When she was a kid growing up on the south side of Chicago, Cari Murphy saw herself going to med school — not becoming a teacher and living in Florida.
“I planned on going to med school, but then I fell in love with the college environment and working in it. And I did that for a long time; I was basically a college administrator. But the thing about college administration is that the higher up you go, the further away you go from the students. And that’s not really what I wanted,” said Murphy. “I was at a large university surrounded by 45,000 students and I didn’t interact with any of them, and I hated every minute of that. That’s when I realized that part of what I what I really loved was interacting with students, and ultimately, that’s what led me to teaching.”
Murphy worked at Florida Southern for about 8 years before getting her doctoral degree full-time at USF. She started at Santa Fe in 2012, and she enjoys being able to push boundaries in her classroom and challenges her students to think creatively.
“No matter what it takes to help them understand high-level content, that’s what I’m going to do. We do projects from creating music videos to stop-motion videos to modeling to everything in between,” said Murphy.
In her biology class, students utilize the latest technology in projects such as printing a 3D model of a cell. Students designed and printed an organelle from a cell, partnered with a local college to print the larger cell membrane, and collaborated as a team to put the model together.
Murphy’s class also applies learned concepts through various hands-on activities. She incorporates flashcards, play-doh, and scavenger hunts around the school. After her biology class learns about coding, she “[creates] a fake process and a fake code. They have to go around campus and decode 10 different messages; it takes them on a photo scavenger hunt throughout the campus! If they decode it wrong, they get an error message, which is equivalent to a mutation in the body, and then we can talk about what happened,” said Murphy. “It’s one of my favorite exercises; students get really competitive! It’s always a race, but sometimes trying to go fast leads to mistakes, which leads us to a great conversation.”
In Murphy’s environmental science class, students study environmental law cases. They study the case and prepare to reargue it in class, and then they discuss the practical application to what happened in the environment. It encourages higher thinking, deeper questions, and intelligent conversations.
“[Studying cases] helps them understand that there are two sides to every story,” said Murphy. “If we know that, how can we apply that to an environmental perspective? How can they help? What are they doing that hurts? Do they care; do they want to care?”
Murphy also enjoys working with students through Santa Fe’s mentor program. Her group is made up of seniors, and she uses her past professional experience to reach each student on an individual level. She answers their questions and helps them have important conversations on everything from meal plans to different types of schools to staying safe on campus.
“I teach all the freshmen when they come in, so [all my seniors] know me and feel comfortable talking to me,” said Murphy. “I love when my students show up at my door or find me in the hallway and say, “I really need to talk to you,” “I miss you cause you’re not my teacher this year,” or “I need some advice.” Whether they need help with chemistry or they’re upset over a fight they had with their boyfriend, I like that they know that they can talk to me. I love the relationship side of teaching, and I want to make sure they know that they have a safe place.”
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Get to Know Cari Murphy:
What do you like to do for fun?
I coach softball. Both of my daughters play softball, and I played in college. We’re a very sports-oriented family! We really like major league baseball, but softball is really our passion.
Do you have a favorite TV show?
I like shows that make you think and make you feel smarter, so I don’t like reality TV. When I was writing my dissertation, I liked rewatching The West Wing, which is funny because I’m really not into politics, but I feel like that show is really intelligent and articulate — even if it’s not 100% accurate.
Do you have any hidden talents?
I’m actually very creative. It wasn’t always a side of me, but I love being secretly artistic. We have sandwich boards that we put out in the parking lot as reminders, and I love doing those.
What’s your favorite place that you’ve traveled?
My family, we’re Disney fanatics! We would like to go to some more Disney parks, which makes me sound so dorky, but it’s so true.
If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
It would probably be Italian food! Either Italian or Mexican. I could never give up carbs, I couldn’t do it!