3 years ago
Anwesha Bhattacharjee
Web Editor

Alumna Irene Morse cycles through northern U.S. to raise funds for affordable housing 

Irene Morse, a recently graduated McDermott scholar, started her 70-day bicycle tour across the northern United States from Providence, R.I., on June 6 to raise money for affordable housing.

In that time, Morse and her 29 tour mates will bike through 11 different states across the Appalachian and Rocky mountain ranges, interacting with affordable housing organizations and building houses for them. The tour will end in Seattle, Wash. 

Twelve years ago, when she first learned to ride a bicycle at age 10, Morse could never have imagined that the sport would become an important part of her life. 

“I was really bad at it,” she said. “My dad used to run behind me and hold the seat and he would get so tired because we would do that forever. I was too scared to actually ride on my own.”

Now, after having traveled to Washington D.C. as an Archer scholar and Morocco for her study abroad program in 2012-13, Morse is looking forward to this trip that will combine her passion for public service with the adventure and adrenaline rush she craves from her life. 

In her sophomore year at UTD, Morse and a friend would cycle around campus for recreation, and it was her friend who informed Morse of Bike and Build, the nonprofit that organizes 30 different bike tours across the country each summer. 

Her friend graduated in 2012 and never made the trip, but seeing her opportunity this summer after graduation, Morse decided to take on the challenge. 

She will be the first person from UTD to ever have made this trip and will be the only person from Texas in the group of 30 she’ll be biking with. 

The only requirements for her to be part of the program were to have 500 miles on her bike before hitting the tour route and raise $4,500 for the charity and trip expenses. The money will go toward organizations like Habitat for Humanity and Rebuilding Together, among others, and to competitive grants for local housing organizations across the country.

Morse has raised $4,680 for the cause so far, exceeding the required amount, and the whole process of fundraising large amounts does not daunt her as much as it did initially, she said. 

The whole project is a challenge and a little bit scary, Morse said, and despite having cycled long distances in the Dallas area, riding a bike on the mountains is difficult and new to her. 

“I think we are all going to die for the first two weeks or so,” she said. 

Those who know Morse are hardly surprised by her decision to make this trip with people she doesn’t know except through Facebook. She has been determined to do what she wants to do since childhood, said Morse’s mother, Melisa. 

Back in junior high, there was a time when Morse had to run on her school team. One day, Melisa walked into Morse’s room and found she had charted out a running schedule for herself to stay fit even though the team coach hadn’t asked her to maintain one. 

“Once she decides to do something, she’ll do it no matter how hard,” Melisa said. “… She does everything with excellence.”

Morse said her family and friends along with the faculty and staff at UTD supported her in the endeavor with their moral and financial support. However, her mother is, perhaps, the most relieved that the trip won’t take Morse to foreign lands. 

As part of her study abroad program, Morse has lived in Morocco where she learned Arabic, as well as other parts of Middle East and Argentina. Melisa said she is grateful her daughter chose to stay closer to home this time. 

For Morse, however, the travel to foreign countries hasn’t seemed to end. Morse received her English-teaching certification last semester and would like to travel to the Middle East or Turkey to teach English for a while after she returns from the trip. 

Eventually, Morse would like to further her education and join a think tank or some other government organization in D.C. that will help her serve her country better, she said. 

Morse said she believes that while the Archer program taught her to make friends among strangers, this trip will be a lesson about accomplishing her goals despite challenging odds. 

While her family is proud that Morse is making the trip, they are equally proud that she chose to do it for more than just fun and that a cause would benefit from it, Melisa said. 

For Morse, the trip is a way for her to help build new houses and refurbish old ones, meet new people and make friends. But it’s the biking that Morse is looking forward to on the trip.  

“Definitely for me, the biggest thing is biking,” Morse said. “I really like biking and I’ve always wanted to take it to the next level because mainly I’ve done it for recreation before. And this is such a unique way to see the country.”