Q and A with Sandra Morgan on being appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE)

Sandra Morgan, director of strategic partnerships and outreach for the College of Arts & Sciences at Kent State University, was recently appointed the honor of Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) at an investiture ceremony at the British Embassy Ambassador’s Residence in Washington, D.C.

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Jim Maxwell, marketing and public relations specialist and Senior English Major Paige Schindler, our writing intern, sat down with Sandra to discuss this wonderful honor and her amazing accomplishments. Here’s their Q&A:

Q: Tell me about becoming an OBE.

Sandra: It's a big honor. I've had a great relationship throughout my tenure as the Honorary Counsel and have received accolades, but not anything formal like this one. It's fantastic.

Q: Why were you given this honor?

Sandra: I received the honor of Officer of the Order of the British Empire for my service to (now) his Majesty's Government over the past 21 years. I've served as the honorary consul for the UK here in the state of Ohio, which is a role that I'm really proud of and that I really relish. It's been a wonderful opportunity for me, and I really have enjoyed it very much.

Q: Who nominated you for the honor of OBE?

Sandra: The Consul General’s Office recommended me. It goes up to the Ambassador's Office and Dame Karen Pierce and I also have a very good relationship. She passed it along on to London where it was approved obviously.

I was really pleased. Typically you'll get a call from somebody, but it's not from the ambassador. I got a call from the ambassador directly, which was pretty amazing for me. I had to sit in my office and really kind of understand how important it was. You know that not only did I get the honor, which is a big deal, I already have my new business cards from the consular office that say Sandra Morgan OBE.

And when you present them to somebody who knows what it is here or certainly in the UK, you know, you get a little courtesy. You know, because it means something…it's important.

Q: What is your role as a UK Honorary Consul for Ohio?

Sandra: As the Honorary Consul for the UK here in the State of Ohio, my role is really threefold. The primary role is to promote business, bilateral trade, and foreign investment between the State of Ohio and the United Kingdom.

Secondly, to promote cultural understanding between the UK and the state of Ohio. As an example, the Cleveland Orchestra performs throughout Europe, and they perform in the UK every other year, and they go to London. As a part of their relationship to the UK, we help to start a friends of the Cleveland Orchestra group in London. That sort of thing.

Then lastly, and really pretty importantly, to take care of His Majesty's citizens when they're here in the great state of Ohio. So, if someone finds themselves hurt, in the hospital, in jail, they lose their passport or they need something, I am their first point of contact to help steer them in the right direction and help them take care of whatever it is that they need to get done.

Q: How much of your time is dedicated to this type of service?

Sandra: Well, the amount of time that I spend serving as the Honorary Counsel really varies quite a lot. Sometimes I will spend maybe 4 hours or so a week servicing the consular office. Other times I'll spend 40 hours a week or so, it feels anyway.

A prime example of that is this past summer when we had a visit from the Minister of Parliament. He came to visit Columbus. He went to four cities actually. But, his final place was in Columbus, where he went to the League of Mayors and that was really awesome. He met with members of the Governor's Economic Development Office because we have such a strong tie around aerospace and technology. He met with the Aerospace and Technology Group here. He met with the Mayor of Cincinnati, the Mayor of Cleveland, the Mayor of Atlanta, and any number of individuals in addition to dinner and tours, and some other things. So, it took quite a lot of time and effort to put that agenda together and it was jam packed. That's the sort of thing that I do as I support the government.

Q: When, how and why did you get involved in this?

Sandra: Well, my involvement with the British government, I like to say, is a ‘long and sordid’ story. It's really not very long or sordid. But in a ‘previous life’, I worked for the World Trade Center Cleveland, which was the international economic development arm for the Greater Cleveland Growth Association, which is now the Greater Cleveland Partnership. I served there as the Regional Manager for Europe, Middle East, and Africa and my real focus was working with small businesses that had never been involved in international trade before. So, they needed someone to really hold their hand, help them through all of the processes involved in being successful in international trade. As such, then I felt like the United Kingdom was the best market for what we called neophytes at the time. New to international business, because there was a common language and common law. And, really common morals, virtues and goals.

