Service Before Self

A gap year between high school and college may have started Chris Murray ’89 on her path to social service. It was also her introduction to Iowa and Central.

Murray first learned about Central while travelling in Iowa with Up with People, an organization that aims to inspire young people through a combination of travel, service, leadership development and performing arts.

The Massachusetts native intended to enroll in a college in the Northeast, but a castmate on the Up with People tour talked constantly about Central, and once Murray toured the state, she was taken with Iowa.

Murray graduated from Central with a psychology degree and a minor in German. She returned to Massachusetts and trained as an emergency medical technician, responded to local disasters through the American Red Cross, and became interested in public health issues.

Murray earned a master’s of public health degree from the University of Massachusetts and dived into a doctoral program in epidemiology. Upon completion of her Ph.D., Murray began working for the World Health Organization (WHO) and was deployed as a member of medical teams to respond to crises around the globe.

“I got involved with WHO because I didn’t have a personality for static hospital settings,” Murray says. “I knew that ‘in field’ was best for me.”

Murray with her team and Xander, the German shepherd puppy she is raising for the Fidelco guide dog organization.

Murray (bottom row with dog) with her team and Xander, the German shepherd puppy she is raising for the Fidelco guide dog organization.

Murray worked, for example, on response teams in the Balkan refugee camps. “Phil Webber would be proud,” Murray says of her Central German instructor. “The Balkan countries hadn’t yet established individual languages so German was the secondary language, and I could finally use my German.”

In the U.S., she served in the Mississippi Gulf Coast following 2005 Hurricane Katrina. She continued to sign on in different places around the world, where her work was hands-on—from simple vaccinations for exposure to polluted water to overall health assessments and public health education.

“My psych degree also kicked in—working with people in their environment so they come to trust you, being sensitive to their cultures,” she says.

Murray returned stateside a few years ago to care for her mother who was enduring a debilitating disease. Although she set her career aside to be her mother’s caregiver, she didn’t stop giving to others.

“I volunteered for the Boston Marathon medical team and in doing so, learned from an NSA agent responsible for the bomb-sniffing dogs about the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, which partners blind clients with trained German shepherd puppies,” she says. “It’s a total volunteer effort. You commit to 18 months of meeting certain goals with the dog.”

Murray is now raising her second Fidelco puppy and takes the dog to the long-term care facility where her mother resides. “It is great to see how the residents respond to the dog,” Murray says. “I have learned so much from my mother’s illness and experience. I want to combine my medical background with what I’ve learned about therapy animals. I’d like to combine these different skills into a business or nonprofit,” Murray says.

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