Cumberland University

Stephen T. Murphy (Class of 1999)

Vikki Sallerson, mother-in-law of Award Recipient
Stephen T. Murphy ('99), accepting award on his
behalf with Jonathon Hawkins, Executive Director
for Development & Alumni Relations

What does Cumberland University mean to you and how do you feel about being recognized as the recipient of the 2016 Award of Excellence in Humanities, Education, and the Arts?

Cumberland University was the foundation and jump start for my spiritual, family, and career life. On the career side, the opportunities that are afforded at Cumberland University allow for broad access to a liberal arts education, and as I specialized during my Master's and Doctoral programs I had foundational knowledge across many important content areas and a deep appreciation of the importance of an analytical mind. On the spiritual side, I spent many evenings with my mentor Dr. Fred Heifner discussing philosophy and religion. Dr. Heifner was a key pillar in my decision to accept Jesus into my life as Lord and Savior by learning that it wasn't about what you lost but about what you gain as a Christian and a sharp mind is a great tool to use for Christ – especially in the area of Christian Apologetics. In terms of family life, I met my wife, Taylor (Dever) Murphy at Cumberland University and we had our first son while she finished school and we were live-in resident hall monitors or “parents” at the Cumberland University dorm rooms. Finally, Cumberland University is also extremely special to me because it is where I ultimately finished my basketball career after a childhood of growing up playing basketball in Australia and then transferring to the United States for college.

I am very humbled and honored to recognized as the recipient of this award. Truthfully, I am honored to have even been considered for nomination. My career still feels very young to me and it is hard to believe that I graduated from Cumberland in 1999; it was almost like yesterday. I hope that I continue to honor this award as a husband and parent of four and in my career as a leader in an organization developing educational assessments to help inform student learning and the curriculum and instruction process. I am also thankful for the many people who have helped me along the way and were willing to invest a little in me. Beginning with my parents, who raised me to pursue studies and pushed me when I didn’t want to, my high school teachers and professors at my universities that I have attended, and topping that list is, of course, Dr. Heifner. Finally, my wife has been my consistent and strongest cheerleader, starting out by my side when I first decided to get my Master’s, then onto to my Doctorate, and now in my current role at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in Chicago.

Do you have any special memories or stories about Cumberland that you would like to share?

My most special memory would have to be meeting my wife at Cumberland University. From when I first saw her (she was getting ready for a run as a cross-country runner at Cumberland and I was supposed to be watching film with my basketball team) in the parking lot on campus at Cumberland, to stopping and having a conversation with her on the front steps of Memorial, to then finding when our schedules overlap so that we could chat upstairs on the second and third floors late into the afternoon. In fact, we have taken our kids back to campus and showed them where we met, which was a very cool moment. I also have fond memories of my conversations with Dr. Heifner and Dr. Clair Martin as well as playing basketball, which was highlighted during an end of year dinner when I was fortunate enough to be highly featured in the highlights for that year. Another fond memory was the honor of end of year awards that I received during my graduation year, which included awards in Psychology, History, Anthropology, and the President's Award. Finally, I also remember the support that Taylor and I received from everyone at Cumberland University, professors, administration, and support staff when we were live-in resident hall monitors. It has always been amazing to me that they were willing to provide this opportunity to us at a time when a young family could have most benefited from it.

Tell us about your current and past work experience and how Cumberland may have helped you prepare for success.

After graduating from Cumberland, I went on to obtain my Master's degree in Industrial and Organizational (I/O) Psychology at Middle Tennessee State University. With Master's degree in hand, I first worked at the State of Tennessee in their Personnel Testing division. At the State of Tennessee I had the good fortune of working with a few I/O Psychologists with Doctorate degrees and I began talking with them about potential career options, analyzing what steps they took in their careers. While keeping roots in Lebanon with my family, I worked through my network of contacts from Cumberland University, Middle Tennessee State University, and the State of Tennessee as well as actively participating in many local organizations, I quickly discovered that obtaining a Doctorate degree was ultimately the path I needed to take. I jumped from the State of Tennessee for a short stint at the Personnel Board of Jefferson County in Birmingham, AL before piling everyone into the moving truck and heading to Tulsa, OK working for Hogan Assessment Systems (Hogan). The decision to move to Hogan was spurred by their agreement to support my goal to obtain my Ph.D. in I/O Psychology while working for them. I was accepted into the University of Oklahoma's doctorate program in I/O Psychology and began in August 2004 and continued to work for Hogan at the same time. With another child under the roof, I came to the University of Oklahoma with a very specific focus after the investment I had made investigating career paths and knowing what path would land my in the type of job I wanted. With focused intensity and a hard work ethic, I graduated with my Ph.D. in 3 years and managed to achieve all of my desired goals. As I was graduating from the I/O program, my boss at Hogan was leaving and joining a company called Pearson who was involved in Educational Assessment and wanted me to join him. After talking with him about career paths and understanding the bridge between I/O and Education, the opportunity was the perfect match for the kind of job I was seeking post-Ph.D. So, we packed up and left Norman to return to Tulsa where I began at Pearson as an Associate Research Scientist and within 7 years and through a number of promotions was the Director of Psychometrics for the Educational Assessment division. In 2014, an opportunity arose to expand my tools in educational assessment, and along with changes in education industry, led me to accept a position at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) as the Director of Research and Measurement Services, which is my current role. Throughout my education and work career, the analytical thinking skills I was able to learn at Cumberland, and then integrate into my continued learning and thinking has been very fruitful for my career. The education and self-learning tools I gained at Cumberland and such breadth in my analytical thinking has allowed me to approach problem solving and decision making from many different directions and work through ambiguity. In addition, it becomes the tool that facilitates the availability to learn new information quickly.

What impact do you see Cumberland having?

During my pursuit of advanced education and while at work, I have always felt and as I have talked with others, that obtaining a Liberal Arts degree is an exceptional foundation for those who are interested in more advanced degrees and/or a professional line of work. Not that Cumberland University can only serve well in those two areas, but based on my personal experience I can affirm that the tools I gained while at Cumberland with regard to analytical thinking and problem solving have served me well time and time again. As a I have talked with others about this, they would also agree that a university such as Cumberland University will breed success and that is the impact that I imagine CU having. Moreover, Cumberland University produces thoughtful students with analytical minds that will engage the world and continually develop and grow throughout a lifetime of learning as the more tools you have available to make decisions and solve problems the greater success and impact you will have on society and those around you.