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What would Liz do?

Melissa Murphy had a long list of excuses why she wasn’t college material. She was too old. She wasn’t smart enough. She lived too far away. It cost too much. But … she had one really compelling reason why she needed to be: her daughter, Mya.

“I never wanted to hear my daughter say she didn’t need to go to college because her mom didn’t,” said Melissa. “So with help from my mom, who had graduated from CCC in 2005 at 52, I decided to try.”

It sounds so simple, but for a 32-year-old single mom, it was scary, and Melissa is 100 percent convinced that she succeeded because of the long list of exceptional individuals she met at Corning Community College. Number one on that list: Liz Lambert, who understood Melissa’s need to use time effectively. Liz, who was the Director of Student Success, helped Melissa schedule classes so that she maximized time on campus, time for studying, and time with her daughter.

“Liz also hand-picked professors for me,” said Melissa, who to this day tackles problems asking herself what would Liz do. “Liz put me in classes with professors who would not go easy on me because of my other responsibilities, but professors who would inspire me to keep going. People like Dr. Christine Atkins. I remember getting so angry with her. It felt like she was holding me to a higher standard, but she knew I could do it. She knew it before I did and after six-and-a-half years of college, Dr. Atkins still remained one of my favorite professors." 

And the list goes on. Professor Marvin Bunch and Professor Howard Jitomer were “walking encyclopedias” who inspired new interests for Melissa. Professor Edward Dougherty listened to poetry that “probably offended his senses.” Professor Byron Shaw put graduate school within financial reach with what is a frequently little-known fact: a graduate assistantship can help pay for graduate school. Others, like Dr. Richard Quest, Kim Koval, Julie Wray, Karen Poole, and Cindy Smith in Financial Aid were all people at CCC who, according to Melissa, helped her succeed and become the person she is today. Finally, Professor Kathleen Speicher “thought enough of me and knew me well enough to recommend a bachelor’s degree program that was probably the only way I could continue my education as a single mother.”  

Melissa graduated from CCC in 2009, with an associate degree in Humanities and Social Sciences. She was the commencement speaker, recipient of a SUNY Chancellor's Award, and received international recognition for her role as the 2008-09 Phi Theta Kappa New York Regional President. Melissa went on to earn her bachelor’s degree at Wilson College, through the Women with Children program, where she and her daughter both walked across the commencement stage in cap and gown. From there, Melissa did secure a graduate assistantship, which helped her earn her master’s degree in College Student Personnel at Shippensburg University in 2013 and helped her secure her present position: she is employed as Shippensburg University’s Interim Director of the Testing Center and doing her best to serve students as well as Liz served her. In her office, she has a shelf dedicated to her time at CCC. It holds her diploma, her awards, pictures, and newspaper clippings.

Arguably, though, the most precious take-away cannot be displayed on a shelf. At CCC, with the help of those “exceptional individuals,” Melissa found an invisible, albeit powerful, inner strength that is serving her – and Mya – very well.