UI Graduate is Subject of Documentary Film--for Second Time

Monday, May 13, 2013

Crew for 'Woke Up Black. Again.' films engineering student

Morgan Price
Morgan Price is one of five black Chicago youth featured in filmmaker Mary Morten's documentary, Woke Up Black. She's also graduating this May from the UI College of Engineering, and Morten's crew will be on campus to capture it for a planned sequel. Photo by Tom Jorgensen.


During its spring 2013 commencement ceremonies, the University of Iowa will confer degrees upon nearly 5,200 students.

However, few, if any, of the other graduates likely will be able to recount the experience of UI College of Engineering degree candidate Morgan Price, who will be a subject in a nationally acclaimed documentary film—for the second time in four years—as she accepts her degree.

Read more about upcoming spring commencement activities at the UI here.

In 2009, filmmaker and social activist Mary Morten began filming her first feature, Woke Up Black, which followed five black Chicago area youth, including Price, for two years, documenting their struggles and successes. (See the trailer here: wokeupblack.com/.)

Screened nationwide and used in educational and professional development settings, the film recently completed a very successful tour in New York City. After receiving numerous requests for an updated look at the lives of the young people, Morten began work on a sequel, Woke Up Black. Again.

Price, of River Forest, Ill., a western suburb of Chicago, says that her participation in the film hasn't distracted her from her studies, career goals or enjoyment of time spent at the UI. In fact, she adds, the experience has been enjoyable.

"Being in a documentary is a lot of fun," Price says. "It is extremely weird at first when you have cameras following you, or you consciously have to act like they are not there, but by now it is second nature.

"I am by no means a celebrity, but I have been recognized several times and it is weird. Just a few months ago I was in O’Hare Airport and was stopped before boarding the plane by someone who had seen the movie," she says. "It feels nice to know that people have taken the time to not only watch, but also make a memory of the film."

Participation in the film also enabled her to meet President Obama at the White House.

"The director of Woke Up Black, Mary Morten, invited me to attend a reception during African American History Month at the White House with the president. In late February we flew to D.C. and attended the event. It was a great experience" she says. "I got to meet and briefly chat with the president."

Several celebrities, politicians, activists, and athletes also were in attendance, she says.

"It was an experience that I will never forget and an opportunity I would have never had if I had not been a part of the Woke Up Black cast," she says.

Price says she was selected to participate in the film after director Morten interviewed teenagers from large cities across the country and settled on Chicago. She adds: "I am not sure exactly why she chose me. I ask myself that question all the time, but I am so thankful that she did. I believe that my story, paired with my four other co-stars, creates a unique and rich fabric for storytelling."

Vincent Pagan, a project assistant with Morten Group, says that like the other subjects in the documentary, Price was selected because of her compelling personal story as well as her level of comfort sharing it in front of a camera. And he says Chicago was the focus "because the Midwest often gets overlooked with many films focusing on the East Coast or the West Coast."

Whatever the reason, Price says her time at the UI has been "wonderful." And it's not over yet.

"My father actually attended the University of Iowa," she says. "Initially I wanted to pave my own way and not attend his alma matter, but once I set foot on campus I fell in love. The people, the facilities, the community, it was all so welcoming and I knew that here I could thrive."

Price now plans to earn a master’s degree in injury epidemiology and pursue a career in public health. She says she was influenced to major in biomedical engineering through a chance meeting with an engineer who she had thought was an academic advisor.

"I accidently had a meeting at another university with a biomedical engineer who I thought was a pre-med advisor," Price says. "She told me the possibilities that biomedical engineering presented and I was hooked. I enjoyed the idea of melding math and science in order to solve problems in an efficient manner. I guess you could say that selecting biomedical engineering was serendipitous."

Looking back at her UI undergraduate career, Price points to a summer spent serving as an orientation advisor as a pivotal moment. It was an experience aimed at helping others that ended up enriching her college experience, as well.

"That summer, not only did I get to help incoming students take their first steps as Hawkeyes, but I also met some of my best friends. It was hard work, but we hardly realized it because we were having so much fun," she says. "As an orientation advisor, I was able to not only meet fantastic people, but I honed crucial skills that have made me a better academic.

"If I could have that summer back and do it all over again, I would not change a thing," she says.

In addition to the friendships and academic skills acquired, Price has been able to maintain her love of music throughout her engineering career, proving once again that UI engineers study engineering "and something more."

"Most people would be surprised to learn that I am a pianist, and before attending college I contemplated majoring in piano performance. Music is how I keep my sanity," she says. "For me, music is a huge part of my life, so I make a conscious effort to not only play the piano every week but to also take lessons."

If asked for advice by students still engaged in their Hawkeye careers, Price says she would suggest they remain open to new experience and opportunity.

"My advice to other UI students would be to seize as many opportunities as you possibly can," she says. "I have recently realized that college goes by too fast. Seize every moment, every experience, every opportunity because you never know where it will lead. But more importantly, you never know the people you will meet along the way.

"This university is full of great minds, creative thinkers and innovative intellectuals, so take the time to strike up a conversation and engage," she says.

Woke Up Black. Again. is expected to be completed and available for viewing online in spring 2014.