From ‘Back in the Day’ to Today
Randall Morrow grew up fixing things — whether it was on his family’s farm in rural Alabama, where he learned to repair farm equipment, or in Miami where he moved with his parents when he was 7 years old so his dad and uncles could start a business installing and repairing air-conditioning and refrigeration equipment. When Hurricane Andrew badly damaged his family’s home when he was 12, he moved back to the farm with his mom and siblings, while his dad stayed in Miami to rebuild. Then in 10th grade, it was back to Miami, where he graduated from high school in 1998, convinced by then that he wanted to be an engineer.
“I was always exposed to mechanical and electrical things on the farm and in my dad’s business, but it was the video games that led me down this path. When I would beat some of those games, a message would flash in my mind that I should be an engineer,” Morrow says. “In middle school I learned what an engineer actually does, and I started to put more concentration into my schooling … not just math and science, but writing too because I knew I would have to write technical papers.” In high school, Morrow participated in engineering design projects and competitions.
After high school, he went to Tennessee State University on football and track scholarships. Unlike many athletes, he took the hard road and double-majored in engineering and mathematics. He did so well that he received a Gates Millennium Scholarship available to minority students with at least a 3.3 GPA who major in engineering, math, science, and other fields in which they are underrepresented. Every summer during college Morrow also held internships that gave him experience in high-tech areas such as robotics and fiber optics. “The scholarships and internships were great because I didn’t have to worry about working while I was in college,” Morrow says.
The summer before he graduated, Morrow was selected for an internship at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (SPAWARSYSCEN) Atlantic in Charleston, S.C. “My plan was to graduate from college and go into the military as an engineering officer. But then I realized I could work at a defense lab without actually signing up for the military,” Morrow recalls. The internship had another advantage: It allowed him to focus on his studies because he knew a job awaited him after graduation.
Morrow received his B.S. in electrical engineering and mathematics in December 2004 and took a job in Air Traffic Control and Communications (C2) technology development at SPAWARSYSCEN Atlantic. As a civilian engineer, he designs, builds, and tests antenna and related communications systems that enable air-to-ground, ground-to-ground, and ground-to-air communications — critical components of military aviation. By then, Morrow was married to a fellow student athlete and Millennium Scholarship recipient, and they had a son. As a family man, Morrow was grateful to walk into an interesting career with a good salary and benefits when he graduated.
Now, after nearly six years at SPAWARSYSCEN Atlantic, Morrow remains fascinated by his job and deeply committed to supporting the warfighter’s mission. He has also discovered another aptitude: entertaining young people with tales of school “back in the 1990s” when a common punishment was staying after school to wash chalk off the blackboard and clean erasers by banging them together. “Kids nowadays find the idea of chalk pretty funny,” says Morrow. As a volunteer with STEM outreach programs, Morrow visits local classrooms and urges kids to take their schoolwork seriously and learn about technology so they can succeed at whatever they choose to do, whether it’s being a rapper, an athlete, a doctor, a lawyer, a librarian, or an engineer.
Morrow is in huge demand for his classroom “stand-up routine,” according to Shanda Johnson, SPAWARSYSCEN Atlantic’s NDEP coordinator. Morrow himself is modest about his popularity with kids. “I use the energy I get from them and I acknowledge their dreams. I let them know that as long as they have a brain, they have the opportunity to apply themselves and be something great.” He also honestly recognizes the negative influences in their lives and tells them: “Be careful whom you hang with and don’t take negative energy from others. I’ve been around too, and I still made it.”
Morrow explains his ability to inspire kids: “I come from a big family; my grandparents on my dad’s side had 22 kids, and I have almost 90 first cousins. I guess I just like talking to kids, and I love technology.”
Morrow and his wife now have two children, and she is back in school getting her master’s degree in business administration. In his “spare” time, Morrow designs and builds drag-race cars with his dad and hunts for white-tailed deer and rabbits whenever he gets home to the farm.
Navy photo by Joseph J. Bullinger