morris ’21 provides crucial support to workers during pandemic

Lainie Morris '21.

During her interview with a global marketing company that fields as many as 100 internship applications for three positions each semester, Lainie Morris ’21 delivered a crucial answer.

“My first question to every single person is, ‘Tell me what you know about empathy,’” says Russell Watts, vice president of Strategic Marking International, adding that he isn’t looking for a candidate to simply define the word. “It’s the people who say, ‘I love that you asked that question!’” he says.

Morris was one of those people, who then told Watts: “‘Here’s what empathy means to me,’” before giving him her personal explanation.

Turns out, the global supply chain — of all things — needed that quality, that depth of responsiveness, because many of SMI’s clients abruptly found themselves forced to use a sales channel they hadn’t needed: e-commerce.

“Then, you know what?” says Watts. “We’re in the middle of a pandemic, and all of our clients are actually doing what they’ve never done before. An example: There’s a chemical manufacturer, and now all of a sudden everybody needs cleaning chemicals.”

Enter Morris, who spent three months last summer working remotely from her home in Orlando, Florida, for Watts’ Charleston, South Carolina, firm.

Initially, she helped 20-some SMI clients build their social media presence. Then she launched into creating online sales outlets. Through most of June and July, she methodically created Excel spreadsheets of manufacturers’ products. Next, she uploaded those to sell through Amazon and Shopify.

“Everything that she touched, she finished the job and did it great,” Watts says. “The two things that really stand out with her are just her positive attitude that makes everyone around her better and her work ethic.”

Interestingly, among the things Morris says she learned during her internship: She doesn’t want to pursue a business or sales career.

“It was a great experience with a great company, but now I know that’s not what I want to do, and I think a lot of times students don’t get opportunities to discover that,” says the James B. Duke Scholar.

Even before that, during a 2019 semester abroad in Spain, Morris also realized she didn’t want to become a neuroscientist, either. “And that prompted a kind of mid-college crisis,” she says.

With her majors in Spanish and pre-health and minors in medicine, health and culture and Latin American studies, Morris still plans to work in health care, using her language skills to serve the Latinx population. She’s also applying for fellowships and, ultimately, on to graduate school and a doctorate to teach.

“I don’t know what that’s going to look like,” she says, “but I know that’s definitely where I want to go.”

Watts likewise doesn’t know what awaits his onetime protégé, but he will tell you this:

“I’m genuinely excited to find out. I cannot wait for five or 10 years down the line, reading her name in the news, reading her name in The New York Times and just not being surprised about something she has done for the good of the world.”


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