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Leadership skills for a better tomorrow

This summer, HOLD student D.J. Murphy expanded his understanding of public safety and serving communities through an internship focused on honing his leadership abilities.

Growing up in eastern North Carolina, D.J. Murphy was always interested in public safety roles and community service.  

Spending time with his grandparents watching emergency response television shows, he was inspired by how the characters positively impacted the lives of their on-screen patients. Murphy wanted to make a similar impact in people’s lives. 

Combined with his mother’s encouragement (“You can do anything you want to as long you put your mind to it.”) and high school teacher Adam Scronce’s insistence (“You will be someone’s boss someday.”), Murphy’s early recognition of his career goals in public safety have helped him to strive for excellence.  

As a student in the UNC School of Education’s Human and Organizational Leadership Development (HOLD) program, Murphy is building upon his academic and professional interests through interactive experiences that cultivate his leadership skills and knowledge in public safety. 

Last spring, Murphy began as a Thorpe Undergraduate Intern with the Chapel Hill Fire Department and continued into the summer. In the role, Murphy took on the project of centralizing the department’s different data sources into one easy-to-access location. By organizing this data and creating centralized repositories of information, Murphy helped improve information sharing and collaboration across the department.  

In his internship, Murphy has valued attending operational meetings and learning about high-level decision-making processes that advanced the department’s mission and objectives. 

“I had the chance to sit in on one of the operational meetings, and they’ll bring in important information,” Murphy said. “It was very informative to see the different decisions that are made within an organization from the top leaders.”  

Murphy, who is now entering his senior year, was eager to gain practical leadership experience at a public service organization within his internship experience that would enable him to witness the importance of hands-on involvement in shaping the community.  

“This internship has allowed me to see how a small-town fire department operates compared to bigger towns and cities like Cary or Durham,” Murphy said. “It allowed me to see how a fire department chain of command works.”  

This internship also aligns significantly with his previous experience in emergency services and his goals to take on a leadership role in public safety or the medical field.  

Beyond watching emergency response TV shows, Murphy’s career interests are rooted in even deeper family connections. 

His late grandfather, Prentiss Belvin Henry, served the Harrells Volunteer Fire Department, out of Ivanhoe Station 1A, in Sampson County, as a volunteer firefighter. Seeing his grandfather’s dedication inspired Murphy’s interest in public service, which motivated him to take a course to become an emergency medical technician (EMT).  

Eager to follow in his Henry’s footsteps, he aspired to join the Harrells Volunteer Fire Department — at age 13. However, due to age restrictions, he had to wait until 2018 when he turned 16 to join as a trainee. 

Reflecting on his experiences with the Harrells Volunteer Fire Department, Murphy shared that his time there prepared and equipped him with the necessary skills for his career aspirations and affirmed his passion for the job. 

Over the past few years, Murphy has also served as an EMT in various North Carolina counties including Duplin and Orange. As an EMT, Murphy said he has developed key skills in emergency response, patient care, and critical thinking. 

When he entered Carolina in 2020, Murphy intended to major in nursing. Upon realizing that nursing did not align with his career goals, he eventually found HOLD. Murphy knew he wanted to be a part of a program that enabled him to gain the necessary leadership and organizational skills that would help him excel within the field of public safety.  

During his time in the HOLD program, Murphy has garnered valuable insights that will enable him to develop a foundation in leadership, organizational theory, and making data-informed decisions within his career. In the program, Murphy has had the opportunity to engage in meaningful collaborations with his peers, further enriching his learning experience. 

“The biggest thing for me has been seeing and hearing the different opinions from my classmates,” Murphy said. “Even though we all work together, everyone thinks differently. Being in these classes has shown me how we can take different ideas and piece them together to reach a conclusion that benefits everybody.” 

After graduating in May 2024, Murphy aims to employ the leadership and organizational insights gained during his journey in the HOLD program to pursue a career helping communities across rural North Carolina and beyond within the realms of public safety and emergency medicine. 

Murphy extends a special recognition to paramedics Kevin Gibbons and Cody Herring, retired fire chief Vencelin Harris, admin manager Ryan Campbell, admin coordinator Abbey Foucart, Captain Eleni Terzis, and deputy EM coordinator Michelle Daschner. “Without them, I would not have been given this wonderful opportunity within the Town of Chapel Hill Fire Department.”