February 22nd, 2018

Board Member Profile: Susan Murphy Brings a Wealth of Experience to Community Foundation Board

Susan Murphy


As Susan Murphy approached retirement as Cornell’s vice president for student and academic services three years ago, she began thinking about how she could give back to the community she first visited as a high school senior applying to college in the spring of 1969.

While she was already a member of the board of Kendal at Ithaca, Murphy was interested in  volunteering with Community Foundation because of its focus on issues that affect residents throughout Tompkins County. So when Alan Mathios, former dean of Cornell’s College of Human Ecology and a Community Foundation board member, asked her to join the board in 2015, she readily accepted.

“One of the things I liked about the Community Foundation is the opportunity to learn about the community at large and to then try and help the arts, education, human services and the environment,” she said. “I think that was a major attraction.”

Murphy, who grew up in Montclair, New Jersey, earned a degree in American history at Cornell in 1973. After completing a master’s degree in secondary education from Stanford, she landed her first job as a guidance counselor at Chatham High School. But in the summer of 1976, she returned to Ithaca to work in the admissions office at Cornell.

Two years later, she was hired as an associate director of admissions at Cornell, launching a 38-year career as an administrator for her alma mater. In 1985, she became the first female dean of admissions and financial aid, and in 1994, the first vice president for student and academic services.

In her role as vice president, Murphy helped guide a transformation of the student experience at Cornell, which included developing North Campus as a residential hub for freshmen and West Campus for sophomores. She also started the process to double the size of Cornell’s health center, a project that was completed last year.

“I think we made some significant changes,” said Murphy, who also earned a PhD from Cornell in educational administration. “I think we made a difference.”

Murphy, who became chair of the Community Foundation board in January, said Community Foundation is a unique organization in Tompkins County because it can convene diverse stakeholders to address issues that affect the wider community. She cited the Tompkins County Housing Summit in 2016, organized in part by Community Foundation to focus on affordable housing, as an example of this strategy.

“The Community Foundation has a role to play in bringing different groups together to talk about issues as needs arise,” she said. “Hopefully we’ll have the resources to help make a difference.”

Murphy said she believes Cornell faculty, staff and retirees will show greater support for Community Foundation now that a new $10,000 challenge grant has been offered by a Cornell professor emeritus and spouse. The couple has agreed to match one-to one gifts of up to $1,000 made in 2018 by new donors who are current or former Cornell employees.

“This is not just a monetary decision,” Murphy said. “For those of us who have been in this community for a long time, it’s a way of investing in the community and giving back what the community has given us and our families over the years.”

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