Community, commitment define Cynthia Murphy-Wardlow
When Cynthia Murphy-Wardlow went on an IU Bloomington overseas study trip to Lima, Peru, in 1982, she never could have imagined where it would lead her. Not only did the Nappanee, Ind., native become bilingual, but she set off on career path that led her to working in neighboring Elkhart County’s Latino community, then higher education, eventually becoming the recruitment and retention counselor for Latino and other underrepresented students in IU South Bend’s Making Academic Connections Office.
“I was raised in a family where both my mother and father were first-generation college students. One thing that was always instilled in my parents, whose parents had an eighth-grade education, was that education was the key to improving not only your life, but your family’s life for generations to come,” said Murphy-Wardlow.
“I knew that coming from a family where few had a college education that there was a lot of misunderstanding and confusion, and I always wanted to be a part of making sure that students had access and they got their questions answered. I know that people are often intimidated or frightened to ask questions and that is the case with immigrant communities, where they don’t know who to trust or get accurate information from, so I wanted to be that piece that helped people link to getting the information that they deserve and the opportunity to further their education, regardless of their financial circumstances or whether they were immigrants or non-immigrants.”
Murphy-Wardlow has deep ties to the local Latino community, having worked in it for approximately 30 years, and developing relationships with generations of families along the way. By meeting key stakeholders in the local schools, she has gained the trust of students, leading to IU South Bend’s continual increase in underrepresented minority enrollment.
“When you’re working with Latino and other underrepresented minority populations, you have to be their recruiter, their counselor that helps them stay in school, their advocate to help them speak out against perceived and actual systemic injustices, and then you have to be the motivator and the person who has the difficult conversations in helping them make the choices that are going to help them reach their goals,” she explained. “It’s a very holistic position.”
Murphy-Wardlow has also spearheaded IU South Bend’s Multicultural Showcase Day, a partnership with the campus Office of Admissions. Initially, the initiative brought local African American and Latino students to the IU South Bend campus, for a one-day event where faculty and students would have a panel discussion about social justice, diversity issues, and IU South Bend from the perspective of underrepresented minorities. But the demand to participate became so high that multiple days and individualized high school tours were added to the program, and volunteers from student organizations visited local schools.
“If we can provide that welcoming environment where students feel that they can make a difference, and with the Latino student numbers rising, I think that we will be doing good work on behalf of the community, our graduates at IU South Bend, and especially our students,” said Murphy-Wardlow.
“Recruitment, then cheering at the graduation stage brings it full circle, and many of the alumni turn out to be my best recruiters. We’ve had several graduates and if they like this work that we’re doing, they say, ‘I’d love to have a job like yours!’ I tell them, ‘Well, I do plan to retire at some point.’”