DAA 2020: Murphy found home, career path at Sac State

By Cynthia Hubert 

Jenni Murphy, Dean of College of Continuing Education at Sacramento State received Distinguished Service Award

As a Gold Award Girl Scout and the product of a tightly knit farm community in Ohio, Jenni Murphy learned at an early age the importance of teamwork and leadership. Those skills came in handy when she landed a job in corporate training after college, then became a public servant at Sacramento State. They are traits Murphy still leans on today as the dean of Sac State’s College of Continuing Education. Murphy, who has spent nearly two decades at the University, is the recipient of a Distinguished Service Award from the Sacramento State Alumni Association.

“Early in my life, I learned a solid work ethic, responsibility, and community service,” said Murphy. “I learned the importance of teamwork, and everyone putting their best foot forward.

“At Sac State I found a home and a career path, something that I was both good at and was passionate about.”

The College of Continuing Education’s mission is to provide access to programs for adults who want to finish a degree or earn a professional certificate. The college also offers conference and training services to regional employers, and administers Summer Session courses to help Sac State’s traditional students graduate on time.

One of the college’s key focuses recently has been incubating Project Attain!, a regional initiative designed to reduce skill and equity gaps by increasing to 60% the number of people in the Sacramento area with a college degree or certificate by 2025. The initiative, a partnership with Align Capital Region, brings together educational institutions, community-based organizations, employers, workforce specialists, and other key partners.

The benefits of obtaining a college degree or certificate are well documented. Individuals who do so earn more money over time, are healthier, and are more likely to support the educational ambitions of their children, among other advantages, Murphy noted. Their progress helps uplift their families and communities.

“We have thousands of success stories every year,” she said. “It’s so rewarding to see people finish what they started.”

Murphy began her career at Sac State after being laid off from a corporate training job in 2000. She had never thought about being a college administrator, she said, until she applied to be program manager at CCE.

“I kind of stumbled into it,” she said. “I guess you could say it was the best stumble of my life.”

“I found it thrilling to be at a public institution providing service, not because we needed to make a profit but because it was the right thing to do.”

Murphy found comfort in Sacramento’s agricultural roots and its “small-town feel,” she said. In another nod to her childhood, she became involved in the area’s Girl Scouts group when her daughter was in kindergarten. Currently, Murphy serves as board chair for Girl Scouts Heart of Central California. Between 2004 and 2009, Murphy was CCE’s first director of extension programs. She established the college’s customized training unit, partnering with employers to develop programs that fit their workforce needs.

In 2012, Murphy earned her doctoral degree in educational leadership from Sac State. She served in a variety of leadership positions at CCE, including interim dean, before becoming permanent dean in 2018. Her greatest pleasure is seeing CCE students, most of whom are between 35 and 42 years old, achieve their academic goals.

“It’s hard enough to go to college when you are 18 to 24 years old, and the system is set up for that age group,” Murphy said. “But to do it when you’re older and you have so many other things going on in your life brings additional challenges.

“Many of our learners are employed full time in professional positions, but they are kind of stuck because to move up they need a college degree or a specialized credential. When they meet other adults who are in the same situation, it’s a sigh of relief for them.”

Murphy said she is forever grateful to Sac State for giving her an opportunity to help others.

“I stumbled into a job, and a really found my people and my career,” she said. “To be able to give back and help people realize their full potential; who could ask for more? Everyone should be so lucky.”

Each year since 1972, the Sacramento State Alumni Association has honored accomplished alumni and friends of the University with the Distinguished Alumni Awards (DAA). This year’s honorees were recognized during a virtual ceremony on Oct. 15. For more information, visit the Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumni Awards page.