TJC will be among campuses across the nation participating in the 2nd annual First-Generation College Celebration on Thursday, Nov. 8.
The date marks the 53rd anniversary of the signing of the 1965 Higher Education Act (HEA), which has helped millions of poor students become the first members of their families to earn college degrees.
TJC’s TRIO program will have a discussion and free food from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., in front of Rogers Student Center on the TJC main campus. TRIO students be on hand to share their stories, as many of them are the first in their family to attend college.
The event is intended to bring campus and community awareness to the prevalence of first-generation students currently enrolled in higher education and the outstanding contributions these students are making to society.
TJC’s Student Support Services Program and Educational Opportunity Center are 100-percent federally funded by the U.S. Department of Education.
• Student Support Services annually serves 200 participants who are from low-income backgrounds, first-generation college students and/or participants with disabling conditions.
• The Educational Opportunity Center annually serves 1000 participants from Cherokee, Smith, Van Zandt and Wood Counties in Texas who are non-traditional (19 years or older), low-income, first-generation college students, and/or participants with disabling conditions.
‘Education is key’
As part of the national celebration, institutions are also recognizing first-generation faculty and staff as well as those who serve as outstanding advocates for the first-generation community.
Dr. Ken Murphy, dean of the TJC School of Engineering, Mathematics and Sciences, was the first member of his family to earn a college degree.
“My dad was awarded a football scholarship to Oklahoma State University, but he went to work in the oil field instead,” he said. “He knew the importance of higher education because he missed out on it and he decided I was not going to miss out; and, from the time I was a small child, he told me, ‘You’re going to college if I have to take you to class every day myself. Once you earn a college degree, no one can ever take it away from you. Education is the key.’”
Murphy was born in Longview but his family moved to Louisiana when he was young.
“I went from fifth grade through college in Lafayette, Louisiana,” he said. “I wanted to be a dentist, but I changed my mind and went into business administration when I first went to college.”
After graduating from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette with a Bachelor of Science in business administration in 1970, Murphy joined the U.S. Air Force and spent the next five years as a navigator and instructor for C130 transport and KC135 tanker aircraft.
Following his separation from the U.S. Air Force in 1975, he still had dentistry in mind; so he returned to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and picked up the science courses required to apply to dental school. He graduated from LSU School of Dentistry in 1981 and was a dentist for the next 21 years.
In 2002, he decided to return to his Texas roots.
“The first time I laid eyes on TJC was in fall of 1980,” he said. “I drove past the campus and it really caught my eye. The archways reminded me a lot of my college campus in Lafayette. It was a beautiful college and I always kept it in the back of my mind.”
So, when Murphy returned to Texas, and Tyler specifically, he settled on a teaching job in the TJC biology department.
“I was hired in 2003 to teach anatomy and physiology lecture and labs, then became biology department chair in 2005,” he said. “In 2012, I became the inaugural dean of the School of Engineering, Mathematics and Sciences, in which we have 10 departments.”
Asked about the difference between TJC vs. other institutions, Murphy said it boils down to relationships.
“I think this is a terrific advantage for students to start their college education at TJC,” he said. “I have former students who are now at their four-year institution, and they come back and tell me how much they miss TJC because of the personal attention that they received when they were here.”
He continued, “It seems to me that the students feel like they’re part of the family. I tell them, ‘I’m going to treat you guys just like I treat my children. But that means we’re going to get down to studying and doing the discipline part, too.’”
He also imparts his dad’s wisdom.
“I’ve told my students that I’m the first one in my family to graduate from college,” he said, “and that my dad always told me that the key to success was to get an education.
“To this day, I see how important those words were then. Without an education, I wouldn’t be here at TJC, serving as a dean. My only regret is that I didn’t get here 10 years earlier. I really feel that this is my niche.”