IST alumna blends student experience with industry background in faculty role

Jessica Hallman
June 19, 2019

Editor's note: This story was originally published in the College of Information Sciences and Technology's spring 2019 issue of iConnect magazine, as part of a feature story on College of IST alumni who now serve as members of the faculty in commemoration of the college's 20th anniversary. Watch for more stories to be posted this summer.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Alison Murphy has been deeply involved with the Penn State College of Information Sciences and Technology for nearly two decades.

As a 2004 alumna and a member of the college’s second graduating class, Murphy was instrumental in establishing a number of IST’s clubs. She is one of the original founders of Women in IST and IST Student Government, served as chair for the IST Social Committee, and was involved with getting IST representation in Penn State’s Dance Marathon.

Today, as an assistant teaching professor, Murphy continues to add value to the organizations that enrich the student experience. She serves as adviser to the IST Special Living Option, where she lived as a student when it was known as the IST Interest House. She also holds a leadership role with Penn State Startup Week, recruiting keynote speakers for the college and leading the IdeaMakers Challenge.

While her involvement undoubtedly makes an impact on the students she reaches, she said that the benefits are twofold.

“It keeps me on the pulse of what’s important to students, and helps me connect more closely with them,” she said.

That drive to connect began before she even enrolled in the College of IST. When she discovered the program at Penn State, she was excited to find a place where she could combine her passion for technology with her knack for solving problems.

“Dean [Jim] Thomas was talking about the connection to industry partners and connections in classrooms,” said Murphy. “That impact piece is at the heart of IST and what sets it apart from other colleges.”

Her decision to enroll in the college was further justified soon after she started classes. The college’s emphasis on problem-solving became strongly apparent to her during her first internship, at GlaxoSmithKline.

“One thing that IST taught me is that they don’t always give you answers, but they encourage you to troubleshoot it on your own. [My work on that project] was a reflection of what IST instills in students.” 

— Alison Murphy, class of 2004, assistant teaching professor

In that role, she was tasked with learning Visual Basic to create an app that helps scientists log experiments. The project was intended to take the entire summer, but Murphy completed it in two weeks. She credits the College of IST with giving her the skills to achieve that feat.

“One thing that IST taught me is that they don’t always give you answers, but they encourage you to troubleshoot it on your own,” she said. “[My work on that project] was a reflection of what IST instills in students.”

Those traits further benefited Murphy after graduation, when she was one of 60 students worldwide accepted into Johnson & Johnson’s leadership development program. She then was hired by Johnson & Johnson full time, where she managed projects across a number of industries. In that role, she sometimes encountered frustrated technology users. That motivated Murphy to think about furthering her education, so she could explore ways to improve systems for the end users.

She initially looked into MBA programs, but ultimately decided to go in a different direction — one that led her back to IST.

“I decided it was time to go back and explore this whole area of research,” she said. “Lack of usability is what motivated me.”

In 2010, she returned to Penn State to pursue her doctorate. Upon completing her degree in 2015, she applied for a fellowship and began teaching in the College of IST soon after.

“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to teach,” said Murphy. “But I talked to my mentor, who said that I would know after my first lecture. She was right. This is exactly where I want to be.”

Today, in her classroom, Murphy leverages the best practices of the instructors who made an impact on her. She also connects her industry experience with her instruction in technology, helping students to understand the bridge between the two.

“Even if you just impact one student, or find that they are a little more prepared for the real world, it is really rewarding,” she said.

Last Updated June 19, 2019