Achievement in the Liberal Arts Award
Recognizes alumni who, through exceptional and sustained success in their chosen careers, outstanding character and loyalty to Drew, have demonstrated the efficacy of a liberal arts education.
Laura Morris C’81
It may seem unusual for someone who studied theatre in college to land in a behind-the-scenes, business-oriented communication role—running a major radio station or managing the brand of a growing college system. But Laura Morris C’81 says it’s precisely her theater background that gave her all the skills she has ever needed to be a successful communicator.
“Studying theatre at Drew taught me how to tell a story,” she says, recalling that the emphasis on writing in Drew’s theater department gave her a solid foundation for her long career in communication. Her theater background also taught her critical business skills—like how to develop a project and bring it to life.
As an undergraduate, Morris worked as the business manager for the Drew University Dramatic Society (DUDS) and technical director for the Theatre Department. She remembers helping build a black box theater on campus, citing it as one of many project-management experiences she draws on today.
She also says she’s thankful for the guidance of several Drew professors, particularly Dr. Robert “Buzz” McLaughlin of the theatre department. “Buzz was a remarkable man who has had a lasting impact on my life,” she says. He was driven, very focused on his own work as well as the work of us students and he didn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t accept anything less than your very best effort.”
Morris had planned to attend law school after graduation, and she moved to Texas (her husband’s a native) to do just that. Her plans quickly changed, however.
“I was hired at KTRH Radio and stayed for 19 years,” says Morris. By 1988—just seven short years after graduating from Drew—she was named the station’s general manager, one of the youngest and one of few females at that level in the business.
Her radio career continued with the Houston division of one of the world’s largest entertainment companies, CBS/Viacom, serving as their senior vice president and general manager and leading operations for six stations. Morris helped launch new formats and reinvigorate brands for a variety of radio channels in the Houston area. Her involvement with Houston radio gave her strong connections to the area’s sports teams, giving her the opportunity to work with the start-up Houston Texans football club, building their brand and leading business operations.
Morris left radio in 2009 and soon found herself in a new communications role. Today, as associate vice chancellor of marketing and communications with Texas’ Lone Star College System, Morris is in charge of branding the largest higher education institution in the Houston, Texas, metro area and the fastest growing college in the state.
Throughout her career, Morris says she has always operated from a place of great integrity—it’s what she’s most proud of. And it’s earned her a great deal of respect. Among many professional accolades, she was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award from American Women in Media in 2007, inducted in the Texas Radio Hall of Fame in 2004, and named one of the 50 most influential women in radio in the nation for several years. She was also named one of Glamour Magazine’s Top 10 College Women in 1980 while she was a student at Drew.
Morris and her husband, Gary Bankhead, live in Houston, Texas, with their two sons, Cooper, 15, and Carter, 12. They enjoy sharing all the outdoors has to offer—from hiking and kayaking to vacationing at their second home on the bay in Galveston, Texas. As a family, they are actively involved in Boy Scouts.