Alumni of the department, Lee Morgan, on his career that spanned dolphins, marlins, and the Iditarod.

Dr. Lee Morgan took a roundabout path to his career as a veterinarian. It started when he hit the jackpot of internships very early in his college career: a year spent in Hawaii studying dolphin cognition. Lee, who is from Springfield, Ohio, ran track and cross-country in high school and was recruited to run track at Western Reserve College in 1983. He was one of the few students in his school who went to college after graduation.

As a freshman, Lee decided he wanted to be a marine biologist. He formed a bond with Professor Barbara Simpson in the Department of Biology. He regularly stopped into faculty offices and even the dean’s office, knowing that he had to make an impression if he was to have any chance of achieving distinction in the department. With Dr. Simpson’s encouragement, Lee applied for a prestigious internship in dolphin cognition after having taken only one course in reef ecology.

Having had good experiences dropping in on faculty and the dean periodically through his freshman year, Lee had no problem picking up the phone and calling the director of the internship program to sing his own praises. Looking back, Lee laughs at himself for how little he knew about protocol and niceties in higher education. But he believes that the phone call helped him land the internship as a freshman.

Once accepted, Lee frantically changed his schedule around so that he could spend the entirety of what would have been his sophomore year of college at The University of Hawaii Kewalo Basin Marine Mammal Laboratory. Under the director of the lab, Dr. Louis Herman, Lee studied the cognitive abilities of dolphins. The experience, both research and culturally, changed his whole worldview, and upon returning to Cleveland, he was asked to give lectures and seminars on his time in Hawaii and was featured in multiple publications.

Using this experience as a springboard, Lee went on to enroll in an exchange program at the University of Lancaster in the UK, spending the first half of his semester in school and travelling. While in Greece, he visited an oceanography museum and by chance ran into someone from Cambridge who was also studying dolphin cognition. For the rest of the semester, Lee joined in on that research.

During one summer of his college career, Lee took a job as a dolphin trainer at Kings Island. Then, leaning into that dolphin theme, he decided to pursue his master’s degree in marine biology and genetics at the College of William and Mary. His graduate work on striped marlins earned him a best paper award. During his master’s research, Lee crossed paths frequently with a veterinarian, Dr. Bob George, who worked with sea creatures and maintained a typical small-animal practice. Working with Dr. George, who had a huge base of knowledge on dogs, cats, horses, sea turtles, dolphins, etc., had a profound impact on Lee’s career path and inspired him to attend veterinary school at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

All of Lee’s varied experiences led him to where he is now, the owner and operator of the Georgetown Veterinary Hospital in Washington, DC. Lee has also performed as a vet for the Iditarod, the famous dog sledding race, and was voted Veterinarian of the Year in 2008.

When asked where any specific person in the Department of Biology influenced him, Lee immediately thought of Dr. Barbara Simpson and Dr. Marty Rosenberg, but noted that everyone he came in contact with cheered him on; it was through this encouragement that he found success. One of the most influential mentors was his CWRU track coach, Bill Sudeck, who always made sure students were doing well and taught him to never be late.

Lee’s advice to undergraduates is to be like him and think outside the box—not to follow protocol but to sometimes take chances. That was how he obtained the internship that changed the course of his life.