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Single mother follows in her mom’s CCRI footsteps
Student Success Story, May 18, 2012
Melissa Murphy of Warwick knew that if her mother could do it, she could, too.
Murphy’s single mother attended the Community College of Rhode Island and became a respiratory therapist while raising five children.
Murphy, 27, is a single mother of two who graduated from the CCRI Nursing program May 18. She spent three-and-a-half years earning her degree while dealing with job loss, day care and the demands of studying and attending classes while raising her two daughters.
“It’s hard not to disrupt their lives while pushing mine forward,” Murphy said. “College is hard work but I never want to portray it to [my daughters] as a negative experience and, hopefully, they won’t have the same challenges I do.”
Murphy knows that her daughters, now ages 7 and 5, will be going to college themselves one day: “They have no choice,” she said. “That’s just a fact.”
It was anything but a fact for Murphy. When she graduated from Mt. Pleasant High School she was still a young single woman and able to pay her bills without a college education. She registered for classes at CCRI in 2002 but didn’t follow through because college did not seem like a necessity at the time.
“When I graduated, college was never pushed on me,” she said. “It was an accomplishment if you just graduated from high school.”
Everything changed when she became a mother.
Needing to do whatever it took to support her children, she was working as a manager at a fast food restaurant and sending her daughters to day care with help from the state. In 2008, the law changed and Murphy found herself in a strange legal limbo – making too much money to be eligible for assistance but not enough to actually afford day care on her own. It was finally time to go to college.
Murphy spent the summer of 2008 taking developmental math and English courses before enrolling full time at CCRI that fall. She joined the Access to Opportunity program, which assists first-generation, low-income or disabled students.
“I met [Associate Director] Eric [Klein] at Access and he guided me,” Murphy said.
She added, “People here want you to succeed. They do what they can to make that happen but nobody can make you do it. You have to do it yourself.”
Throughout her school career, Murphy tried to schedule all of her classes on two or three days so she could work during the rest of the week. She held a few different jobs over the years and was laid off twice when the work dried up or employers would not accommodate her school schedule.
Murphy said her family was always there to help her with favors large and small, from baby-sitting her daughters to letting her borrow a laptop.
In addition to her classes, Murphy took on the extra responsibility of coaching her daughters’ soccer and softball teams, which allowed them to participate for free. This was the only way Murphy could fit sports into the household budget.
Murphy also baby-sits the four foster children of her mother and aunt on the weekends when they have to work, in addition to watching her own daughters.
“[My family has] helped me out so much with my daughters that it’s the right thing to do,” Murphy said. “But have you ever tried to baby-sit six children and read a book?”
Murphy has learned to take her textbooks with her wherever she goes and turn any spare moments into study time. She has also found a few special fellow students willing to come to her home to study with her.
“Not a lot of people are willing to study with children around,” Murphy said, “so when someone is, you take advantage.”
Given how often she cares for children during her daily life, it’s no surprise that Murphy has settled on the nursing specialty of pediatric critical care. She decided to pursue it early on during her hospital rotations for the Nursing program.
“Kids are inspiring,” Murphy said. “Their resilience is amazing. They can be in so much pain and they still want to play. When adults are in pain all they want to do is lie in bed.”
Murphy hopes to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing one day but will work for a few years first so she can to put her family on better financial footing.
“I can’t wait for the day when all I have to worry about is work, not the next test,” Murphy said.
For other people who may be thinking about attending school but have family commitments, Murphy said: “I just want them to realize that it’s definitely doable and CCRI is the best place to do it.”