“Community Colleges are a great American experiment and have lasted for 50 years, because they work,” Dr. Maureen Murphy, President, Brookdale Community College, told students attending the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) Student Success Conference on April 5. Murphy explained how the idea of providing open access to college came about at the end of WWII when large numbers of veterans were returning to college. Under the leadership of President Harry Truman, community colleges were formed to “strengthen democracy, and meet the needs of the changing social and economic environment.”
Moving from the historical significance of Community Colleges in general, to Brookdale’s history and its role in serving residents of Monmouth County, Murphy drove home the point that community colleges are about creating opportunities and supporting students through those opportunities so that they can thrive. “You are why the people at Brookdale do what they do – provide access and support to help you succeed.”
EOF student Matthew Edwards agreed. “EOF provides me with the support and opportunity to explore my interests and achieve my goals,” he said. Edwards came to Brookdale with one career goal in mind, but later switched to Criminal Justice. “At Brookdale, I am able to explore academic interests, and get involved in the college experience. It’s a win-win. A four-year school is too expensive to find yourself. ” Edwards plans to become a police officer and will graduate in May 2014.
The purpose of the annual conference is to help “put the students’ goals and vision in perspective, and to remind them that their goals are attainable, if they put in the work and push past the challenges,” said Richard Morales Wright, EOF Director. He noted that conference speakers, like Murphy, have experiences that the students can relate to, and can inspire students to overcome difficulties.
During the Q & A session, Murphy shared her “alternate route” to her current position as president. She candidly told students that her first attempt at college was unsuccessful. “I dropped out and no one noticed. It took a long time to get the guts to go back.” But, back she went to earn a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in English and a Ph.D. in American Studies. “I started my career in community colleges in 1989 teaching English, and loved it. I felt like I had died and gone to heaven, because I just loved teaching community college students.” Later, an interim appointment as dean became a permanent position, and her career in community college administration began.
Emily Melendez (pictured in the photo above), a biology and education major at Brookdale, plans to eventually teach at a community college. “I agree with Dr. Murphy’s point about community college students wanting to learn. I want to teach people who want to listen, people whose life experiences impact their studies,” she said. Melendez realized she loved “the science of life” after taking Biology 105. Her desire to teach came later, as she tutored her classmates in the subject, which came natural to her. “It’s cool to get students to think about the concepts differently, and fun to watch their face light up when they get it,” she said.
Melendez will graduate next fall after completing Microbiology, Organic Chemistry and Math 153, three courses that aren’t usually associated with fun; but Melendez is excited for the challenge. The EOF program has provided her with a supportive environment that has helped her overcome several challenges, including a battle with Crohn’s disease. She manages the disease by reducing stress, not an easy task with her hectic schedule. “I try to keep things in perspective and not worry. I watch my diet, and end the week with a yoga class – the perfect way to start the weekend.”
For more information about EOF call 732-224-2510.