Celebrating the enduring legacy of Emeritus Professor Vince Murphy

Portrait photo of Vince Murphy, Emeritus Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering
Vince Murphy, Emeritus Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering

In a 2005 article about Vince Murphy’s Best Teacher Award from Colorado State University, a student wrote, “he gives students 100 percent of himself, be it in the form of teaching, advising or mentoring.”

Murphy, Emeritus Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, meant a great deal to the college community. He passed away on Sunday, March 13, at his home in Fort Collins, with his son, Christopher, by his side.

As news of his passing started to circulate, warm sentiments were repeated by faculty, students, and others in the university community who had known him. Alumni who graduated many years ago continue to be moved by his efforts.

“He would write Christmas cards and we stayed in touch,” said Minnie Piffarerio, a 1991 graduate. “How many professors do you know that would take the time to write Christmas cards, with as many students as he had over the decades?”

Enduring support of students

Murphy was a member of the department’s faculty from 1977 until his retirement in 2005. He served twice as department head. He dedicated himself to supporting all aspects of student life, along with conducting his own research in fundamental and applied studies in biochemical and environmental engineering. That included teaching and advising, and helping to organize the student chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.

Many former students said that Murphy had a big heart, and would help them stay on track with their coursework. Piffarerio, who joined the department as an associate professor of practice this year, remembered how supportive Murphy was when she was an undergraduate.

“I tend to be a perfectionist and a little competitive, so he would steer me back,” said Piffarerio. “He’d say, ‘it’s good enough, it’s good enough, let’s keep moving.’”

Dedication to the department and staff

Murphy’s support extended to faculty and colleagues during his long tenure. That meant taking on further duties so that others could focus on research and students.

He worked on routine administrative duties so that office staff could focus their time and attention on the students’ well-being. Murphy took on the role of department head a second time to allow other faculty time to write proposals, mentor doctoral students, generate publications, and expand the reputation of the department.

Emeritus Professors Vince Murphy and Naz Karim pose for a photo as each won a Best Teacher Award from Colorado State University in 2005.
Emeritus Professors Vince Murphy and Naz Karim pose for a photo as each won a Best Teacher Award from Colorado State University in 2005.

“Vince was completely selfless as a faculty member and department head,” said David Dandy, current department head and professor. “As other senior faculty members retired, he took over the most time-consuming courses, so that junior faculty could devote more time to launching and building their research programs.”

Murphy helped both professionally and personally, especially with new faculty and staff.

Ken Reardon, now Research Associate Dean for the college and professor in the department, was still working on his postdoctoral research in Germany when he was hired at Colorado State University in 1988. Murphy was the department head at the time, and not only helped Reardon professionally in the new position, he helped Reardon in his new life in Fort Collins.

“He found a way to delay my starting date so I could complete my research, which meant a lot to me both personally and professionally,” said Reardon. “I was new to Colorado and had no connections – and all of my possessions were in storage. Vince helped get me settled and made sure I had what I needed.”

Continuing Murphy’s legacy of support

Reardon and Piffarerio use their experiences with Murphy with their own approaches to teaching and supporting students. Murphy was especially influential with his patience in helping students understand the most complex problems and his willingness to help troubled students.

Piffarerio, who leads the department’s efforts in the Senior Design Program and Engineering Days, thinks of Murphy when she guides seniors through their projects and career outlooks.

“He defined a culture where the department always felt like family, and I’m trying to impart that culture on to my students,” said Piffarerio. “I want to make them aware that they have the capability to set that tone when they’re out in the workplace.”

For Reardon, Murphy’s effect is particularly noticeable when he’s working with students.

“I resonated with his values regarding students and am grateful for the example he set,” said Reardon. “The moments that have meant the most to me in my career have come from my interactions with students, and Vince laid the groundwork for that.”

Murphy’s generosity outside the classroom

Murphy’s dedication to students and the community extended to the many scholarships he set up. Academic Advisor and Department Manager Claire Lavelle remembered Murphy’s inspiring generosity.

“He was an amazing man and incredibly philanthropic. He singlehandedly set up many scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students,” said Lavelle. “When he retired, we started a scholarship in his name.”

The Vincent Murphy Chemical Engineering Scholarship Endowment supports students in chemical and biological engineering. For more information on supporting Murphy’s legacy, please visit the endowment information page or visit the department website at www.engr.colostate.edu/cbe/partnerships.

Celebration of Life

Friends and family gathered at the Lory Student Center on Friday, March 18, 2022, for a Celebration of Life for Murphy. A recording of the gathering is below.