2024 Best & Brightest Business Major: Caren Morris, University of Illinois (Gies)

Caren Morris

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – Gies College of Business

“I am an energetic, passionate, and vulnerable soul, & I think everywhere is my runway.”

Fun fact about yourself: I am the youngest of 10 siblings.

Hometown: Chicago, IL

High School: Bloom High School

Major: Marketing

Minor: N/A

Favorite Business Course: BUS 301. It is an experiential learning course where students do real-world consulting for companies ranging from non-profits to startups. I had the honor of working with a non-profit – Zebralter Medical – that works to increase the number of Black professionals in the medical field by offering mentorship to young Black students who can benefit from having role models in industries where they are most underrepresented.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles During College:

  • Black Business Network
    • Director of Events
  • The Kat Walk L.L.C.
    • Model Assistant/Coach
  • Cotton Club Variety Show
    • Fashion Director
  • Phi Gamma Nu Business Fraternity
    • Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, & Belonging Committee Chair
  • Management Leadership for Tomorrow
    • Career Prep Fellow

Awards & Honors:

  • 2023 Student Lincoln Laureate
  • Illinois Promise Recipient
  • Gilman Scholarship
  • Black Alumni Network Ashley C. Walls Scholarship
  • Donald & Anne Edwards Scholarship
  • President’s Award Scholarship

Where have you interned during your college career?

Toyota Motors North America | Management Intern | Aurora, IL

Gies College of Business |Admissions Intern | Champaign, IL

Gies College of Business |Marketing Intern | Champaign, IL

Where will you be working after graduation? Still Recruiting

What is the biggest lesson you gained from studying business? The biggest lesson I’ve gained from studying business is that everything in business is strategically connected like a beautiful symphony. Gies’ curriculum requires its students to take many entry level classes into almost every major so students can understand how they strategically coexist. I’ve learned that you’re not required to master every instrument in the symphony, but you learn to appreciate the music more.

What advice would you give to a student looking to major in a business-related field? My advice would be to “be intentional.” There is much space to bounce around business majors, especially at Gies, but you should decide your path based on what makes sense to you. I think truly pursuing a field that you genuinely love makes you feel more connected to the work you do and the people who depend on you for that work. This motivates you to show up and do right.

What has surprised you most about majoring in business? During my study abroad trip to Casablanca, Morocco, we had a presentation from a marketing and logistics startup that created a marketplace for artisan crafters to sell their homemade crafts to consumers all over the world, rather than just to in-person tourists. During this visit, one of the owners explained how her experience working at a startup after college helped her become the successful entrepreneur she is today.

It’s so easy to believe that working at a Fortune 500 company or one of the Big Four is the best thing you can do for yourself. Yes, working at one of these companies would be an amazing feat, but the autonomy and responsibility you have at a startup can give you much more hands-on experience with how a business operates. I want to be an entrepreneur in my future, but I never considered working at a startup after college due to fear of feeling behind compared to my peers or not having “status”. Now, I value it and am thankful for having my mindset changed.

Looking back over your experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently in business school and why? I would take it more seriously earlier on. It took me awhile to build my confidence internally, and that affected my ability to take on leadership skills as a first-year or second-year student. I joined a modeling organization my junior year to build my confidence, and it has challenged me to love myself unapologetically, which has poured into the way I do business and how I have learned to lead. It is part of the reason I was nominated for this Poets&Quants recognition, which I am humbly honored for.

Which academic, extracurricular or personal achievement are you most proud of? Winning the 2023 Lincoln Laureate Award is what I am most proud of. That is a major award, and I am still learning just how amazing it is. The moment I read the email stating that I was nominated for it, I started getting emotional. To know that there is someone who has paid attention to the hard work and dedication that I have put into my community on campus and the internal work I did for myself and to feel so inclined to write an essay about me from the heart meant the world to me. When I attended the ceremony, there were so many University of Illinois alumni who told me how proud they were of me and how I am representing the biggest school in Illinois – explaining how this is no small accomplishment. To know that I am forever in the Lincoln Academy, which is under the Governor, and to be connected to fellow impressive Lincoln Laureates is a blessing.

Which classmate do you most admire? Wholeheartedly, I would say Cidney Jones is the classmate I most admire. She is a junior majoring in Marketing at Gies College of Business. Ever since she came to this campus, she has worked hard to create a strong, respectable reputation on campus. She is an entrepreneur with a successful photography business – one of the best-known on campus – and is an exceptional student. I have never witnessed someone who can so gracefully speak of their past challenges and weaknesses as present strengths and be vulnerable enough to inspire so many people from different backgrounds. She is wise beyond her years and will forever be a role model for me and so many others she inspires every day.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? I want to thank Andrea Fierro for my success thus far. I was nervous, but excited, to attend a large university after high school. During the summer before my senior year of high school, I was honored to attend Gies’ Emerging Business Leaders Program for 2 weeks. This was a life-changing experience and also where/when I met Andrea. Andrea was very attentive and genuine with all the students in the program to ensure we felt comfortable. After completing the program, you received a certificate of completion with your name on it. Shortly after I left the program, my certificate ripped and was destroyed, which had me in tears. I expressed this briefly to the student in charge of the program (not asking for a replacement, but just expressing my sadness) and within a few weeks, I had a new certificate and a letter from Andrea with words of encouragement. This solidified that Gies was the school for me. Andrea’s attentive, genuine energy made me realize that even at a big university, there were amazing staff who truly cared for each individual student (even ones that didn’t attend the school yet!). During college and through COVID, Andrea remembered me and continued to check in with me and made sure that I was acclimated. She has gone on both of my study abroad trips and was the staff member who nominated me for the Lincoln Laureate Award – which I won. When I did not believe in myself, Andrea did – and that was enough to keep me going. I have a special connection with Andrea that goes further than college. She is now my family, and I am thankful for it.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

  1. Get a real estate license and create stable, passive income through buying and flipping properties and owning property.
  2. Create my own business from the ground up and be a successful entrepreneur.

What made Caren such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2024?

“I first met Caren when she was a rising senior in high school. Her energy is infectious! I remember thinking, “Wow, she is going to make an impact on her college campus.” We’ve felt her impact in Gies Business throughout her four years. Her ability to be vulnerable, ask for help, and give back has inspired her classmates and me.

She stepped into new roles, like being the Diversity Chair for her professional fraternity, and being an active member in the newly established Black Business Network, while working multiple jobs and giving her best academically. On our team, she supervises a program with over 130 of her peers as the lead of our Gies Ambassador program. She brings that same energy and passion to how she communicates and organizes a large group. In turn, Gies Ambassadors share their experiences with prospective Gies Business students and their families, truly multiplying Caren’s positive impact at our college. Our college will continue to see Caren’s impact after she graduates in May, as she’s influenced our next generation of leaders in Gies Business.

Caren is one of the most thoughtful students I’ve worked with at Gies Business. She carefully considers different opportunities to measure how much she can grow and the impact she’ll have in the organization. She truly sees every opportunity as a way to learn something new, and I know she’ll carry that passion for learning into her life after Gies.”

Kaci Abolt
Associate Director of Admissions & Recruitment


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