Erica Morrison ’21 is inspired to create a legacy

Erica Morrison and her grandmother
Erica Morrison ’21 with her grandmother

To touch another person’s life in a positive way is the legacy many of us dream of leaving. Though we may want fame or a Fortune 500 company, deep down the thought that just by simply being ourselves we inspire those around us to be their best and change the world in their own way may possibly be one of our highest hopes.

Erica Morrison ’21, studying Finance in the Martin J. Whitman School of Management and Public Relations in the S.I. Newhouse School of Communications, is a living example of the power one person can have on another’s life.  Through her personal lifelong legacy of using innovation and entrepreneurship to possibly benefit the world around her; her inspiration has always stemmed from one person: her grandmother.

Morrison, currently holding an internship with NASA in Knowledge Management, is without a doubt an accomplished and fearless visionary. In high school she decided to join her science club and competed in the Connecticut Student Innovation Expo for 3 years. During her sophomore year she created a product to help test antibiotic resistance in meat, helping change her perspective on meat consumption and its impact on humans and the environment. In her junior year she created a water bottle detector to test for lead traces in water; inspired by the water crisis in Flint, Michigan and then her senior year she created a patch for leaking underground pipes utilizing the slime of hagfish which expands when exposed to liquid.

In her college career Morrison has continued to use innovation and technology to succeed and drive social change. Her capstone project, WaxPax Solutions,  creates an eco-friendly, biodegradable alternative to plastic packaging. WaxPax Solutions won Syracuse University’s Hult Prize competition and is currently preparing to compete in this spring’s Hult Regionals in the hopes of going on to pitch in front of the United Nations for the chance to win $1M.

“Maybe this will inspire somebody to think of something better than the status quo- COVID has shown us how many supplies we go through and how we need to be more sustainable at the source,” Morrison spoke in reference to their project and its importance in inspiring a continually innovative future.

Morrison’s lifelong determination to innovate a more sustainable future and her tenacity in chasing excellence stems from one person in her life: her grandmother. Morrison’s grandmother is Navajo and grew up in Brazos, New Mexico near the Navajo/Hopi reservation; shaped by the less-than-ideal living situations and little opportunities available. One Navajo custom her family observed was giving up the firstborn child to their parents to raise. However, when Morrison’s grandmother had her first child at a young age; she refused to give that child up and chose to run away from the reservation and build a future for her children utterly on her own- living in a whole new world while lacking all community and support.

“ No matter how much I’ve written about her I just can’t convey her spirit,” Morrison spoke. “She’s a ball of life. She had to work three times as hard as the normal person and I wondered how she could be so happy, so open, so optimistic. I want to be that person.”

Her grandmother’s unshakeable courage combined with the values of cultivation for the home we live in inspires Morrison every day to use her actions to pour passion and optimism into the world around her. To honor her grandmother’s legacy, she’s currently creating a documentary to showcase her incredible story and open the eyes of the world to a systemic lack of infrastructure in Indigenous communities. She’s received funding from a SOURCE grant and is focusing her semester on creating the film as her thesis within the Renée Crown University Honors Program.

To say passion exudes from a simple conversation with Morrison is an understatement. Her passion for the possibilities of life and her tenacity in her drive for excellence in all that she does is apparent in her remarkable array of accomplishments. Her determination in continual innovation to create a more sustainable future stems from the relentless optimism and perseverance of one person- inspiring us all to use our presence to continually improve the world and in turn inspire those around us.

To support COVID-19 relief in the Navajo & Hopi Community, please go here.

Story by Claire Howard ’23, Global Media Fellow; photo supplied