The energy to lead change

Kiana Morris (MBA '14)

Chris Starrs | Nov. 08, 2018

Kiana MorrisMany words describe what Kiana Morris does — she is Associate Director for Policy in the Office of the Associate Director for Science at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

But one word best characterizes what she is: Energetic.

What follows is an incomplete list of Morris’ responsibilities at  

the CDC: 

• She’s the policy expert and advisor for the Office of the Associate Director for Science;

• She oversees evaluations, inquiries and audits involving policy, strategic partnerships, issues management, and reviews reports, briefs and Congressional testimonies from a host of federal and external partners, including the Office of Management and Budget and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services;

• She develops responses to controlled correspondences in partnership with the Office of the Chief of Staff concerning sensitive and controversial matters; 

• And she directs “influential statements” from the agency to advance policy, partnership and issues-management activities.

It’s a fair question to ask how she’s able to pull all of this off.

“I drink a lot of tea and eat a lot of Wheaties, and vitamins,” she quips. “I have to, especially in this role … I haven’t found too many others with my energy.”

“You have to be able to build partnerships and work with a lot of different players under one umbrella to meet a common goal.”

It’s clear Morris is in the right position. Since joining the CDC in 2010, she worked as a financial communications specialist, a special advisor/special assistant to the agency’s CFO, and was the crisis management communications lead, among other tasks.

“You have to be able to build partnerships and work with a lot of different players under one umbrella to meet a common goal,” says Morris. “I lead a lot of change management in our office. We’re doing strategic planning and developing an annual report while leading change. My role requires that, so it’s kind of par for the course.”

Somehow, Morris was able to find time to pursue a Professional MBA from the Terry College, which included an international business practicum in China. She says earning an MBA was critical in her ongoing professional development.

“There was an opportunity to advance my skills, not only in marketing but in overall business,” says Morris, who in 2009 earned her bachelor’s degree in public relations management from Clark Atlanta University. “I knew media relations, communications and public affairs, but I wanted to be able to understand strategic planning better, as well as operations and finance.

“At that time I was working as the special assistant to the chief financial officer at CDC, and I needed to know how to help lead business operations. University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business MBA Program was highly ranked, and was by far my top choice.”

Morris, who was born in Virginia and attended high school in metro Atlanta, says she originally intended to pursue her undergraduate degree at Georgia but adds that Clark Atlanta University came calling first.

“I always wanted to go to Georgia,” she says. “I graduated from Stone Mountain High School and applied to UGA, Spelman College, Clark Atlanta University, and Howard University for undergrad. Georgia was my first pick. I had a 3.8 GPA and was accepted into all of the schools, but at that time I’d already paid my fees to go to Clark Atlanta before I received the acceptance letter from UGA. Darn! I was determined to go to UGA for grad school.

“There are a lot of Terry grads and other UGA grads at CDC. We have a whole network within our agency, and we support one another. We have someone working in our office now from UGA, and I have supported her along the way. She just got a permanent position and I was the first to say, ‘Go Dawgs.’”

Morris was recently nominated for Forbes’ “30 Under 30,” the magazine’s “annual encyclopedia of creative disruption,” and was a recipient of the 2018 Young Government Leaders’ “40 Under 40” award for her public-sector leadership. 

She also serves on the Terry College Young Alumni Board and this year is working on the Undergraduate Committee, which provides mentorship and panel discussions and aids Terry seniors seeking employment.

And when she’s not laboring at the CDC, Morris owns and operates her own business, KiChané Consulting, in which she helps clients with professional coaching, event planning and brand management services. 

“I am a certified executive career coach, and this is kind of my hobby that has grown over the years,” she says. “I’ve had the LLC for five years. In my spare time, I take on clients to do one-on-one coaching. Right now I have three clients I’m working with intimately.”

Morris also uses a portion of her downtime for travel, and on her Facebook page her cover image displays her riding an elephant, an experience she had this year in Thailand.

“We rode through the jungle,” she says. “It was my birthday. My best friend and I usually take a trip once a year out of the country. This year I visited Thailand, Italy and Japan. That’s my ‘fun thing’ to do!”

She believes seeing the world has also been an asset in her professional life to foster kinship wherever she goes.

“I just have a great appreciation for diversity and culture and embracing differences and people,” Morris says. “Travel definitely gives you a greater perspective and appreciation for differences. It helps you understand what’s important.”