Patrick Murphy first became interested in politics at the age of eight years old. Barack Obama had just been elected to his first term as president and the kid from a map dot-sized Illinois town couldn’t help but be fascinated by the daily discussions on the school bus.
Now, a little more than a decade later, Murphy, a Southern Illinois University Carbondale junior majoring in political science, is finding his own niche as a politico dealing with issues in the city, region and beyond.
Murphy will be headed to Washington, D.C. and New York City this month for conferences with the United Nations Association of the USA. The UNA-USA is a non-governmental organization that exists in various countries to enhance the relationship between the people of member states and the United Nations to raise public awareness of the U.N. and its work.
“We deal with a lot of domestic advocacy about international ideas,” Murphy said. “We connect with local congress people and senators about issues that affect us here.”
Getting people to relate to issues
But how hard is it to get a campus town in the middle of the United States to care about an issue in, say, Africa?
That’s part of what Murphy and his UNA cohort is doing by being part of the “Nothing But Nets” campaign, a grassroots effort of the United Nations Foundation to raise awareness, funds, and voices to protect vulnerable families from malaria.
“How are we going to defeat an entire disease that is 3,000 miles away from us?” Murphy asks rhetorically. “And how are we going to get people here to care? You just have to narrate it and create a dialogue in a language that people can understand, and relate to. For example, American troops in the sub-Sahara are contracting the disease because it’s unconfined.”
Finding a home in Carbondale
Murphy has lived in small towns in Pennsylvania and Illinois. He came to SIU from Bridgeport in Lawrence County, which he playfully describes as the “little jut” of the southeastern edge of Illinois that keeps the state’s eastern border from looking like a straight north-to-south line.
So Carbondale was a bit of a culture shock to him both socially and also in what was available to him. Murphy was a class president at Red Hill High School and long had designs on alife that involves some sort of community service.
Once Murphy arrived at SIU Carbondale, he quickly got involved in a variety of clubs and gatherings on campus.
“It’s a completely different world, but also very exciting,” Murphy said. “I haven’t figured out exactly what I want to do (for a career), but I do want to help people come together and figure out things.”
He has been emboldened by a campus climate that he says is active, interested and increasingly engaged in myriad issues.
As the UNA’s president of the SIU chapter, Murphy has held campus forums on everything from sustainability to equal rights. He wants SIU students to be aware of issues like malaria in Africa the same way he wants them to be aware of the value of recycling aluminum cans and water bottles in town.
“You’re talking about different ways to make global impacts,” he said. “What might seem like small decisions can have big consequences.”
Murphy is increasingly learning how to be more effective in Carbondale by getting chances to go elsewhere to train and learn.
He is spending spring break in Washington, D.C., for a “Nothing But Nets” seminar where he will learn how to more effectively talk to local political representatives. Murphy will be joined there by fellow SIU students Asma Ghazouani, who is originally from Tunisia, along with Isaac Ludington, who is from Newton, Illinois.
Later in the month, Murphy will participate at the Global Engagement Summit in New York City and learn very broad concepts at the United Nations headquarters.
“Patrick is a dedicated global citizen and a professional networker,” said Melinda Yeomans, University Honors Program associate director and adviser of SIU’s UNA registered student organization. “He combines intelligence and heartfelt activism, with these powerful leadership skills. The initiatives he’s leading on this campus are incredibly beneficial to our students.”
Murphy has spoken in Utah and on campuses throughout the Midwest, including the University of Iowa and University of Kentucky. In taking on more responsibilities within UNA, Murphy is a liaison with a specialty for recruiting for 33 Midwestern chapters.
“We try to be as inclusive as possible with UNA here,” Murphy said. “We try to bring everybody into the fold, because the more perspectives you have the more you’re able to achieve. And the better the outcome typically is.”
People becoming more involved
Murphy, an only child, has develop close relationships with others through UNA. He also appreciates what he sees as increased involvement and energy from students on campus and in the community.
“People are getting more involved and enthusiastic about the university, and that’s amazing, said Murphy, who is regularly seen at campus events with his golden retriever, Suzie.
“There’s so much to do here,” Murphy said. “I love getting the chance to go different places, meet people and learn. But then I’m always even more happy to come back home.”