Central Penn College Graduate Mary Murphy’s Career in Marketing
Making a difference and doing something you love sounds like the perfect combination for a dream job. And that’s where Mary Murphy finds herself.
As director of development for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Capital Region (BBBSCR) since February 2021, she is part of a team who finds mentors for girls and boys in the five-county service area of Cumberland, Dauphin, Lancaster, Lebanon and Perry. It’s life-changing work.
In her position, Murphy gets to promote and market the organization by partnering with local businesses—creating and sponsoring fun events such as Bowl for Kids’ Sake and Over the Edge—and building key donor relationships through engagement and outreach.
It’s a role she loves. She’s able to draw on her marketing background as well as her long history of community involvement. “I wanted to make an impact, and that’s exactly what I’m doing.”
This article, “Mary Murphy’s Career in Marketing,” was featured as the cover story of our Spring 2022 PennDulum alumni magazine. Click here to view the entire magazine.
Central Penn Experience
Her career journey began when she earned an associate degree in Office Communications from Central Pennsylvania Business School, as it was known then, in 1983.
However, she initially chose NOT to go to college. “I was a terrible test-taker,” admits Murphy, who grew up in Camp Hill and attended Cumberland Valley High School. Her guidance counselor recommended that Murphy bypass college and head straight into the workforce, which she did.
It was an easy transition. Always industrious, she had a steady part-time job at Baker & Price Jewelers in Harrisburg after graduation, and then was able to increase her hours to full-time, eventually becoming a key holder and managing the store on Saturdays for 10 years.
She enjoyed the interactions with the customers, working with the owner to create and implement sales and promotions. “You were helping people at often critical moments in their lives— engagements, anniversaries, other milestones… what you did was important,” said Murphy. Add to that with every sale she knew this was enabling two small business owners who were like family to pay their bills.
However, as time wen by, she realized she needed something more. The job paid minimum wage with no benefits, and she was living at home. ” As much as I love my parents, I had a goal of moving out and living on my own.”
It was time to pivot. Forget what a guidance counselor said, Mary Murphy was indeed college material.
Her choice was an easy one. “Central Penn College had, and continues to have a phenomenal reputation. Getting an associate degree in 18 months was very appealing,” said Murphy. In addition, her family valued higher education. Four out of fice siblings have earned college degrees.
Preparing for the Workforce
During most of its history, the college had a strict dress code. The male students were required to wear suits and ties; female students were attired in dresses, slacks, blouses and skirts.
She excelled in this professional atmosphere, majoring in Office Communications, a general college degree. After an internship, she landed a job at the Governor’s Office of Policy Development.
Her path to career success was laid out before her. Do the work. Slowly but steadily climb the ladder, one step at a time, accumulating raises and job titles along the way until you retire after 30+ years… with a fat government pension. Sounds like a plan. Not for Mary Murphy.
She needed something more. She liked marketing—it was creative and exciting, and something new was always happening. First, she started taking evening classes at HACC, as she prepared to earn a degree in marketing at Penn State Harrisburg.
“You need to follow your instincts, even if that means changing your mind sometimes,” said Murphy.
Back to School
Eventually, she decided to quit the government job and attend school full-time. “The decision process was definitely different than before,” she said. “Working at the Governor’s Office of Policy Development came with status, I had a good salary and great benefits.”
“When I had enough credits to start my junior year at Penn State Harrisburg, that’s when I got my parents’ support to quit my state job and go to college full-time,” she said.
“Majoring in marketing always appealed to me because there is such a wide range of areas to work on,” said Murphy. “I could never have a job where you do the same thing day in and day out.”
While at PSU Harrisburg, she landed a summer internship in the marketing department at IBM, which was based in Camp Hill. It was billed as a three-month position; Mary stayed for more than two years. “They couldn’t get rid of me,” she laughed.
She learned everything she could about marketing, especially from a leading tech company. She rolled up her sleeves and pitched in any way she could. One salient lesson that stuck with her… what you learn in college does not always transfer to the business world. It is a melding of both.
That internship helped launch her marketing career in the tech sector, where she worked for more than a decade. She and her husband, Chuck Fissel, moved a few hours east to New Jersey. For more than six years, she worked at HP in the Enterprises Solutions division, holding numerous marketing positions.
For her last five years (1996–2001) in the Garden State, she served as the director of marketing for Telecordia Technologies, which originally was Bellcore, an offshoot of the Bell System phone companies that the government had broken up in 1983.
Murphy credits a large part of her success in the tech sector to her ability for taking a common-sense approach, which appealed to the firms’ sales teams and customers. “I was focused on the benefits, not on the overcomplicated descriptions of the technology. How would a particular product save customers, time and money, while improving performance?”
In 2001, Telecordia was consolidating operations and Mary’s position was downsized. Her husband Chuck found a new job back in Pennsylvania and the couple—and their young two children—moved back to the capital region.
Back in Central PA
It was time to pivot again for Mary Murphy. She opted for a new direction… “professional volunteer.” “I was a stay-at-home mom who was never home,” she laughed. “I was and am very passionate about outreach.”
Over the past 15 years, she volunteered with two local churches. She served as the outreach chair for St. Stephen’s Episcopal Cathedral on Front Street in Harrisburg. She helped turn the successful Great Pumpkin Chase—an annual 5K and 1-mile run—into an even more successful event, with a record number of runners at 750 and in total generating more than $100,000 in proceeds, which funded other ministries in the area.
She also served as a board member for St. Barnabas Center for Ministry, where she was instrumental in turning the nonprofit around by obtaining grants, creating an annual giving campaign, getting the Center’s first media story in its 20-year history with Valerie Pritchett of abc27 News, and initiating the first annual Highmark “Walk for a Healthy Community.”
Leading with Your Heart
All of those volunteer positions—along with her extensive marketing background—were key when she was selected for her current position at Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Capital Region.
As director of development, she is focused on strengthening, building and sustaining long-term relationships with donors. “I often say I lead with my heart and not my hand,” said Murphy. “Having volunteered at
a number of nonprofits, I know how many great causes there are out there. So when a company or individual supports our agency, I always thank them for choosing us.”
Mission Critical Work
“Our greatest need is for individual volunteer adult mentors,” said Mary Murphy. “We ask each volunteer to spend a few hours a month with one child in your community for a minimum of one year. As a Big Brother or Big Sister, you can make a real impact.”
The organization assists the children who need support, including those living in single-parent homes, growing up in poverty and coping with parental incarceration. To learn more, visit capbigs.org.
When to Pivot
Her advice to those thinking about making a career change? “Deep down, you usually know what the right thing to do is,” she said. “I’ve always had a solid support network, and I’ve always sought out their advice, too.”
From tech marketer to professional volunteer to nonprofit development director, Mary Murphy has blazed her own path through the field of marketing. She credits Central Penn for getting her professional career off to a strong start:
“From graduation day to one of my first ‘real’ jobs at the Governor’s Office of Policy Development, it was a seamless transition,” she said. “That preparation for the business world helped me be successful right from the start and throughout my career.”