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Science Mentors Inspired Her

Cortland Junior Magaret Murphy in class
Margaret Murphy tinkers with instruments formerly used in physics education.

Growing up in Oriskany, N.Y, SUNY Cortland junior Margaret Murphy always knew she wanted to pursue a career in teaching. During her senior year of high school, one enthusiastic educator also helped her discover a passion for physics in a most fascinating way.

“I can remember this one experiment,” said Murphy. “My teacher, Mrs. (Teresa) Mann, laid her body across a full bed of nails as another teacher placed a cement block on her stomach and then proceeded to hit it with a sledgehammer. My class sat there in awe; the concrete broke but my teacher didn’t get hurt.”

Mrs. Mann’s ability to teach a complex principle in an entertaining fashion remained with Murphy.

“This kind of teaching inspires students and makes learning interesting,” said Murphy. “I hope to do that as a teacher.”

As an adolescent education major with a concentration in physics and a 4.03 GPA, Murphy has found that same teacher connection here at Cortland.

“I love that the physics department is small and the professors know you on a first-name basis,” said Murphy. “For one of the student’s birthdays last semester, our physics professor, Brice Smith, actually brought in cupcakes. It’s really cool that they know us enough to be personable with us.”

Smith, associate professor and chair of the Physics Department as well as the Physics Club advisor, has made learning memorable in and out of his classroom.

 “The way he relays topics is really helpful,” said Murphy. “Our club went to Darien Lake last weekend to talk about the relationships between physics and roller coasters; it was a lot of fun and it makes sense.”

Among the top five percent of her freshman and sophomore class and president of the Physics Club, Murphy is one of 16 SUNY Cortland students who received the Robert Noyce Teachers Scholarship this fall, awarding undergraduates $12,500 and graduate students $15,000.

The scholarship seeks to encourage talented science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) majors and professionals to become K-12 mathematics and science teachers. Recipients agree to teach two years in an underprivileged or high-need school post graduation.

“Many of the high schools in my area are considered underprivileged because of the income of the area,” said Murphy. “Now I’ll be able to give back to a school like my own that taught me so much.”

Murphy aspires to pursue her teaching career in upstate New York while coaching volleyball or softball. Like her own mentors, she hopes her lessons will make a lifelong impression, too. 

Written by Katelyn J. Repetto, Public Relations Office student intern