By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
As students and faculty return to Gadsden State Community College’s campuses for the spring semester, they will find themselves becoming acquainted with a soon-to-be familiar face – Gadsden State’s new president, Dr. Kathy Murphy.
Following former president Dr. Martha Lavender’s retirement in August, Murphy went to work in January with excitement, envisioning a bright and successful future for the college in all the days ahead.
Born and raised in Butler County, Murphy grew up in Greenville where she first realized her passion for education and fitness. Inspired by those incredible individuals who encouraged her throughout her life, Murphy made the conscious decision to follow in their footsteps.
“Many of those outside of my immediate family who most impacted me were my teachers and coaches,” said Murphy. “From the time I could think, ‘What do I really want to do with my life,’ my thought was I want to teach and coach sports. I just have a passion for students first of all, then I loved exercise science, physiology and biomechanics – how the body works. I would say what catapulted me into education was those others that I so admired who were my teachers…who cared about me, nurtured me and supported me. [They] helped me take my skills and my life to the next level. You just love to emulate those people who so impacted you.”
Following her completion of a Bachelor of Science in Education from Troy University and a Master of Education from Auburn University in 1981 and 1982, Murphy furthered her education with a doctorate in education and a Master of Education in Educational Leadership. In 1995, she earned an Educational Specialist Degree in Educational Leadership from Auburn University at Montgomery.
Murphy’s professional educational career outstretches far beyond one level of learning, with her service reaching students of all ages and backgrounds. Beginning with her position as a junior high physical education teacher in Auburn in 1984, Murphy adopted several leadership roles including an assistant professor at Judson College (where she served as the chair of the Physical Education Department) and the University of West Georgia, before transitioning into administration.
Murphy’s marriage and the birth of her daughter led her back home to Greenville, where she accepted the principalship at Greenville Middle School. Her unwavering dedication to her students and faculty sparked future principal positions for Murphy, paving the way for her positions at Greenville High School and Charles Henderson High School in Troy, prior to her service as an administrator for the superintendent at Butler County Schools.
Most recently, Murphy found herself assuming the role of superintendent, first of Monroe County Schools, then of Hoover City Schools for the last five years. While Murphy’s experiences in education span from junior high to four-year universities, she found herself contemplating if there was a missing piece to her academic puzzle.
“In life’s journey and in your professional journey, you stop and take inventory sometimes,” said Murphy. “I had been really kind of taking inventory of my life, my professional life and my personal journey. I’ve done this for a long time. I’m three-plus decades in education, so I just needed to ask myself some critical questions. Do I have more to give? Do I have more to offer? If so, where is that? How do I continue to serve? Am I ready to give thought to retirement? I wasn’t. I have no interest in going home and rocking on the front porch. I was ready to refresh.”
Two-year colleges proved to represent that missing piece, with Gadsden State completing the portrait of Murphy’s phenomenal history of serving students. She considers two-year colleges resting in an enviable position, so often overlooked as those hidden treasures rooted in communities. Although her love for K-12 remains lifelong, Murphy noted that the opportunity to view life differently through the two-year collegiate level was incredibly enticing. She shared the moment that confirmed Gadsden State as her next professional home.
“My first visit here, [I saw] the math and science building,” said Murphy. “It is so beautiful, and it is such a great representation of this college. It speaks volumes to me about this community, this school and its progressive ideas. I think that facility spoke to the fact that this is a school that wants to make sure that its buildings, grounds and infrastructure represent who we are and helping students take it to the next level.”
As Murphy drove towards the grand 57,000 square-foot building resting at the intersection of Cardinal and George Wallace drives, she embraced the legacy of those leaders before her and committed herself to upholding the college’s mission to educate, inspire and encourage – a mission that intertwines seamlessly with the principles she valued throughout her career.
Although Murphy’s vast experiences in education prepared her for her position as president, she remains transparent and honest regarding the aspects of the community college world that are new to her. She believes that educating herself first and foremost will lay a solid foundation for future blueprints to develop. Rather than storming onto campus with bold declarations, Murphy’s approach gives heed to listening to the community, understanding the needs of the students and learning from her faculty members about what is best for Gadsden State.
“If you think you’re leading, and you look behind you and there’s nobody there, you’re just taking a stroll,” said Murphy. “Leadership is something that is relational. You have to make sure that you’re building those relationships, that you share a vision, mission and direction, and that you’re doing the work together. I have so learned that you can’t solo it. It’s not about you. It’s about a group of very thoughtful people with a common goal making things work for students.
