Zachary Morris ’02 will be honorary degree recipient, speaker at Sunday’s Commencement

Dr. Zachary Morris ’02 will be the honorary degree recipient at Ripon College’s Commencement May 14.

Morris is a tenured associate professor and vice chair of the Department of Human Oncology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Originally from Rockford, Illinois, he completed his undergraduate studies at Ripon, majoring in chemistry and biology with a minor in Latin. He was a member of the Red Hawks football and baseball teams.

In 2001, he was named a prestigious Goldwater Scholar and in 2002 was one of the select 32 Americans named a Rhodes Scholar, which included study at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. He is one of three Rhodes Scholars named in the 172-year history of Ripon College.

He earned two one-year master’s degrees at Oxford: in medical anthropology and in the history of science, medicine and technology. He completed his medical doctor degree at Harvard Medical School and his Ph.D. at Harvard University in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences Program.

“I decided to go into medicine at an early age after losing family members to cancer, and I came to Ripon with the goal of getting into medical school,” Morris says. “It was at Ripon where I first gained exposure to laboratory research and found a passion for exploring the unknown through science. Ultimately, this led me to pursue a career as a physician-scientist, both treating cancer patients and conducting translational research with the goal of identifying new treatments and cures for cancer.”

Morris completed his internship at the University of Hawaii as part of an internal medicine residency program from 2011 to 2012 and completed residency training in radiation oncology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Hospital and Clinics from 2012 to 2016. He has been a member of the faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison since 2016. Since 2021 he also has served as a physician at the rank of major in the 115th Fighter Wing of the Wisconsin Air National Guard.

As a radiation oncologist, Morris enjoys working with cancer patients and providing the best care available. “It’s inspiring to see the strength that patients can muster as they confront one of the most challenging diagnoses,” he says. “Providing patient care is demanding but rewarding and provides a wellspring of motivation for the research efforts that I lead outside of the clinic.”

As a researcher, Morris runs clinical trials to try to bring new treatments to the clinic that may be more effective and/or less toxic than current options. In the lab, he leads preclinical research that aims to translate progress from the basic sciences into clinical advances with a focus on radiation therapy and immunotherapy treatments for cancers. As it was when he became interested in medicine, his focus continues to be on the development of potentially curative treatments for disease that currently are incurable.

Morris has earned several prestigious research grants including the NIH Director’s Early Independence Award, a Cancer Moonshot Initiative Award, and a NIH Program Project Grant focused on theranostics, an emerging form of radiation therapy. He holds several patents resulting from his research and is an internationally recognized expert on the immunologic effects of radiation therapy, chairing the NIH Immuno-Radiotherapy Working Group.

The limitations of current cancer treatments can be frustrating for patients and physicians alike, Morris says, and “it’s an intellectual and emotional outlet to spend time thinking of new treatment approaches.” He says the clinical care and research components of his career comprise “a nice balance. Together, they’re really rewarding.”

He credits Ripon with giving him a solid educational grounding. “I came out of Ripon with an exceptionally strong scientific training, and the professors were incredibly influential because of the time and effort they put into teaching,” he says.

He says that Ripon gave him the confidence to ask questions about the unknown, the knowledge to identify where the gaps are in scientific understanding, and the creativity and problem-solving capacity that is required for research success.

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