Donor generosity leads to academic success and global study for Raheem Murphy ’23

Murphy found lifelong friends through the Odyssey Scholars Program and the opportunity to study abroad because of donor generosity that helped him cover the costs of his education and travels.

Like many of his classmates, the COVID-19 pandemic placed many barriers in Raheem Murphy’s path during all four years at Elon. It was during his junior year that he felt he was running out of time to study abroad, something that has become customary of an Elon education.

Raheem Murphy '23 in a Panamanian forest.
Raheem Murphy ’23 in a Panamanian forest where he collected research for his study abroad trip.

The Class of 2023 graduate already thought that studying abroad would be difficult for him to tie into his studies, but he found a winter term trip to Panama that was a perfect fit.

Majoring in biology with a minor in neuroscience, he wanted something that would expand his hands-on research skills. The trip’s purpose was to record data at night, on and around an island in the middle of the Panama Canal, for a Smithsonian study of bats and their positioning on plants while locating insects.

When he arrived on the island — which was smaller than Elon’s campus — his main mode of transportation was by boat. This led to Murphy spending a lot of time on the water and also having the opportunity to record data on coral reefs for a module in the Caribbean Sea. In Panama, nature was his classroom and learning was hands-on, exactly what he was hoping to receive from his time abroad.

“I remember being in a small boat with my program, with the waves ranging from six to eight feet. The boat was jam-packed with all of our snorkeling gear,” Murphy said. “But also with our research equipment consisting of mallets, PVC pipe and waterproof paper, there was this moment where we all started singing sea shanties, including our professor as we rose up and down in the ocean, reassuring us that everything would be fine once we got to our destination.”

Murphy described getting into the ocean as an “out-of-body experience.” He said he felt like he was dreaming as the sun beamed down through the bluest parts of the water with fish swimming around him as he wrote his observations on his waterproof paper. Just the thought of having written underwater made him laugh.

When asked about his favorite experience, he said that writing underwater was the most memorable, but that it was impossible to choose a favorite because there were so many experiences packed into such a short period of time.

Raheem Murphy '23 (third from right) along with other classmates on his study abroad trip to Panama.
Raheem Murphy ’23 (third from right) along with other classmates on his study abroad trip to Panama.

As the recipient of the Marvin and Eva Burke Clapp Odyssey Scholarship, Murphy’s time at Elon was made possible through the generosity of the Clapp family, who made a generous gift to Elon to endow the scholarship. He says being a part of the Odyssey Scholar program will forever be ingrained into his identity, just like his nickname “Murph.”

When first touring Elon with a friend, he said he wondered why everyone was so happy. He saw people laughing and high-fiving as they walked down North Williamson Avenue. But now, he looks back on that moment and thanks the Odyssey Program for giving him the opportunity to truly understand why Elon is such a special place.

Scholarships and donor generosity gave Murphy the opportunity to attend Elon, but it also allowed him to gain valuable experience, covering the costs of his tuition so that study abroad became a reality.

Following his trip, Murphy returned to Elon ready to explore a new interest that was developed abroad – conservation. He also continues his passion for research at a veterinarian’s office in Greensboro where he uses lab equipment and even conducts surgeries to research heart worms, a chronic problem for domesticated animals. During his time at Elon, Murphy was also able to work as a teaching assistant for biodiversity and aquatic biology. He loves how the newly built Innovation Quad and its state-of-the-art equipment and technology has evolved STEM programs on campus, helping students follow the constant changes of the science world.

Beyond Panama, Murphy’s scholarship funding also took him and his cohort to Boston for a networking event where many of the scholars received job offers. He has found that the close-knit community of the Odyssey Program helped him take advantage of the opportunities given to him. He is so grateful for the donors that made his experience along with so many others possible.

“Donations to Elon help people like me have the opportunity to travel and to meet people through these experiences who are going to be in our lives forever. These are the people who are going to survive through thick and thin with you. I am so grateful, and without the aid I received, it wouldn’t be possible to have the friends I have and to have accomplished all that I have here at Elon,” said Murphy.

Raheem Murphy '23 at graduation, May 2023
Raheem Murphy ’23 at graduation, May 2023

Murphy is also grateful to his mentor Associate Professor of Biology Antonio Izzo for believing in him and helping him get his graduation plan back on track following the pandemic so that he would complete all of his requirements on time.

Post-grad, Murphy is taking a gap year to work in the research field before medical school, and he wants to get recertified as an EMT. One piece of advice he’d like to give current Elon students is to take chances.

“This is supposed to be the best four years of your life so don’t mess it up by sitting around and not trying new opportunities while you are here.”