“I’ve learned at the end of the day, through so many experiences, that the task is important, but the people associated with that task are more important. For me, I’m very task oriented. I do have to slow down and say, ‘We’ll get there, but we’ve got to get there with all our people who work with us.’ Me telling you here are the goals, objectives and here is how we’ve got to get there, I think would be very premature and unwise of me. I want to understand better, then lead us all forward about what those goals look like.”
While Murphy absorbs information from the college and community, she visits more than just the Gadsden campuses, taking the time to build relationships at the Ayers and Cherokee Center locations to learn the needs of the college as a whole. As she listens from others to formulate her future objectives for the college, she shared a few goals she hopes to accomplish of her own.
“The most immediate short and long-term goal is we really want to improve and increase enrollment at Gadsden State,” said Murphy. “How do we bring more students to Gadsden? How do we ensure that we have the facilities they need for that learning environment? I would say taking a really careful look at our campus, our buildings and infrastructure and being thoughtful about how we grow this campus, [relates to] how we support and nurture our personnel here, so they are excited to say I’m a Gadsden State instructor and employee. We’ve got to find ways to make sure we’re supporting those folks. [We’ve got to consider] buildings, grounds, getting students on board, keeping them with us, going out and recruiting, changing the lives of people because we offer them an education that they need.”
Murphy reflected on the ‘golden era’ of Gadsden State, a time when the college served 7,000 students who gathered on the campus they loved, with peers and friends. While Murphy noted that enrollment is down at the college, she does not consider that illustrious age drifting further away in her rearview mirror. Instead, Murphy strives to enlighten individuals to the reward that coincides with an education from Gadsden State.
“I want Gadsden State to be a hub, a central, pivotal place in a positive way for the city,” said Murphy. “Just like I want the same thing for the Cherokee campus in Centre and the Ayers campus in Anniston. I want us to be so central, so important and so focused – not just because we’re a community college, but for the way we’re serving the community in return.”
Murphy discussed a recent message she sent to faculty that detailed the story of the long-handled spoon, in which a man asks God the difference between heaven and hell. In the story, God shows the man two rooms, both with people circling pots of stew, holding long-handled spoons. In one room the people try to feed themselves, but are starving because they are unable to reach their mouths. In the second room defined as heaven, the people are nourished, healthy and happy, because they feed one another.
“That’s what I believe the president has to do,” said Murphy. “I believe the president has to nurture and feed others, but also has to be nurtured and fed. We’re in it together. This is about us. Whether that’s listening to each other, disagreeing with each other or setting goals together – the work has to be done together.”
Murphy plans to form partnerships with local superintendents, who she holds in high regard, to build strong relationships between the schools and the college. She hopes to improve Gadsden State through these unshakable foundations, analyzing the areas of the campus that need the most attention. She invites the community to offer their insight into ways the college can grow, and commends the faculty that have planted so many seeds before her.
“I would like to say to this faculty and staff that their reputation precedes them,” said Murphy. “They are fine educators, instructors and terrific support staff. What a wonderful thing when a positive reputation precedes you. There are people here who are so excited about what they do. They’re so excited about the students they serve. That just keeps me ignited, too. What an honor to come beside them and to work with them on those goals and objectives we have.”
Through her lifelong dedication to education, Murphy join hands with fellow educators to uplift students to achieve their dreams, discover their purpose and find their place. Her ceaseless passion for the betterment of others and her fervent drive to promote excellence is evident in her past accomplishments and her present vision for Gadsden State – creating a bright reflection of the community and striving towards a prosperous future for its college, faculty and students.
“The only reason I’m the president of Gadsden State Community College is to serve students,” said Murphy. “What’s important to them is important to me. If they’re playing ball, I’m going to try to be out there to see them. When they have a road race, I’m going to lace up my tennis shoes and run with them. I would like my legacy at Gadsden State to be a president who cared about students. I care about them and I care about their education. I care about where they go in life. I want to be a support system to help them meet their dreams, and I just want them to know they have a president who is here to listen and be engaged with them. I don’t see this as me sitting on some sort of pedestal, carrying a title. President doesn’t say I’ve arrived or it’s about me. To me, president says servant. This president says, ‘I’m here to serve students.’ It’s the only reason I’ve come, and I can’t wait to be able to do more of that as time progresses.”