URI donor gives Hope to inner-city students

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Murphy fund supports mentor tutors

KINGSTON, R.I. — April 20, 2007 — A son of Irish immigrants, John Murphy, URI ‘HON ’05 grew up in the Fox Point section of Providence. His father died when he was just 15 months old, forcing his widowed mother to often work three jobs to provide for John and his older brother, Jeremiah. He graduated from Hope High School and after serving in the U.S. Army in Korea, went to work in the consumer finance industry. He became successful combining his acumen in finance, real estate and insurance.

Today, he is founder, president and chief executive officer of Home Loan Investment Bank, headquartered in Warwick. The bank employs about 300 people and provides mortgage-lending services in more than 30 states from coast to coast.

“I’ve led a blessed life. Grace and I have four grown sons and two granddaughters,” says Murphy who has supported numerous charities throughout his life.

Yet as high on the corporate ladder Murphy climbed, he never lost sight of where he came from. “I was surrounded by poverty. I witnessed the struggle,” recalls the man. “Education is the key to success.”

Although higher education was not an option for Murphy, he is encouraging students at his former high school to attend college.

“I want to shine attention on them,” says Murphy. “To let them know that they are important. I don’t want them to get lost or feel hopeless. I want them to know that I have walked in their shoes. I am one of them.”

To do that, he has established the John Murphy MTI Fund, which supports the University’s Mentor Tutor Internship Program with more than $100,000 to date (see sidebar.) The fund sponsors 10 University of Rhode Island students known as Murphy Scholars. His support is part of URI’s Making a Difference Campaign.

These students are recruited from URI’s Talent Development Program, which provides an opportunity to students of color and students from disadvantaged backgrounds to attend the University.

Murphy Scholars work as academic mentors in a classroom or one-on-one at Hope High, becoming role models as well as cheerleaders for the students. In return, they receive a $250 honorarium, a $100 gas card, and three credits in political science.

“When I learned what Murphy Scholars were all about, I wanted to be one,” says URI student Robin Covington who has been on her own since she was 17. In addition to going to school full time and earning straight A’s, she works 30 hours a week at Bank of America.

“These are the kids that have often been swept under the rug and forgotten. When they see a minority from the inner city such as myself who is willing to help them and wants to see them succeed, it lets them know that’s it’s possible.

“Some students have no father, or someone on drugs or in prison,” Covington says. “I tell them to leave their problems behind. You have to make yourself. You can get caught up with the streets, TV, drugs, and forget who you are and what you want. I show them there are options beyond high school.”

Carissa Hie enjoys being a Murphy Scholar. “I’m getting credits for something I love,” she says. If she hadn’t been sick so often as a child, in and out of hospitals with ear infections, strep throat, and the like, she might be pursuing a teaching degree. Instead, the microbiology student’s goal is to earn a medical degree and become a pediatrician.

The oldest of six children, Hie works three days at a Family Dollar store in Providence and at the Memorial Union Box Office. The Murphy scholarship has allowed her to cut her third job, giving her more time to focus on her science courses.

She helps with the Hope High School “Future Forward” program, assisting students with their personal statement for their college applications. “The students have been through a lot and I can relate to them,” she says. “I try to make them comfortable…be someone they can trust and talk it out. Then I help them organize what they want to say.”

Michaela Keegan, a 2002 URI graduate, coordinates the Murphy Scholars program at Hope High where she now teaches. A former MTI participant, she understands the value of having college students in the classroom. “Our students really look up to them. I constantly hear them asking the mentors about all aspects of college life and listen to their answers with wide eyes. In addition to having an impact on students’ attitudes about college, as tutors, they are very helpful academically.”

“John has made it possible for MTI to establish a strong presence of URI students not only at Hope High, but throughout the Providence school system,” says Al Killilea, political science professor and founder of the program. “If other successful people would follow John’s example, imagine what could be done to counter our problems in urban education.”

The University’s Making a Difference Campaign, which will be publicly launched in fall 2007, seeks $100 million to recruit and retain outstanding faculty, enhance the student-centered experience, provide undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships, and fund cutting-edge academic and research initiatives.

Murphy Scholars: Part of Larger MTI Outreach Program

Murphy Scholars are part of the University’s Mentor Tutor Internship Program. Known as MTI, the program was initiated in 1998 by political science professor Al Killilea and the South County Coalition Against Racism to see if eight URI students of color could break down racial stereotypes while helping local teen-age students who, feeling isolated, had potential for truancy.

While MTI’s focus has evolved and expanded, it remains committed to recruiting students willing to be an academic mentor, a role model, and a wise friend.

Today, Bridget Schulz coordinates the program, overseeing 130 MTI students, including 10 Murphy Scholars. The students volunteer about 44 hours per semester in K-12 classrooms in 30 different schools as far south as Matunuck and as far north as Woonsocket and at the Rhode Island Family Literacy Initiative in Providence. The student-mentors come from a variety of disciplines, meet weekly, reflect on their experiences by keeping a journal, write two papers, complete a final project and earn three political science credits.

Pictured above
Some Murphy Scholars recently met their benefactor John Murphy. The scholars are (from left) Robin Ashley Covington,Christen Makram, Michelle Gomes, Elsiecheyenne Mate, Samantha Arias, and Ashley Paiva. URI photo by Nora Lewis.