Monday, December 22, 2014

From SuperTemp to Data Superstar, All Roads Lead Back to U.Va. for Engineering Alum

Harold S. Morton III crossed the continent twice for career and calling. But there was never much doubt that Charlottesville and the University of Virginia would be where he’d wind up.

Morton, known as “Chip,” is director of information at the Virginia Engineering Foundation, where he manages projects and data, analyzing alumni information.

“Of all the places I’ve ever lived, this always felt like home,” he says. “It feels comfortable.”

His connection reaches back more than 60 years, when his parents met as U.Va. undergraduates. His mother, Margaret James Morton, who earned a B.S. in chemistry in 1950, was the third woman to graduate from the University in a field other than nursing or education.

His father, Harold S. Morton Jr., took his Ph.D. in physics in 1953 and joined the mechanical engineering faculty in 1962.

Chip Morton is a 1976 graduate of the College of Arts & Sciences, and his wife, Kathy, is a 1979 graduate of the School of Nursing.

After Morton finished his master’s degree in computer science in 1979, he went to IBM. He then worked for the Jet Propulsion Lab, where he wrote flight software for the Galileo space probe that orbited Jupiter, followed by a stint at Ashton-Tate, a pioneer in database management. He then went to the University of California, Los Angeles for doctoral work in computer science and landed a job at cc:Mail, a market leader in LAN-based email systems.

The work was “very, very hardcore engineering,” he says. “All of these things, in their heyday, they were the cat’s meow. Now they’re out of date.”

His father’s diagnosis of prostate cancer with “a grim prognosis” in 1990 started a four-year dialogue between the two men about some of life’s most basic questions.

“He had a lot of things he needed to work through,” said Morton, who turned for help to his pastor. At his pastor’s urging, Morton looked into going to seminary.

“I decided I wanted to work on something that had a legacy,” he says.

He enrolled in Fuller Theological Seminary and earned an M. Div. degree in 2000. He was called to Casco Alliance Church in Casco, Maine, where he stayed until 2010, also coaching high school track.

But Charlottesville beckoned when his aging mother needed help. In August 2011, he joined the first class of U.Va.’s SuperTemps, a two-week program that trains people in a variety of skills that allow them to slip right into temporary University jobs without a long transition – work that often leads to full-time employment. After a short stint in the Medical Center, he joined the School of Engineering and Applied Science on a temporary, part-time basis in October 2011. He was offered a full-time position at the Virginia Engineering Foundation in July 2013.

“We couldn’t be happier to have Chip on the team,” said Jeff Sands, associate dean for development and executive director of the foundation. “I call him our data superstar. He has raised up our capacity in this area to an entirely new level and is already an essential part of the team.”

“Chip is an authentic ‘game-changer’ for the advancement team and the Engineering Foundation,’ Sands said. “He combines an incredibly deep and sophisticated technical capability with a breadth of nontechnical knowledge that continues to characterize the U.Va. engineer. He is making us a much more ‘intelligent’ organization, leading the way in using information to guide our strategy, tactics and assessment.

“He also happens to have a sense of humor very similar to mine – always a bonus!”

Morton’s children are extending the family’s U.Va. tradition. Although Spencer, the youngest, broke the mold and went to the University of Maine, daughter Bailey is a 2009 College graduate now enrolled in the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, and son Timothy is a 2003 graduate of the College who met his future wife at U.Va.

Tim and his wife just gave the Mortons their first grandson, Walter. “His future is foreknown,” Chip Morton said. “He’s going to go to U.Va., meet his wife here and get married.”

by Elizabeth Wilkerson

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