What did you study and why did you decide to study at Ulster University?
I was studying at the University of North Carolina (UNC) and in my senior year I decided to study a semester abroad. In looking at my choices, I settled upon Ulster University’s Coleraine campus. In 1998, I packed my bags and travelled to Northern Ireland to study Irish History, and I also took on a Public Relations course while I was there.
I had always wanted to travel during college, so the Study Abroad programme felt like the right choice for me. One of the reasons I decided to study in Northern Ireland was because my last name is Murphy and although I have yet to trace the roots of my name, I do believe that I have some Irish connections.
Can you give us an overview of what you did after you graduated?
When I graduated from UNC, I spent about 20 years doing marketing within the engineering industry. When I first had my children, I took a break from work for a couple of years to stay at home and did freelance marketing projects.
When returning to the workplace I decided to move into the non-profit side of things, and I am now the Director of Communications for the North Carolina Forestry Association. I deal with external and internal communications, websites, social media, magazines, newsletters and press releases. My role is a very busy and demanding role, but the variety is great and it keeps me interested.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
My biggest achievement to date has definitely been raising my daughters to be confident and strong young women.
I am also proud of how my passions have developed throughout my life, I am an extremely passionate person, and this comes across in my work and my everyday life. This has led me to do wonderful things and gave me the confidence recently to run for the local town council.
What are your best memories of your time at Ulster University?
One of my main memories from my time at Ulster University was being a member of the UU rowing team. I remember that we would have to get up at 5.30am in the morning and go rowing on the River Bann, it was always cold, and the weather was miserable, but I really enjoyed doing it.
I left to go back to the US just before our big rowing competition and I remember everyone came to the university pub to wish all the Americans a safe trip home. That night the rowing team presented me with a portion of an oar, which they all signed and left lovely messages on. I still have it today and it has travelled with me throughout all the moves in my life.
I lived in student accommodation during my semester at Ulster with three Irish students who helped me settle into Northern Ireland. I also fell in with a family who ‘adopted’ me during my semester abroad, I would often have dinner with the family, and I would walk their dog most days. It was nice to have some local support and my family back home in North Carolina were reassured that I was being well looked after.
I loved everything about my time studying at Coleraine; we used to go on a lot of day trips: we went to Belfast and Dublin, and we visited the beautiful Mourne Mountains. Everything was so beautiful in Northern Ireland; I was amazed by all the hills, mountains and green spaces.
The people were so welcoming and warm, everywhere I went I met new people and faces, it was wonderful. It reminded me a lot of the southeastern US as we have a reputation of being warm, inviting, and friendly, so I suppose being in Northern Ireland during that time made me feel at home.
What are your top tips for students of UU, to get the most out of their time at University?
I would advise students to talk to their lecturers as much as they can, ask lots of questions and be curious. Join groups, clubs and societies that are of interest to you as these people will be the foundation of your network and likely life-long friends.
Also, take advantage of every free resource that the University has to offer, for example, CV advice, mentoring, events and so on.
What general advice would you give recent graduates?
I think it is important for graduates not to get overwhelmed by failures. Failure is not final.
Whenever I lost my job a couple of years ago, I really struggled to figure out what to do next. However, I bounced back stronger than ever. I would advise recent graduates to just keep going forward, don’t let failure set you back, learn from those life events and move on to your next chapter.
What are your plans for the future?
I have recently felt the call to public service, so I have made the decision to run for local council. Being a natural problem solver, I realised my town has some issues which aren’t being addressed and I know I can help.
The election is in March 2022 but no matter what the results, I know now that my purpose is to serve and so I will definitely be exploring ways I can do this.
I would also love to come back to Coleraine at some stage in the future to show my children where I spent part of my student life. I hope that I will be able to reconnect with those that I met during my time there. Unfortunately we have lost contact, but I hope that we will get back in touch in the future. If anyone is reading this and remembers me, please reach out to the alumni office (email@example.com) and they can reconnect us!