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Inspiration by mentors adds up for doctoral candidate

| Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, 8:55 p.m.
SUBMITTED Jennifer Murphy of Charleroi displays the Frederick E. Atkins Memorial Scholarship Award she received for outstanding achievement in mathematics at California University of Pennsylvania.

As a student in the Charleroi Area School District and at California University of Pennsylvania, Jennifer Murphy of Charleroi was inspired by the educators from whom she learned.

Now, as a graduate student pursuing a Ph.D. in statistics at the University of Pittsburgh, Murphy is guided by those experiences in her commitment to become a teacher.

“I have always loved and enjoyed teaching others,” Murphy, 22, said. “Mainly my inspiration came from my middle and high school teachers at Charleroi Area. Regardless of the subject, I had some amazing teachers who were passionate about their area and cared about their students. At the graduate level at Pitt, it is wonderful working with others and learning from professors who also are truly passionate about their areas and learning.”

Murphy, a 2008 graduate of Charleroi Area High School where she was the class valedictorian, graduated this year from California University of Pennsylvania's Honors Program with a 4.0 grade point average. She earned dual degrees, a Bachelor of Arts in mathematics and Bachelor of Science in secondary mathematics education.

Academic excellence and a track record of myriad achievements at California led to a full-tuition scholarship and teaching assistantship at Pitt.

“It's a busy schedule, no question about that,” Murphy said of her studies at Pitt. “I am currently taking three courses focusing on probability, applied linear regression models and statistical packages. As a teaching assistant for an introductory statistics course (applied statistical methods), I lead three recitations a week, grade homework assignments and quizzes, hold weekly office hours and assist in proctoring exams or help write quizzes. It doesn't leave much time for anything else, but I love what I'm doing.”

Murphy expects to receive her doctorate from Pitt in approximately five years, depending on her dissertation time line. Students in the Ph.D. program also typically earn a master's degree.

Her ultimate goal is to become a professor teaching on the college level. That intention is based on her experiences at and respect for California University of Pennsylvania.

“My belief is that regardless of the ‘prestige' of a college or university, it is the students and teachers that make the quality and who determine their own direction and success,” Murphy said. “I thoroughly enjoyed my time at California University and again met inspiring and determined professors who strongly influenced my decision to continue on in my education and explore research areas.”

Among those who influenced Murphy the most at CalU with their experience and guidance are Professor George Novak, a member of the faculty at the school since 1959, Professor Marcia Hoover, Murphy's education adviser, and Professor. Melissa Sovak, her thesis adviser and statistics instructor.

“Jennifer is definitely one of the best students we've ever had here,” said Novak, a teacher in the Department of Math, Computer Science and Information Systems. “In addition to her outstanding classroom work and extracurricular activities she was a great math tutor for our department and an excellent student assistant for me. She is a very intelligent young woman who was committed to and patient with tutoring students that needed help in mathematics. I am very confident she will continue to achieve success.”

Murphy worked in the CalU Math Lab for three years, tutoring and assisting other students in math and math related courses. She volunteered 300 hours of service through AmeriCorps during her junior year and worked with at-risk students at Charleroi Area High School during and after school hours. She also was a teaching assistant at California University for an elementary mathematics course in the fall and spring semesters of her senior year. She fulfilled her student teaching requirements in the spring of 2012 teaching Algebra II classes at Elizabeth Forward High School.

A Presidential Scholar and Dean's List student throughout her college career, Murphy received the prestigious Frederick E. Atkins Memorial Scholarship Award for Outstanding Achievement in Mathematics and was the recipient of the Pearson's Ethics in Mathematics Research Scholarship. She also received a national ETS (Educational Testing Service) Recognition of Excellence Award for ranking in the top 15 percent on the Praxis II Math Content Knowledge Exam.

Murphy also posted countless hours as a volunteer with such programs as the Boy Scouts Merit Badge University, Philadelphia Summer Academy, Science Olympiad, Junior Academy of Science and Mon Valley Youth and Government. And she attended numerous professional development conferences and seminars at California and Clarion University of Pennsylvania as well as in Pittsburgh and West Virginia. She is a member of several professional organizations including the Pennsylvania State Education Association, Future Math Teachers, Mathematical Association of America and Alpha Phi Omega (community service organization).

In addition to Novak and other educators, Murphy cites Janet Toth, secondary counselor at Charleroi Area High School, as a key mentor in her life.

“Mrs. Toth is an amazing guidance counselor, someone who is truly dedicated to her profession,” Murphy said. “She not only helped me with seeking and earning scholarships and directing me toward leadership experiences through involvement with clubs, she also helped me decide on my goal to pursue teaching as a career.”

Toth recalls Murphy as a “quiet, unassuming young girl” in ninth grade who “became an outstanding student and leader.”

“She had been a good student in middle school but appeared shy when she came to high school,” Toth said. “But she began to challenge herself academically and found her way on a steady climb to become valedictorian of her graduating class. Her hard work and determination were not traits that she boasted about. She continued with her soft-spoken, reserved air but also matured and grew within herself, becoming very confident in her abilities, and began to push herself to take chances outside her comfort zone.”

Toth said one of Murphy's greatest accomplishments, “other than the honor being valedictorian,” was becoming a state officer of the Pennsylvania Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA). This is a student-led organization that puts families first and works in its schools and communities to advocate this idea.

“Jennifer ran for state office, passed a stringent qualification test and was elected to state office by students representing chapters from all over Pennsylvania,” Toth said. “She represented Pennsylvania at the National Leadership Conference in Orlando, Florida, where she interacted with peers from across the United States. As a state officer, she led local, regional and state meetings, met with adults on various committees and was a leader to younger students as they learned about FCCLA and that they also could become leaders like Jennifer.”

Toth said it “was a joy to watch Jennifer flourish.”

“She is an outstanding student, leader and person,” Toth said. “I know she will touch many lives as a teacher.”

The most important mentor in her life, Murphy emphasized, is her mother, Jodi Tuccelli Murphy of Charleroi.

“My mom has had and always will have the major influence on me; she is truly my inspiration,” said Murphy, who has a younger sister, Breanna Miller, 12, and who is the granddaughter of Erma Tuccelli of Charleroi. “I got my determination from her. I learned to refuse to accept anything less than my best from her.”

Ron Paglia is a freelance writer.

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