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Math Professor Wants to Help Students Overcome Math Anxiety
Kelly Murphy
South Sioux City, NE
Assistant Professor of Math

Dr. Kelly Murphy studied accounting at DePaul University in Chicago after high school graduation. But after two trimesters, the South Sioux City, Neb., native was homesick and realized he didn’t want to be an accountant.

Kelly moved home and started over. He decided to try teaching.

“I liked school. That’s probably the No. 1 reason I became an educator,” he said. “I liked my teachers. I had a good time in high school. I always was successful.”

Kelly attended a community college for two years before transferring to Wayne State College in Wayne, Neb. He earned a degree in secondary math education and later a master’s degree in education with a focus on curriculum and instruction. He taught algebra at Omaha Central High School for nine years before taking a break to help care for his ailing mother.

In 2011, he learned about an adjunct position in the math department at College of Saint Mary. He got the position and taught two classes that fall. The following semester, he taught two classes and tutored in Student Support Services. He continued to add classes and tutoring hours when he asked if a full-time position could be created for him.

“I’m all about advocating for yourself,” he said. “I tell my students to advocate for themselves all the time. That’s what I did.”

In 2013, a half-staff, half-faculty position was created. Kelly taught two math classes per semester while also working as a retention specialist, helping struggling students.

The following year, he started working on his doctorate through CSM’s Doctor of Education program. Kelly was promoted to full-time faculty member and assistant professor in the fall of 2021. He’s enjoyed working at CSM because of the people.

“I enjoyed being part staff and part faculty,” he said. “I feel like I’m a faculty member with strong connections with the staff here. I’ve made some of my best friends here.

“The school is very supportive, too. They’re great at working with you, seeing your potential and helping you grow.”

 As an educator, Kelly wants to make an impact on students, particularly when it comes to math anxiety and mindset in the math classroom, which was the focus of his dissertation.

“I need to make sure they’re not only learning the content, but they’re also developing the right mindset to go into other classes and be successful,” he said. “I think it’s super important that they develop a growth mindset and use that, and they can be successful.”

One of his favorite classes to teach is math methods for education students. He enjoys helping pre-service teachers become the educators they want to be.

“There is this fear of math. It’s very real. It’s different from other subjects. I need these pre-service teachers to eliminate that fear, so they are confident math teachers when they enter the classroom,” he said. “If you have a fixed mindset or any anxiety toward math and you’re teaching that that’s going to trickle onto your students and then it just becomes a bad cycle. I just want them to go out and be confident in their actions.”

Kelly thinks CSM’s professors and staff care more about the students, which sets the University apart from other institutions. Many students are first-generation college students, and this is their first experience with higher education.

“I think what our people do best is guide them through that process,” he said.

When he’s not in the classroom, Kelly enjoys spending time with his partner, Brian, his son, Chase, and their dog, Huckleberry. Kelly is also an avid TV watcher.