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Alumni in Action: Stephanie Murphy

Alumni in Action logoWhen she graduated from Smoky Hill High School in 1997, Stephanie Murphy thought she wanted to be a forensic psychologist.

“I was into crime shows and figuring out who did it,” she recalls.” But I really had no idea what a forensic psychologist did, or what the steps were to become a forensic psychologist. And when I realized it involved blood, it totally changed my mind.”

That’s just one of the funny stories she sometimes tells the students she works with in her position as Director of Capstone Programming for Junior Achievement Rocky Mountain. JA is a 105-year-old non-profit organization that offers programs in financial literacy, work readiness, and entrepreneurship to K-12 students in Colorado and around the world.

“It’s very meaningful to me when I can tell my story about my experience,” she said.

Stephanie Murphy in SHHS Color GuardMurphy grew up in the Cherry Creek School District. She attended Mission Viejo Elementary in the 1980’s when the school was on a four-track calendar and loved going to school year-round. Next came Laredo Middle School, where she experienced an “amazing” amount of creativity. Finally, she reached Smoky Hill High School, where she fell in love with marching band and color guard.

“In color guard, you have to know where everybody’s at, so you don’t hit them on top of the head with a flag,” she laughed.

Color guard and marching band taught Murphy the importance of connections and being part of something bigger than herself.

“It was that time of growing relationships and having friends throughout the entire community of band, someone to lean on or talk to and just to have a really fun four years of high school,” she said. “Now when I look back, I realize that if I hadn’t been in band in high school, I wouldn’t be able to grow the strong relationships that I now have with colleagues.”

Murphy also tells students that she didn’t take as much advantage of other high school resources – such as the Counseling Department and Career and Technical Education (CTE) - as she should have. If she had, she believes she might have had a better plan when she headed off to Mesa State University after graduation.

“Lesson learned. Sometimes college is not the answer,” Murphy said. “I tell students ‘Don’t spend money on that if you don’t know what you want to do.’”

Murphy left Mesa State after two years and went to work for CitiGroup Diner’s Club.

“I was fine working full-time and going to school part-time,” she explained. She eventually earned a degree in psychology from Metropolitan State University, thinking she might want to become a teacher or a counselor. However, during her time at CitiBank, she began volunteering for Junior Achievement every day of the week during her lunch hour, as a way to give back to her community. Before she knew it, she had worked with 1,500 students and was recognized as a member of JA’s Apple Society.

Stephanie MurphyStephanie Murphy at Junior Achievement“One day I got a call from the Junior Achievement vice president of programs who said ‘Hey, instead of volunteering, how about you come and work for us?’ So, 16 years ago, that’s how I got into JA,” Murphy said.

She became an education manager, marketing programs to educators, encouraging them to use the variety of free classroom programs JA provides to elementary, middle, and high schools. Then she moved into her current position, managing programs offered at JA that give students real-world, hands-on experiences. Those include the JA Dream Accelerator, where students can explore their passions and possible careers, and JA Finance Park, a reality-based decision-making process involving banking, budgeting, credit, debt, and more.

“It’s never too early to learn good financial habits,” Murphy said. “If you practice these things now, it can only benefit you in the future.”

Murphy served on the Innovation Committee that helped develop the Business Pathway at the Cherry Creek Innovation Campus, a state-of-the-art college and career preparation facility that wasn’t available when Murphy was a CCSD student.

“I would definitely take advantage of that campus if I was in school now,” she said. In fact, Murphy encourages the students she works with to investigate all the opportunities that are available to them, including their counselors, Career and Technical Education programs, apprenticeships, internships, and more.

“I tell them to talk to adults, ask questions, lean on CTE, visit with your counselors. Take advantage of opportunities where you can get into a career that you may be interested in.”

She believes that can help students discover their passions and identify a Pathway of Purpose that will lead them to a career they will enjoy as much as she enjoys hers.

Posted 3/13/2024.