Mentors inspired Maurice Harris to pursue a path to professorship

Maurice Harris

Maurice Harris

Maurice Harris’s interest in technology started when he was in middle school. It was the ‘90s, and he learned that the most economical way to improve his video gaming experience was to buy computer parts and upgrade his machine on his own. Later, in his junior year of high school, a teacher would recognize his knack for all things tech and push it to the next level.

“I had a very engaged teacher who went out and found me an internship,” Harris said. “I spent the summer wiring networks within our local elementary schools. I’m from a fairly rural part of Virginia and this was in 2000, so access to the internet for schools was becoming a necessity. A lot of the schools in our district lacked internet access at the time.”

That was the beginning of a journey that propelled Harris through a variety of milestones, including graduating from the Daniels College of Business’s Executive PhD program in 2022. After spending years accumulating a wealth of academic and professional knowledge in business and IT, the program was the perfect way to merge his interests and begin training a new generation of students like himself. He now serves as a tenure-track assistant professor at the University of Northern Colorado.

After his initial experience working as an IT intern, Harris could clearly see a future that combined business and technology. He pursued a degree in information systems as an undergraduate at Virginia Tech, before entering the professional space and finding a job that allowed him to earn an MBA while working. It wasn’t until Harris got a flyer in the mail announcing a new type of PhD program that he began picturing himself as an academic.

“I think if I had role models that had followed a path to a PhD prior, that was something I probably would’ve always wanted to do. But I never thought it was something that was accessible to me or was for me,” he said. “And then I started to learn about executive PhD programs that business programs were launching.”

Harris relocated to Denver and soon learned about the Daniels College of Business Executive PhD program, then in its infancy. The program teaches research skills in a flexible format that allows professionals to complete a PhD in just three years, while continuing to work. After connecting with the program’s then-director at an event, Harris felt confident the program would not only help him gain valuable skills and set him on a new, exciting course, but also do so in a supportive environment.

“When I initially had my information session with DU, I expressed that [I wanted to move into academia], and she had a roadmap in her mind that could get me there. That roadmap was actually what I followed,” he said. “At DU, I had these really focused faculty who asked, ‘Maurice, what do you need from us?’ And went out and delivered for me.”

Harris at a conference in Copenhagen with management faculty Andrew Schnackenberg, right, and classmates Jon Panamaroff and Lekshmy Sankar

During his time at DU, Harris says the program and the faculty molded him into a researcher. He focused his dissertation on a topic that paralleled his professional experiences: electronic performance monitoring. As part of his day job, Harris managed IT systems that monitor employee electronic communication, including email and chat. During that time, he started thinking about the ethics of these programs and their implications.

“My dissertation looks at employee justice reactions to their employer’s use of technology that monitors their work behaviors,” he explained. “If we feel like we’re being unfairly treated, there are several negative outcomes. We are less likely to be engaged, our stress levels go up, and there could be some health and wellness implications. There are potential privacy issues as well. Employers need to be thoughtful in their use and implementation of these monitoring systems.”

Having the opportunity to work through that research solidified Harris’s desire to pursue academia as his primary career. He quickly found a match in the University of Northern Colorado, where teaching comes first and is complemented by service to the community.

In addition to teaching and conducting research, he serves as director of the Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative Collegiate Program within UNC’s Monfort College of Business. The initiative brings together a network of schools working to deliver principle-based ethics education. Harris is also helping to implement a National Science Foundation grant, focused on workforce development in Northern Colorado.

“A large part of our grant implementation is going to be ensuring access for everyone in the community to UNC resources—not just students. We want to connect with local entrepreneurs,” he said, noting that Greeley’s population is roughly 40% Hispanic or Latino. Ensuring this population is included in the conversation will be critical for the region’s entire business landscape. “We want to work more closely with the local innovation ecosystem in Northern Colorado, the city of Greeley and Weld County, to make sure that our university is serving as a community center—a center of learning and excellence.

Alongside Harris’s passion for enriching his local business community is a newfound love of teaching, something he says is wholly fulfilling. He dedicates most of his time to serving as a resource for students and helping them in the same way his high school teacher and mentors at DU helped him.

“It’s my favorite part of my job,” he said. “The DU faculty was very high-touch and relationship-driven. I didn’t see the benefits of that kind of teaching until I was in my 30s and at my third institution. I want my students to experience that right now. I kind of see it as paying it back.”

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The Executive PhD program at the Daniels College of Business builds more skilled and confident executives who can face their company’s challenges with high-quality research approaches.
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