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From GED to Ph.D.: AIU Online Alumnus Stephen Murphy’s Story

Image: AIU Alumnus Stephen Murphy

Three events occurred in AIU Online Alumnus Stephen Murphy’s life that brought him to where he is today—pursuing his Ph.D. in General Psychology. First, he joined the military. Second, he broke his humerus bone. Third, he attained his Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice (BSCJ) with a specialization in Special Populations from AIU Online in 2009.

“I was always interested in a military or law enforcement career, even when I was eight or nine years old. I come from a long line of soldiers, so it’s a good fit for me,” he says. “I’m fourth-generation soldier, and my son is fifth generation.”

After 17 years in the Army, the former staff sergeant became a patrol officer with the Chatham County Police Department. He decided to pursue his bachelor’s degree with the hope of transitioning to the detective bureau. He originally attended Savannah State University, but then a simple game of basketball changed his life. “I had started a basketball program between fathers and sons to keep kids off the wrong path. I was just playing a good game of basketball when I broke my humerus bone.” Four surgeries later, Stephen’s arm was never the same. “I lost range of motion, strength, and I had nerve damage. I couldn’t go back to duty. I had to come up with a new plan.”

Stephen didn’t let his injury hold him back. “You get lemons, you make lemonade. … Don’t let any doors slam in your face. Don’t take no for an answer. Find a way to do what you want to do,” Stephen says. “I’m self-disciplined and self-motivated. I learned that in the military.” He switched schools so he could complete his degree online. “I came to AIU, and they greeted me with open arms.”

To those considering pursuing a bachelor’s degree, Stephen says, “Get it. Just do it. If you’re at the point where you think you want to do it, follow through on it. It’s life-changing. You don’t know what life will be like with formal education.”

Related: How AIU Bachelor of Science Criminal Justice Alum Cory Logan Got Ahead

 With honors, Stephen completed his BSCJ with a specialization in Special Populations. It was his specialization that propelled him onto his new career path—psychology. “The day that I graduated from AIU, I was already enrolled in [a master of psychology program].”

“In Special Populations, you learn of the mentally ill. I was a crisis intervention officer and trainer, so I had already dealt with the mentally ill as a police officer. …With the specialization in Special Populations, I took my degree and moved to the psychology program. ... If it wasn’t for that specialization, I wouldn’t have been able to get two master’s degrees or the doctorate degree [I’m pursuing now].” Yes, Stephen got not one—but two—master’s degrees in 2013, one in clinical psychology and one in counseling psychology.

Today, he is pursuing his Ph.D. in General Psychology and is also working on his Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) designation. “Once I have the LPC, I want to start a counseling firm for soldiers and emergency services personnel with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). They’re an underserved demographic. Everything has culminated to bring me to the point where I know who I need to help. Soldiers, veterans, they’ve seen too much.”

Stephen currently lives in Georgia and serves as Mentoring Chairman of 100 Black Men of Savannah Inc., an organization dedicated to fighting illiteracy and keeping kids from going down the wrong path. A native of New York City, he says moving to Georgia after the military was one of his best decisions. “About 70 percent of the people I grew up with are dead or in jail. Only a small percentage are successful. …I’m going from a GED to a Ph.D.; that’s pretty big.”

Meet more AIU alumni and hear their success stories on our AIU alumni blog.