Distinguished Faculty Award Winner Bettina P. Murray, Ph.D., Stays Focused On Student Success

Distinguished Faculty Award Winner Bettina P. Murray, Ph.D., Stays Focused On Student Success

Distinguished Faculty Award Winner Bettina P. Murray, Ph.D., Stays Focused On Student Success

In anticipation of the 2019 Alumni Reunion on April 4th, we spoke to the recipients of our three prestigious reunion awards. Each awardee has paved the way to success for others and serves as an inspiration to the John Jay community, both for current students and alumni. Their continued advocacy for justice is a testament to the mission here at John Jay. Our final “Alumni Reunion Spotlight” is Bettina P. Murray, Ph.D., a much beloved Professor at John Jay College, and the recipient of the Distinguished Faculty Award.

How long have you been teaching here at John Jay?
I’ve been teaching here at John Jay College since 1996. At the time I was teaching at other schools, so I came to John Jay as an adjunct professor. However, I quickly fell in love with the students and the diversity here at the College, and came on board full-time a year after. 

What inspired you to go into teaching?
I have always enjoyed communicating, engaging with, and working with people, with the goal of helping them in some capacity. Looking back, I have always been involved in projects where helping people develop into better versions of themselves was the goal, whether it was social work or teaching. That’s why when I teach, I’m not only trying to teach the subject at hand, but am also trying to teach my students about life and how the skills they’re acquiring in the classroom can be used in the outside world.

“When I teach, I’m not only trying to teach the subject at hand, but am also trying to teach my students about life and how the skills they’re acquiring in the classroom can be used in the outside world.” –Bettina P. Murray

What do you teach?
I am in the Communication and Theater Arts Department where I teach a variety of courses from theater to public speaking. They all tie in together nicely because it is about teaching students to recognize and then capitalize on their strengths.

What do you love about teaching?
Without question, the thing I love most about teaching is the students. I love interacting with them and I love the looks on their faces when they have an “aha” moment. The fact that I get to have an impact on a student, whether it’s getting a response out of someone who needed extra help in a certain area, or providing clarity for someone who didn’t initially understand a concept completely—watching that light bulb go off, where they understand it, that’s what teaching is about.

What do you hope your students walk away with when leaving your classroom?
I hope I give them a bigger picture of life. Yes, I want to teach them good solid skills, like reading, writing, and how to effectively get your message across while interviewing or interacting with others, but I also want to help them gain some self-confidence. I want them to see that there is more to life. I want them to know there is an entire world out there, and that they have the skillset and support to go out there, take on that world, and achieve their dreams.

Self-confidence is a big theme in your classroom, why is that?
I was very lucky that I went to a very good all-girls school here in New York, the Chapin School, where I had the most inspiring history teacher, Mildred Berendsen. She also happened to be the school’s headmistress. Berendsen was a strong woman, a true leader who could handle it all. What I learned from her and my years at Chapin was to be confident in my voice and myself, to stand on my own two feet, and to project my ideas confidently to any audience. Chapin promoted increasing one’s strengths and improving one’s capabilities. And I was lucky because I didn’t just benefit from that kind of encouragement at school but at home as well. My father, Jere W. Patterson, was a very inspirational man who believed in the power of communication. He was very much into having us kids—there’s four of us—express ourselves clearly. He would have us think about our talking points before we said what we needed to say. He was also determined to have us be well-rounded, worldly, empathetic individuals. We interacted with people from different parts of the world and that gave us insight into how others think. That’s something special, and I know a lot of my student’s don’t have that kind of support or access, so I try to give that to them in the classroom and via networking opportunities.

“There was something about John Jay College that called to me. I loved that it was a school focused on criminal justice with a diverse student population.” – Bettina P. Murray

What was it about John Jay that made you think, I want to teach here?
I was good friends with former President Gerald Lynch’s executive assistant. Our kids went to school together. She mentioned John Jay to me and said, “You teach at BMCC and NYC Technical College, come give John Jay a chance.” When I discussed it with my husband, A. Brean Murray, he asked, “Why do you want to move to John Jay? You’re happy where you are now.” And he was right, I was very happy, but there was something about John Jay College that called to me. I loved that it was a school focused on criminal justice with a diverse student population. My instinct told me I could do something special here.

What have been some of your favorite moments here at John Jay?
My favorite moments are when I work with students closely and see that they really understand something, that they’ve been able to grasp a difficult concept. I love watching their eyes light up.

Student success is a major goal for you and John Jay College. You have established several scholarships and fellowships here at John Jay. Can you tell us about the McCabe Fellowship?
I established the scholarship with my husband Brean in 1997. He was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland. When Jerry McCabe, an officer in the Garda Síochána was murdered, Dr. Lynch asked if we could help start a scholarship in McCabe’s honor. Brean was a gifted businessman. He had a small firm down at Wall Street and he was around people who had a lot of money and were happy to donate. The response to it has been lovely. Recipients of the scholarship receive full funding. The scholarship covers all of their housing expenses and tuition for an entire year. It’s a wonderful experience for the winners and they really do treasure it. It’s actually a well-known award in Ireland. It’s considered a sign of accomplishment for Irish officers who win the award.

Can you tell us about the Brean Murray Scholarship?
The Brean Murray Scholarship started in 2003 after Brean passed away. Every year, we choose two or more international undergraduate scholars to receive the award. They have to be foreign born and that’s in honor of Brean. The scholarship is awarded in their junior year and covers tuition for both junior and senior year. The reason we chose the junior year as opposed to the freshman year is because we wanted to give it to students who had already established themselves as dedicated students here at John Jay. 

“Many people have done magnificent things in life, but they don’t get to see the result of it in their lifetime. I’m lucky because as a professor, I do.” –Bettina P. Murray

During the Alumni Reunion, you’ll be receiving the Distinguished Faculty Award. What does this award mean to you?
This award means the world to me because this award comes from the alumni, from my former students. It’s the fact that they took the time to send in their comments and essentially said, “Yes, this professor has had an effect on my life and made an impact.” That means everything to me. Many people have done magnificent things in life, but they don’t get to see the result of it in their lifetime. I’m lucky because as a professor, I do. I get to see the impact I’ve had on students in the classroom and beyond. I have been so lucky to have students keep in touch with me and tell me of their successes. I’ve been able to see how students who come from very little, use their John Jay experience to become successful and then pay it forward. How rewarding is that? And really what more could you ask for? I’m lucky. I’m incredibly lucky.

Can you finish this sentence for me: Without John Jay…
Without John Jay I would have a major hole in my life. Working here at the College and working with my students has been such a big and important part of my life for the last 23 years. Even when I’m not on campus, I’m thinking about my students and John Jay College and how I can help students achieve their dreams. And that’s the goal always, to help our students succeed both in the classroom and beyond.