The power of education has always held a special place in Flores MBA alum Ronnie Morris’s heart. At 37-years-old, Morris graduated from LSU with an electrical engineering degree while working full-time and raising two daughters. After college, Morris taught high school, volunteered with Junior Achievement, and then began a long and fruitful career with ExxonMobil. He went on to earn his MBA from the Flores MBA Program in 2017, and now runs We Produce Grads, an area nonprofit that teaches children about STEM education. He’s also in his first year on the BESE Board representing District 6 in Baton Rouge, all while navigating a new role with ExxonMobil.
In partnership with the EBR School System, We Produce Grads began a pilot program at Brookstown Middle School in 2017. The organization offered an innovative approach to STEM education by providing students with an aquaponics system that circulates 1,000 gallons of water in the classroom. The LSU Vet School supplied catfish fingerlings at the beginning of the school year, and Tony’s Seafood purchased the mature fish at the end of the year. Students fed the catfish, and the fish waste circulating in the water provided nutrition for the lettuce that grew downstream. With this, the students were able to learn STEM concepts associated with running a lab.
In addition, the students harvested the lettuce every 30 days and the school served it in the cafeteria. Then, they invoiced the cafeteria for their product. With this hands-on approach to STEM education, students were also exposed to the entrepreneurial aspects of running a small business by operating a manufacturing facility.
Following the success of the We Produce Grads pilot program, the system at Brookstown Middle School doubled in capacity and another system was added at Istrouma High School. Now, the program is in its third year at Brookstown Middle School and second year at Istrouma High School with approximately 200 students between the two schools.
Morris said that his experience in the Flores MBA Program helped him to start We Produce Grads because it broadened his perspective beyond the technical role he had at the time with ExxonMobil.
“Through my experience in the Flores MBA Program, I was able to broaden my professional network and it made me appreciate the value of networking. In fact, one of my Flores MBA classmates sits on the board of directors for We Produce Grads,” commented Morris.
Morris also shared that networking was very important in finding community partners for his nonprofit. As he reached out to organizations like ExxonMobil, Tony’s Seafood, and the Huey and Angelina Wilson Foundation, he realized that they all had a similar interest in addressing the need for education in the Baton Rouge community.
As a newly elected member to the BESE Board representing District 6 in Baton Rouge, Morris expressed that he was excited by how many people in Baton Rouge are committed to ensuring that our youth receive quality education.
” As a first-time candidate, I was very excited about the response to my campaign and the passion and interest that people showed in the education space,” commented Morris.
Morris’s District 6 territory spans from Baton Rouge to Bogalusa. Overall, there’s eight districts in the state of Louisiana with about 700,000 students in public education.
It’s obvious that Morris has a tremendous appreciation for the value of an education and for the people that pursue a career in education. In fact, he and his wife, who are both first-generation college graduates, started an endowment to the LSU College of Education for students pursuing a career in the field. Today, it’s grown to the largest endowment in the college. They are both grateful that they are able to provide others with opportunities similar to the ones they experienced in their lives and encourage everyone to work through an alumni association to make a similar investment in the future of Baton Rouge.