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Winner goes from 'troubled' to A's

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By Highlands University

Sean Murphy didn’t know he’d receive New Mexico Highlands’ Student of the Year award. But, frankly, he wasn’t surprised either. And neither were the 50 some students who cheered him on at this year’s Student Support Services award banquet.

During his time at Highlands, Murphy has collected awards and accolades like a blockbuster film, including four Academic Excellence Awards, the Dr. Robert Amai Outstanding Achievement in General Chemistry Award and a listing in Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges.

Murphy, from Santa Fe, will graduate this semester summa cum laude with a cumulative 4.0 grade point average before he begins a doctorate program in chemistry at the University of Notre Dame.

“Notre Dame offered me a full-tuition scholarship and a guaranteed assistantship around $22,000 a year,” Murphy said. “It’s quite a blessing.”

While Murphy’s academic record shines, he wasn’t always the model student.

“Early on in high school, I had some trouble,” Murphy said. “I was kind of a troubled teen and went to a boarding school for seven months. They were good people, and I thank God they helped me get my life back on track. My last three years of high school, my parents put a big emphasis on studies, and I took it seriously.”

Murphy earned straight A’s during his last three years of high school, which opened the doors to many possibilities.

“I considered the University of New Mexico and some smaller, private schools in Texas and Colorado,” he said. “I really liked Highlands when I came for a visit. It was close to home, and it was the most affordable — that was a deciding factor.”

Perhaps it was Murphy’s memories of early high school and the people who helped redirect his life that led him to becoming one of the most popular tutors in New Mexico Highlands’ Student Support Services.

“It’s more than just helping people learn,” said Murphy, who has logged in more tutoring contact hours than any other tutor this year. “It’s seeing them become independent learners. It’s good for my learning as well, and it’s nice to meet people.”

Ron Garcia, the tutor coordinator for Highlands’ Student Support Services, said Murphy’s personality and skills helped grow the tutoring program.

“He’s just a very nice guy, and very patient and humble,” Garcia said. “Around campus, people know him as a friendly, approachable guy.

“He engages his students in their learning,” Garcia said. “He’s not one to just sit there and explain. He likes to ask questions to get students to talk more. The more students can explain what they’re learning, it helps them process their own learning.”

Murphy said his experience as a tutor helped him develop plans for his future.

“My thinking now is, after I finish my doctorate, possibly work in a lab or industry for a while, then eventually, I’d like to become a professor. I like helping people learn.

“I would like to thank God for the wherewithal to have success in school,” Murphy said. “It has become a habit for me to do my best and learn as much as I can in each of my classes. I focus more on learning than on making an A.”