Theresa Murphy and Ivy Tech Community College go together like bagels and lox.
As executive director of the Peru Instructional Site, Murphy brings extensive job experience to what Ivy Tech’s website says is “the state’s largest public postsecondary institution and the nation’s largest singly accredited statewide community college system.”
When I arrived in Indiana in 1964, Ivy Tech was a narrowly defined vocational institution. Now, according to the website, Ivy Tech’s mission is to prepare Indiana residents “to learn, live and work in a diverse and globally competitive environment by delivering professional, technical, transfer and lifelong education.”
Murphy, 44, is perfectly suited to carry out that mission. She has been working as executive director in Peru since 2009, having started with Ivy Tech in Kokomo in 2000.
“My professional path leading to my current position has not been a straight one,” she says. “But I do believe that each position in which I’ve worked has helped me end up here. …
“Although I did not know this is where I would end up when I started my professional career, I know that I am where I belong. I am passionate about my work and the mission of Ivy Tech Community College.”
Born Theresa Lovegrove in Manassas, Va., while her father, Jeff, was in the Army, Murphy was just 3 months old when her family returned to its roots in Kokomo. Brother Chris, now 42, and sister Angie, now 36, would come along.
Her father was a skilled tradesman, working in tool and die at Delco/GM/Delphi in Kokomo. Her mother, Pam, toiled on the assembly lines there and later in an engineering office.
Murphy graduated from Northwestern Junior-Senior High School in 1987 and enrolled at Ball State. After her freshman year, she started working — as office manager at Carriage Manor Flowers and Gifts in Kokomo — and hasn’t stopped.
While earning a bachelor of science degree in psychology with a minor in business at BSU, she worked as a research assistant for two of her professors.
After graduating, Murphy took an array of jobs, including office management at a realty, behavioral assistant at St. Joseph Hospital in Kokomo, program coordinator for the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA), educational development counselor for the UAW/GM, and multiple positions at Ivy Tech.
While working full time she obtained a master of science degree in human resource development at Indiana State in 2003.
All this as a divorced single mother.
“I do understand some of the challenges that our students face while trying to obtain a degree while also managing their busy lives,” Murphy says.
She also understands Ivy Tech’s image is changing — for the better, she believes.
“Having a local presence has helped improve our image in the Peru community and helped those who may not have known about us get to know us better,” she says. “Our ability to offer a vast array of transferable courses and degrees to the four-year state institutions has helped strengthen our image as a community college.
“I think there is still a misconception about transferability, because there are people who, in the past, have had difficulties with transfer.”
Murphy encourages students to make known their interest in transferring early on. That helps students to connect with their chosen institutions. And it helps Ivy Tech advisers provide accurate information when students select classes.
Transferable classes in liberal arts and nursing have the highest enrollment in Peru, Murphy said.
Ivy Tech is still known for its technical training and nursing programs, Murphy said, adding she thinks that’s a plus.
But Ivy Tech has been diversifying at a steady pace.
Two new programs were added this fall in Peru: culinary courses leading to a culinarian certificate, and an associate of nursing program. A newly equipped TKC Culinary Arts lab has been funded and named by the donor, Ken Licklider of Vohne Liche Kennels. The nursing program has received a “generous donation” from the Dukes Healthcare Foundation.
The nursing and culinary certificates have expanded the number of courses in Peru, which allows students to get their credentials without leaving town, Murphy noted.
Asked if there are more plans for expansion in Peru, both physically and in the number/kinds of classes offered, Murphy responded:
“We try to keep options for expansion at the forefront of our minds. We have experienced a 60 percent enrollment increase since we opened in the fall of 2006. However, because we are the sole occupants of the building now, the classroom space we have is adequate to meet our current needs.
“Our goal is to grow enrollment, and, as that happens, we may have to look at options for additional physical space. We have made considerable adjustments to the classes offered and will continue to do so based on student needs and enrollment needs.”
Murphy believes enrollment at the Peru site will continue to grow as Miami County works to increase the number of residents who have obtained a post-high school credential, be it a certification or a two-year degree or higher.
“We are working with area high schools, local business and industry, and the community to move this needle by participating in the Miami County College and Career Success Coalition,” Murphy said.
“Our goal is to continue reaching out to those in the community who do not have a post-high school credential to encourage them to take that next educational step.”
Taking that educational step at Ivy Tech can mean a significantly lighter financial obligation.
Tuition at Ivy Tech runs approximately $3,500 a year, compared to four-year state institutions where tuition, room and board averages $18,000 a year.
The affordable tuition is a factor in making Ivy Tech’s future look bright, Murphy said.
“We provide a quality higher education option to students, both traditional and non-traditional, for whom cost and accessibility are factors they must consider when choosing their post-secondary institution.”
The Peru site’s budget is 2.5 percent of the Kokomo Region’s budget, Murphy said. The Region’s budget is financed by enrollment and state funds. The exact percentage contributed by each varies, depending on state funding allocations and total enrollment.
The greatest expense in both Peru and the Region is personnel costs — part-time and full-time faculty and staff, Murphy said.
There are two full-time faculty members in Peru, both in the nursing program. Most classes are staffed by adjunct faculty in Peru, although some are taught by full-time faculty members from other campuses.
In all, the Region employs 70 full-time and 250 adjunct faculty members.
Working with faculty is one part of Murphy’s “average day,” which, in reality, doesn’t exist.
She also spends time with students, attends meetings with college and community members (which involves serving on committees), and deals with staff and planning issues.
Asked what kind of feedback she is getting from students, Murphy responded:
“Most of [what] we hear is very positive. I am certain that we have students who are pursuing post-secondary education that they would not have been able to do so if Ivy Tech did not have a physical presence in Peru. We have heard students tell this story time and again.”
As in any institution, business or organization, there are complaints, but Murphy said she doesn’t hear many from either students or members in the community.
Compliments offset complaints.
“I have received compliments about the work I’ve done here in Peru,” Murphy said. “My staff gets compliments for the work they do with our students every day. Affirmation, especially when it’s coming from a student who has achieved a milestone, is a great reward for the work we do. That’s why we’re here, and it means a lot to us to be able to share in their successes.”
Community involvement plays a role in her role. She is active in the Peru Rotary Club, serves on the board of the United Way of Miami County, and is vice president for special events as a board member of Miami County Chamber of Commerce.
Her full professional life is complemented by a full personal life.
She attends St. Patrick Parish in Kokomo, where she has been a member her entire life. She’s involved in music ministry and other activities there.
For leisure, she likes to read and travel with her husband, Brad, 42, projector engineer, estimator for Quality Plumbing and Heating in the company’s Kokomo office.
She also enjoys time with her children, Kelsey Richey, who’s attending Ivy Tech in Kokomo and will transfer to Indiana University Kokomo next fall, and Sydney Murphy, a student at Central Middle School in Kokomo.
Murphy is still in school, too.
She recently started work on a doctoral degree in educational leadership.
“I believe that working in higher education is my vocation,” Murphy said, “and I look forward to bettering myself through the educational process so that I can improve my ability to serve students, my staff and my community through my leadership position at Ivy Tech.”
Not to mention, setting an example for the people she serves.
Ray Moscowitz of Bloomington is a retired newspaper executive and former publisher of the Peru Tribune. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.