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The First Lady

Jeanne Murphy discusses her transition to Nicholls

By Sheyla Sicily
On February 13, 2014

For the past week, the presidential residence has been buzzing with activity as University President Bruce Murphy and his wife, Jeanne, have finished moving in to their new home in Thibodaux.
Even before Bruce was elected President, his wife did extensive research on Nicholls and the surrounding area. When the couple visited Nicholls for the first time during the interview process, Jeanne described the city and the University as "a little jewel box just sitting in the middle of Thibodaux."
Since then, the Murphy's have had more time to get to know the campus.
"We have been here for about a month, and it's been wonderful," she said. "Over the snow day, Dr. Murphy and I went to the dining facility, and it was really fun. "The food was great. People were in there just laughing so hard that I couldn't stop laughing myself. It was contagious."
Although her time here has been somewhat brief, Murphy already has an idea of what role she would like to play in the community.
"I would like to get involved as much as I can with the community, the link with the community and the state to support and advance Nicholls as a bigger, better, faster, higher university over time," she said. "I hope to do anything I can to promote Nicholls and be a good ambassador and to keep growth going in the right direction is my personal hope for my future here."
She would also like to form a bond with students, saying, "I would like to be their biggest cheerleader, helping in any of the clubs and organizations. Dr. Murphy and I plan to have groups and organizations over here once we are finally set up to enjoy good food and fellowship, have students comfortable in the house and maybe gain a sense of some possibility for their own careers after getting to know us would be very rewarding."
Murphy has not forgotten about her time as a student and relates to the struggles many students face.
"I have been down the same road as a student myself. I put myself through graduate school, and I know how it is to be broke and struggling, looking around for a boyfriend who is going to like me. How do I fit in? I have gone through those same growing pains, and when I see younger people, I think 'maybe I could be of some support.'"
During her quest to become integrated in the community, Murphy has been impressed with the nature of people in her new home.
She has also developed a love for Cajun music and food.
"At one of our events, we made a playlist with Zydeco, country, rock and hip hop, but all of it sounds like it's from this area. It's very fun. As soon as you put on the music, you just want to get around."
One particular Cajun dish that made an impact on Murphy was grits and grillades, of which she said, "I'm sure it was probably death to my arteries, but it was really tasty."
Her new love for Cajun culture has her looking forward to events like crawfish boils, Crawfish Day and Athletic Seafood Day, all of which will offer more exposure to the Cajun culture. She has also been impressed by the growth of the gulf region and would like to couple this advancement by helping students transition to the workplace.
Murphy's desire to help others is not a new feeling for her. She was on the Board of Directors of the United States Olympics, and she is a retired Colonel who spent ten years as an army nurse in burn care, Intensive Care Unit, and Critical Care Unit.
As a nurse, she began working in the army burn unit in Fort Sam Houston, which was the only burn unit in the country. Patients from that region of the country were sent to that facility for treatment with all types of burns. Murphy describes the environment as very stressful as she would sometimes work shifts that could be up to 10 hours long, all while being exposed to a lot of grief.
Even though her already hectic schedule was physically and emotionally draining, Murphy did not allow herself to procrastinate. "I kept telling myself, 'You are only going to be this young and this strong now. I can't put it off.'"
As a way to distract herself from the stressful job, she began training for the U.S. Modern Pentathlon where she was the first woman ever to be selected to the team in 1975. She, along with many others, also campaigned for 25 years to have the pentathlon included in the Olympics, and it was finally added to the Olympic program in 2000.
It was also important for her to keep her to focus on her goals. "People knew I was doing it because I had a goal. I thought, 'Maybe this would be a good thing, if I could be the first woman and open the door for others.' Once one woman gets a foot in the door, it's easier and it helps set a standard. It's a good feeling to know that you're able to gain some accessibility for others."
Her experience in the military eventually got Murphy to the Pentagon where she was assigned a project by the Department of Defense to try to get people healthier. As fate would have it, Bruce Murphy's office was also assigned to this project, as his office was in charge of putting out policies while her office was in charge of medical and healthcare workups for pilot testing.
According to Murphy, she and her future husband "just meshed," and they continued to work together on other endeavors.
"We ended up doing many projects together, trying to put a lot of public policies in place," she said. "Never fight working late: you never know what's going to happen."
With all of her accomplishments, Murphy offers a unique perspective for students, saying, "Keep high aspirations. I may be one person, but there are millions of people around like the professors here, who are just. Everyone's got unique accomplishments. You just have to get around to know them."
Murphy further encourages students. "Do not lower your standards or your sights, even if you want to be president or a foreign service ambassador to a country, that is not outlandish at all. That stuff happens all the time. If people see you working hard, asking questions and trying to learn, you will be surprised where it takes you."
She encourages students to volunteer and become involved in their community.
"Try to join at least one club or extracurricular," she said. "It doesn't have to be a sport, just whatever you enjoy. It's such a break to clear your head. It changes your perspective and you're not drilling all of the time on the books, the studying or worrying about tests or jobs."
Murphy accepts that helping others has been a big part of her life saying, "I think my whole life has been based on volunteering."

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