We were on the same page. Despite our ‘little tiff’ a couple of hundred years ago, we're still on the same page in a number of ways. And a lot of the services that these companies needed (banks, accountants, attorneys) here in northeast Ohio were also represented in the UK. They either had relationships there or they had their own offices there. It just seemed like a natural place to do business and I made great contacts. One of my strong suits is building partnerships and relationships. I built partnerships with a number of the chambers of commerce there, certainly with the British government, the Department of Trade and Industry and others. So, when it was decided that they needed someone to really represent the interests of the government here and to promote trade, cultural understanding, and protect citizens here, I was recommended by both the Consul General's Office in Chicago and the government officials in London. It was a pretty straightforward process for me, but there's a lot to do in terms of going through extensive background checks and a lot of other things.

Q: How has your position at Kent State overlapped with your service to the UK?

Sandra: Well, I'm very proud to have been able to bring Sir Kim Darroch to Kent State University, which would have only happened as a result of my relationship to the British government and my work as the honorary counsel. I've also been in a position to help students here who want to study in the UK access scholarship monies called the Locksley Purse, which is offered through the British American Chamber

of Commerce, which again, I sit on the board of that organization and also on the selection committee.

It may seem a little incestuous, but it works, as well as introducing students here to the British Marshall Scholarship Program. It's a highly competitive program which provides scholarship opportunities, full scholarships, to students who want to get their Master's and or PhDs in the UK. I think I've been really helpful in that regard to students, improving student experience and their opportunity to really interact directly with foreign diplomats and things like that. I think just my insight, my understanding of British culture, the British government, and opportunities for internships and that sort of thing have been really helpful.

Q: Any other memorable stories about your time assisting the British Empire?

Sandra: Well, I think the stuff that I enjoy the most is when we have visitors come over. One of the ministers comes over or some such, because many times this is considered fly over territory, so they will go to New York, Washington, or maybe take their families to Florida, but then it's off to the West Coast. And they don't think a whole lot about the Midwest, even though their strongest trade partners are throughout the Midwest, quite frankly. But they'll go to Chicago before they'll come to Ohio or Indiana or some place like that. We provide a lot in terms of trade and in foreign investment. I’m always happy to show off our region, our state, and of course the city of Cleveland, my city.

It's fantastic for them to really get surprised, right? They're surprised by what they see. I think probably the most memorable visit that I've had was for the former Prime Minister, even though she was only Prime Minister for a few weeks. But Elizabeth Truss came to Cleveland and she visited a number of our companies and corporations here. She also went to a Cleveland Browns game and traded football jerseys, in this case, soccer for Cleveland Browns jersey with Dee Haslam, which was pretty exciting.

Though she didn't realize what a big moment this was, but we were their guests in the owners loge and they also invited Jim Brown, legendary football player, to join us. And that was fantastic. It was a lot of fun.

Q: Do you ever travel to Britain and have you ever met the King or Queen?

Sandra: I've never met the King or Queen, however, I have traveled to the UK quite extensively, and I do plan to travel to the UK this coming year. We had a bit of a break with the pandemic and that sort of thing. That travel changed pretty dramatically. I admit, I've been a little slow on the draw in terms of traveling, but this year we actually have four different trade missions planned into the UK this year, starting in March or April of 2024. Two in June. One for British Tech week, which will be held in London. And another for the air show and then yet another one in the fall, which will be for more established businesses. So, it will be a very busy year, this coming year. The British Air Show that happens in June is every other year. It's in London one year, and in Paris the next. And it's the biggest air show in the world. It will be a very busy month because Tech week is the week before the air show.

Q: Have other women, and specifically black women, received this honor or are you one of the first?

Sandra: I think I'm one of the first. In the state of Ohio, as I understand it, there are no other officers of the British Empire other than me, and I am the first and only African American woman to receive the OBE in Ohio.

Q: Do you get paid for your role as honorary counsel?

Sandra: I do not receive any compensation as the Honorary Counsel for the United Kingdom. However, I consider myself richly paid in the contacts that I make, the people that I meet, the opportunities that I have to support business development here in the state of Ohio, and have an impact on that. And, the rich memories that I'll have from every experience that I've had in this role.

Q: Does this Honor offer you any benefits or opportunities that you didn't have before, such as new network opportunities, raising your profile, et cetera?

