Staff Profile: Jo Murphy, Forensic Science

Murphy’s contributions to VCU were recognized recently when she received the President’s Service Excellence Award, which is awarded to four individuals who provide exceptional service and support to the VCU community.
Jo Murphy

For many Rams, the first time they step foot inside a VCU classroom is in the fall of their first year. But Jo Murphy, communication and program coordinator, in the Department of Forensic Science, was ahead of her time. Her ties to VCU started as a high school student, when she took an American history course with former professor and chair of the Department of History, Daniel Jordan, Ph.D. 

Though Murphy wound up at the University of Virginia for her undergraduate degree, she never forgot VCU and decided to complete her master’s degree here. Murphy eventually received her M.S.W. with a health concentration and a post-professional certification in interdisciplinary leadership education program in childhood neurodevelopmental and related disabilities. For the last 10 years, she has worked in VCU’s department of forensic science as a communication and program coordinator.

In 2020, Murphy’s contributions to VCU were recognized when she received the President’s Service Excellence Award, which is awarded to four individuals who provide exceptional service and support to the VCU community. Recipients receive a cash prize of $2,000. “By just being nominated, I felt grateful that my colleagues believed that I deserved this award,” Murphy said. “When I began working at the forensic science department, it was going to be a temporary stop for me until I continued with my social work career. This award is a testament to the support I have received in finding a path to contribute to the mission of VCU and the department of forensic science.”

A normal day in the life of Murphy pre-COVID-19 included being the face of the department where she provided support to the department through community engagement activities and general administrative tasks. Murphy remarked, “I like the interaction with the faculty, staff and students and feel like I bring a different perspective to the department since my background is social work rather than science.” 

Though her background is in social work, Murphy never felt like she stopped being a social worker when she started her position in the forensic science department. She simply found she could give back to the community in ways outside of traditional social work. “What kept me at VCU was the energy and interest of the students, the dedication and enthusiasm of faculty and my opportunity to learn new skills,” Murphy explained. She enjoys being “a valued resource to the department [by] expand[ing] community engagement activities to benefit our students and community partners. And of course, the cool factor associated with forensic science.”

When asked about which professional achievement she is most proud of, Murphy said, “There are two accomplishments: growing the weekend backpack program at Feed More and re-starting the community engagement/service-learning activities for the department.” While working at Feed More, a Richmond-based nonprofit that focuses on distributing food to those in need, Murphy helped grow and develop their BackPack program that provides children with six healthy meals. The BackPacks are given out every Friday to ensure that the children have access to nutritious meals over the weekend. 

Murphy also brought her passion for service to the VCU campus by starting a service-learning course in 2013 for forensic science students. “The service-learning course I teach focuses on equity in the science field and the Richmond community as my students teach forensic science activities and labs to underserved-area middle and high school students,” she explained.

When she’s not at VCU, Murphy enjoys spending time outside walking her dog, kayaking and gardening. Her partner has a large vegetable garden, which she has been tending to while working from home. This year she has her hands full as she is helping plan both of her children’s weddings.  

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