Kelsey Morgan, Ph.D., social ecology
Class of 2023 graduate Kelsey Morgan, Ph.D., social ecology. (Steve Zylius/UCI)

Kelsey Morgan didn’t come back to UCI to get a Ph.D.; she returned to pursue a specific project that would help her combat what she sees as one of the most important human rights issues today: human trafficking. Morgan has been doing anti-trafficking work since graduating from UCI with an undergraduate degree in international studies in 2010. She moved to East Africa to work with survivors and empower them to support trafficking prevention. In 2015, Morgan started the nonprofit organization Willow International. After moving back to Orange County, where she was born and raised, Morgan met with the dean of the School of Social Ecology in the hope that she could collaborate with graduate students. She ended up applying for the social ecology Ph.D. program herself and has since fostered a relationship between the UCI Blum Center for Poverty Alleviation and her nonprofit, now called EverFree after partnering with another aid agency. Through this collaboration, Morgan has developed a Freedom Greenlight case management tool that EverFree is now using to help human trafficking survivors achieve lasting freedom.

Can you describe a time you felt most proud to be an Anteater?

I was so proud when we got funding for our Freedom Greenlight digital tool through Innovations for Poverty Action’s Human Trafficking Research Initiative – and then the Samueli Foundation as well.

What are your plans after graduation?

I plan to continue exactly what I’m doing. As the founder and chief of EverFree, I plan to continue and deepen our partnership with the UCI Blum Center and do a lot more research collaboration. We’re interested in potentially designing a human trafficking course. I don’t plan to go full time into academia, but I really want to continue to merge nonprofit and research work together.

“Kelsey is a remarkable and inspiring example of what is possible when creativity and capability are catalyzed by compassion. Her work with victims of human trafficking is pioneering and empowering. She listens, she thinks, she mobilizes resources, and then she helps people find and follow real pathways to dignity and safety. People like Kelsey change the world for the better.”

– Richard Matthew, director of the UCI Blum Center for Poverty Alleviation

Who has been your biggest influence at UCI?

Richard Matthew [professor of urban planning and public policy], Angela Robinson [postdoctoral researcher at the Blum Center] and Nancy Guerra [professor of psychological science]. I wouldn’t have been able to do a lot of this work without the support of UCI, especially the support of the Blum Center and these people.

What advice would you give to your first-year self?

I would tell myself to value the things that make me unique and to not compare myself to others in the program. I had been out of school for 10 years when I joined and really had never taken a lot of these really challenging courses, while a lot of the other people in my cohort had been in labs and were really well versed in statistics and research. I would tell myself to lean on the career experience that I had and to stay strong and resilient as I approached these challenges.