Alumni in Action

Joseph Morris

Partner, mod4 LLP

Joseph Morris
Class of 1998
Majors: Biology and Computer Science
Advanced Degree: JD, UC Berkeley School of Law
Where are you now and what are you doing?

I have my own law firm with two friends from law school. We help businesses of all sizes with their corporate affairs: contract negotiations, stock and other equity, protecting IP, funding issues, that kind of thing. Before law school I was a computer programmer for a genomics startup, Neomorphic, that was purchased by a larger company, Affymetrix. I also worked for a very large law firm, Winston & Strawn, for four years after law school and prior to starting my own law firm.

What does your job entail and how has your Eckerd experience impacted your career?

There's really two answers to this, one for the bioinformatics job, and one for law school. For the bioinformatics job, I wrote software used by companies that were sequencing genomes, TIGR and Celera. It was annotation software, so teams of Ph.D. biologists were using it to go through a genome (Drosophila, and then Arabidopsis thaliana) and annotate it. Since it was my first job out of college, getting that position was a direct result of the Eckerd experience. I first majored in biology, doing lab work with Guy Bradley for a senior thesis in molecular biology. My roommate was a computer science major, and I did like computers, and many of the science and math courses overlapped with what I had already taken. So Eckerd let me stay on for one more semester to finish the Computer Science degree, extending the special honors scholarship, for which I'm still very grateful.

The law degree was a bit of a jump and different from the more science-based things I had done before. But Eckerd still gave me a basis in liberal arts, including writing, that was very helpful.

What unique or special opportunities did your Eckerd education provide and how have they impacted your life?

Some of my high school friends came to Eckerd during my freshman year for spring break; they were all attending a large, but prestigious, state university in the Midwest. On the second day, one of them said, "You know, your experience here is pretty much nothing like what we experience. If I see a cute girl in the cafeteria, I basically have to ask her out right then, because otherwise I'm not going to see her again probably ever. And if I want to do an extracurricular activity, I really can only do one, because there are so many people that want to do all of them. Plus everything is very far apart because the campus is so huge." So I really liked that Eckerd gave me so much flexibility to do different things; all you have to do is express interest and show up. I worked at the newspaper and wrote feature stories for a while. Then I went over to the theater program and acted in a few plays and went to France with Tom Bunch over freshman summer. I did dolphin survey research, riding around on boats in Tampa Bay another summer. Then lab research with Dr. Bradley another summer. It was great to be able to try out so many different things.

I also have to say that having an academic scholarship made a huge difference. I got into about a half a dozen liberal arts colleges that are considered more prestigious (Oberlin, Carleton come to mind), but I am really glad I went to Eckerd on a scholarship instead; not having undergraduate debt is part of what allows me to have my own law practice today. And friends from high school who went to those more prestigious colleges didn't really sound like they got a better education or had a better experience. And at Eckerd you can go sailing when other colleges are buried under five feet of snow.

Describe some of your best memories or favorite traditions from your time at Eckerd.

Eckerd students definitely throw some good and interesting parties, but I'm not going to get into those here. I do have lots of good memories from being on the beach or on the water: either sailing Eckerd's dinghies out in Boca Ciega bay, or taking a friend's tiny motor boat to Fort De Soto, or going around Tampa Bay doing dolphin surveys over the summer as part of Eckerd's Dolphin Project.

What makes Eckerd so special or why does it stand out to you as a great college? What does it mean to you now that you have been away for awhile?

It was just a fun place. The professors are the same quality you're going to get anywhere else, and the students were engaged and interested but not full of themselves. The Honors Program was great to meet other academically-interested students, and a lot of my friends ended up being from it, even though we only met once a week freshman year. I really liked having all these different skills that I can use, because Eckerd allowed so much flexibility. In addition to the career examples above, I also just wrote a travel story for a glossy magazine, and part of having the confidence and ability to do that was based on having been a feature writer and photo editor for Eckerd's newspaper at the time.

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