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Outstanding advisor helps biology students navigate UConn

by Sherry Fisher - October 27, 2008

Think outside the box. That’s the first piece of advice Jennifer Murphy gives her students.

“I tell them to look through the entire course catalog and come back with a list of classes they want to take – not classes they are required to take,” says Murphy, undergraduate program coordinator, who advises students majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “That’s a good starting point for them to find out about their interests.”

Murphy, who came to UConn in 2002, advises some 300 students. She is the recipient of this year’s Outstanding Student Advisement and Advocacy Award.

She says many students aren’t aware of the career choices that are open to science majors.

“Some think their degrees will lead to medical or dental school, but they don’t know of other career opportunities,” she says. “After a while, they realize they don’t want a career in medicine, or they see the course work is more challenging and they think they won’t be competitive enough. That brings on the question, ‘What do I do now?’ So I ask questions like ‘What are you looking for?’ and ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’”

Murphy listens to students work through the process, and encourages them to try something new. “They may come back and find a new path that changes their lives,” she says, “or they discover that a particular route wasn’t for them, and they’ll try something else.”

She is now in the midst of preregistration, her busiest time of year. Not only does she meet with up to 20 students a day, but she also answers e-mails and phone calls from students who have questions on issues ranging from graduate school applications and transcripts to adding and dropping courses.

Murphy says she enjoys working with students.

“I really like the interaction with them,” she says. “I like the college years because it’s such a key time in their lives. They’re learning a lot about themselves; they’re gaining independence, and their opportunities are endless.”

Every week she sends out an e-mail to all her advisees with information she deems relevant to their lives and careers. These include internship announcements, seminars and presentations on campus, scholarship news, and other information pertaining to undergraduates in the sciences.

“It helps them see beyond their own course work,” she says.

Jennifer Murphy, undergraduate program coordinator in the ecology and evolutionary biology department, meets with an advisee.
Jennifer Murphy, undergraduate program coordinator in the ecology and evolutionary biology department, meets with an advisee. Photo by Frank Dahlmeyer

She also encourages them to travel before they settle down. “I try to get them outside that box.”

She says advising is like teaching. “There’s that moment when they’re struggling with a concept, and finally they get it,” Murphy says.

“They’re either more relaxed or more excited because they finally know where they’re heading. I enjoy being part of that.”

Murphy also received the National Academic Advising Association Region One Academic Advising Excellence Award in 2007, and UConn’s Undergraduate Student Government Advisor of the Year award in 2006.

Student Chien Lo describes Murphy as a “great advisor, friendly, motivating, and supportive.

“She is always more than willing and available to meet with students to discuss their academic goals or plans for the future,” says Lo, a senior with a double major in ecology and evolutionary biology and molecular and cell biology.

Lo adds, “Jen is a student advisor, but is also an active member of the community, often merging the two together and building connections between students, faculty, staff, and the outside world.”

Gordon Ober, a senior majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology, says Murphy was always helpful whether it was finding a class or working with him on a resume for a summer job. “She’s very accessible,” he says. “Her office door is always open.”

Melanie Bouthillier, a senior majoring in biological sciences, says Murphy is “very concerned about students and always goes out of her way to help. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my degree and she worked with me to figure it out. Now I know I want to be a physician’s assistant.”

Edwin Bolanos, a senior majoring in biological sciences, says Murphy put him in the right direction: “Without her, I would have been lost a long time ago.”

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