Sandra: Yes. It certainly helps me to raise my profile considerably both in the UK and the US and anywhere else for that matter. In the Commonwealth and in other former British colonies, it will be recognized and certainly applauded and supported. But beyond that, I receive specific honors and rights at St. Paul's Cathedral in London if I want to. It’s too late now because I'm already married, but if my children want to get married at St. Paul's Cathedral, they have the right to do that. When I pass away, they'll ring the bells in my honor. Then I'll be, hopefully years and years from now, included in an annual service for OBEs and others. And I wilI have the right to a coat of arms and so I will work with the folks in London to determine what my coat of arms will look like.

Q: Tell me about the OBE medallion

Sandra: Well, I'm really excited to have received my medallion which signifies, you know, my being a part of the Order of the British Empire. And they're supposed to be worn at special occasions. So, if I'm at

a special event, as an example, certainly anytime a minister or a visiting dignitary from the UK comes to Ohio, I would wear my medallion. And I wear it on my left side. Of course, over my heart. If there's a big event like a gala or some such, I would wear it during that time too. And we have a couple of other pieces. I have the ribbon with the medallion, but I also have a lapel pin and a broach that I can wear for less formal events. But, there are a variety of color combinations for the ribbons. They are symbolic. You know, they connotate the various levels of your honor. Then on the medallion, there is a profile, and that's of King George. Because this level of chivalry or these honors were developed by him in 1917 in honor at first of those brave men who served in World War I. Then it was broadened to not only include members of the military, but others who have provided exemplary service to the government or his Majesty's government in one way or another. And it's gold. It's beautiful. I love it. And I wore it very proudly when we received them.

Q: Tell me about the ceremony.

Sandra: Overall, I was called by the Ambassador to inform me that I had been nominated as an OBE in January. I received official notice in March that I was in fact accepted as an OBE. That was because there is a ceremonial process that you go through. When the Ambassador called, she said to me by royal warrant, his Majesty King Charles Third would like to offer you a place as an officer in his most excellent order of the British Empire. If this is offered to you, will you accept it? And I said yes. And she said, well, do you need to think about it? And I said, yes, I have already thought about it. Yes! She said, fine, then you'll hear from our office and they will send you some paperwork that you have to fill out, which I did.

It was a fun and wonderful opportunity and it was a fantastic time had by all. The ambassador was lovely and the residence is lovely. And I felt like Queen of the May for a day, I'm telling you. When we got to the embassy, they had a receiving line with top military brass and all kinds of really interesting and highly-ranked British officials. They announce your name and then you shake hands up and down the line, and that sort of thing, which was pretty impressive. It was a true diplomatic experience, right? I've never had that kind of an experience, even as the honorary consul and even with a minister of Parliament, to have people line up and you get out of your car and they announce your name, and then you walk along and shake hands and that sort of thing.

Q: That brings up a good question. If (25 years ago) someone told you this would happen, would you ever believe them?

Sandra: Never. It's an honor. It's indescribable because if I'm being honest, 25 years ago, I didn't even know what an OBE was. I mean, it was before I was even an honorary consul or anything like that. I was just doing my job as the regional manager for Europe, Middle East and Africa. I wasn't thinking about getting honors and it wasn't a part of anything that I was concerned about. I was working and then when I was made honorary counsel, I didn't think it could get any better than that. Like, what else? I think, again, of my grandparents because of my grandfather's unique role in our legacy, but I think of my parents, Wow. Like hey mom. I couldn't wait to call my mother and share that news with her and to think that it was just really a very proud moment to be able to say, look at this role that I've been given. No one in our family has anything like that. For sure, my grandfather was applauded and all of that, but it was really hard work. It was during very trying times, racially, everything was stacked against him. He made it. He did really well anyway. But imagine what he had to overcome to get where he was. It's not like I waltzed into this or anything. I worked hard for it as well. But it was like, wow, here's a guy who had a sixth-grade education. Then, here's my mom and dad who went to college, but they worked hard. They were solidly middle-class people who wanted more for all of us, of course. But they worked hard to provide us with opportunities and to allow us to really see the world in a much different way than even they got to. Now, here I am the Honorary Consul, and now I'm an OBE. Who would have thought? It doesn't make sense. But, I would have never imagined this for myself. And, certainly in college, I really liked global affairs and international relations, and cultural relations, that sort of thing. I always wanted to be involved in that work in some way. But again, my path has been all over the place and so I never imagined that it would end up like this, which is pretty awesome.

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