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John Murphy with Murphy Scholars from left, Robin Covington, Christen Makram, Michelle Gomes, Elsiecheyenne Mate, Samantha Arias, and Ashley Paiva.

Murphy Scholars Give Hope

A son of Irish immigrants, John Murphy, Hon ’05, grew up in the Fox Point section of Providence. His father died when he was just 15 months old, forcing his widowed mother to often work three jobs to provide for John and his older brother, Jeremiah.

John graduated from Hope High School and after serving in the U.S. Army in Korea, went to work in the consumer finance industry. He became successful combining his acumen in finance, real estate, and insurance.

Today, he is founder, president, and CEO of Home Loan Investment Bank, headquartered in Warwick. The bank employs about 300 people and provides mortgage-lending services in more than 30 states from coast to coast.

“I’ve led a blessed life. Grace and I have four grown sons and two granddaughters,” says Murphy who has supported numerous charities throughout his life.

Yet as high on the corporate ladder as Murphy climbed, he never lost sight of where he came from. “I was surrounded by poverty; I witnessed the struggle,” he recalls. “Education is the key to success.”

Although higher education was not an option for Murphy himself, he now encourages students at his former high school to attend college. “I want to shine attention on them,” he says, “to let them know that they are important. I don’t want them to get lost or feel hopeless. I want them to know that I have walked in their shoes. I am one of them.”

To do that, he has established the John Murphy MTI Fund to support URI’s Mentor Tutor Internship Program. To date, Murphy has provided the fund, which sponsors 10 URI students known as Murphy Scholars, with more than $100,000.

The students are recruited from URI’s Special Programs for Talent Development, which provide opportunities for students of color and students from disadvantaged backgrounds to attend the University. 

Murphy Scholars work as academic mentors in a classroom or one-on-one at Hope High School in Providence, becoming role models as well as cheerleaders for the high school students. In return, they receive a $250 honorarium, a $100 gas card, and three credits in political science.

“When I learned what Murphy Scholars were all about, I wanted to be one,” says URI student Robin Covington, who has been on her own since she was 17. In addition to going to school full time and earning straight A’s, she works 30 hours a week at Bank of America.

“These are the kids who have often been swept under the rug and forgotten. When they see a minority from the inner city such as myself who is willing to help them and wants to see them succeed, it lets them know that’s it’s possible.

“Some students have no father, or one who is on drugs or in prison,” Covington adds. “I tell them to leave their problems behind. You have to make yourself. You can get caught up with the streets, TV, drugs, and forget who you are and what you want. I show them there are options beyond high school.”

Carissa Hie enjoys being a Murphy Scholar. “I’m getting credits for something I love,” she says. If she hadn’t been sick so often as a child, in and out of hospitals with ear infections, strep throat, and the like, she might be pursuing a teaching degree. Instead, the microbiology student’s goal is to earn a medical degree and become a pediatrician.

The oldest of six children, Hie works three days a week at a Family Dollar store in Providence and at the Memorial Union Box Office. The Murphy Scholarship has allowed her to cut her third job, giving her more time to focus on her science courses.

She helps with the Hope High School “Future Forward” program, assisting students with their personal statement for their college applications. “The students have been through a lot, and I can relate to them,” she says. “I try to make them comfortable—be someone they can trust and talk to. Then I help them organize what they want to say.”

Michaela Keegan ’02 coordinates the Murphy Scholars program at Hope High where she now teaches. A former MTI participant, she understands the value of having college students in the classroom. “Our students really look up to them. I constantly hear them asking the mentors about all aspects of college life and listening to their answers with wide eyes. In addition to having an impact on students’ attitudes about college, as tutors, they are very helpful academically.”

“John has made it possible for MTI to establish a strong presence of URI students not only at Hope High, but throughout the Providence school system,” says Al Killilea, political science professor and founder of the program. “If other successful people would follow John’s example, imagine what could be done to counter our problems in urban education.”

- By Jan Wenzel ’87

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“URI changed my life forever, and it has a deep, deep, deep place in my heart.”- Christiane Amanpour, CNN International Correspondent

Journalism Program Attracts More Gifts

CNN’s Christiane Amanpour among donors

Journalism is hot at the University of Rhode Island. Here’s the proof: Five years ago there were 120 students majoring in the Fourth Estate. Today that number has doubled to 240.

The rate of donations to URI’s Making A Difference Campaign for the Journalism Department is also sizzling. One donor, recognizable around the world, is CNN international correspondent Christiane Amanpour ’83, Hon. ’95. She recently donated $50,000 to fund an endowed annual speaker series that will help the University bring well-respected professional journalists to campus.

“URI changed my life forever, and it has a deep, deep, deep place in my heart,” the famous journalist told a gathering designed to build support for the journalism program last spring.

URI is the only Rhode Island institution to offer a journalism degree. In addition, the University serves as headquarters for the Rhode Island Press Association, which partners annually with the Journalism Department to induct distinguished broadcasters, editors, and reporters into the Journalism Hall of Fame. In addition, the department and the press association annually co-host a Journalism Day, that focuses on relevant topics confronted daily by members of the media.

The Rhode Island Press Association donated $3,000 to establish three journalism funds in 2005: The URI Journalism Student Scholarship, the URI Journalism Speaker Series, and the URI Journalism Visiting Lecturer Fund, which helps support adjunct professors who teach a variety of specialty courses in such areas as sports or business reporting or photojournalism.

“URI is the training ground for so many of the interns and employees at publications around the state, so we felt it was important for the press association to support the Journalism Department not just morally, but financially,” explains Sheila Mullowney, president of the Rhode Island Press Association and executive editor of The Newport Daily News and Newport Life magazine.

“With the increased number of students comes an increased number of students who need financial help. Fortunately, while the numbers of students has swelled, so has the number of donors,” says Linda Lotridge Levin, chair of the Journalism Department.

Levin doesn’t just talk the talk. In addition to matching the press association’s gift, she and her husband, Len, donated $25,000 to establish a need-based scholarship for journalism students. “I want to give back to the University,” Levin explains. “Perhaps our donation will encourage others to give.”

It has. “The Levins’ gift has made it easier for me to rally others,” says John Howell, the fundraising chair of the Rhode Island Press Association’s URI journalism funds. Howell hopes to raise $125,000 in five years to fully fund the endowments.

As president and publisher of Beacon Communications, Howell himself pledged $10,000. Beacon Communications publishes The Warwick Beacon, The Cranston Herald, The Johnston Sun Rise, and Prime Time. “I believe in this field. We need journalists who are able to put in a story into context and research accurately. I tell publishers if the Levins and Christiane Amanpour believe in the University, you should too! Donating is catchy and it helps elevate URI’s visibility.”

Howell’s encouragement has worked. The Edward A. Sherman Publishing Co., publishers of The Newport Daily News, Mercury and Newport Life magazine pledged $5,000. Matt Hayes of the East Bay Newspapers also pledged $5,000

The Rhode Island Broadcaster’s Association also donated $5,000 to the URI Journalism Scholarship Fund. “Rhode Island’s radio and television stations have benefited from the talents of many URI graduates throughout the years,” says Barbara Haynes, president of the association and general manager of Citadel Broadcasting in Providence. “It is very appropriate that we direct some of our scholarship funds to students pursuing journalism degrees at URI.”

Mary Lyons, M.A. ’67, Ph.D. ’82, recently added a generous gift to the Bill Parillo ’63 Memorial Journalism Scholarship, an endowment created in memory of her late husband, a well-respected sports reporter for The Providence Journal.

- By Jan Wenzel ’87

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