An inspiration to future teachers, poetry lovers and mustang riders
Dr. Carol Guerrero-Murphy retires from Adams State
Article by Linda Relyea
Whether approaching students, her mustang, or preparing to read her poetry to an audience, Dr. Carol Guerrero-Murphy uses the same calm, gentle manner that puts her intended audience at ease and receptive to her message. Watching her communicate with Lucky, her mustang horse, observing her in the classroom, or listening to her present her art in the form of poetry, Guerrero-Murphy's ease and flexible nature provides the type of atmosphere in which all creatures relax and absorb her kind and giving energy.
Ending her tenure as professor of English, Guerrero-Murphy chose to teach only first-year English courses her final semester. "I wish I had always taught as if it were my last year." She believes professors may become too concerned with their place in the academy/department and faculty/course evaluations. "In my case, I was more cautious in teaching, almost afraid to let the students know I care about them. Now I am not afraid to reveal all I know, that pertains to class. I no longer filter."
Kris Giere graduated with a bachelor's degree in 2004, and returned to receive a Bachelor of Arts degree in creative writing in 2006. "I was one of the first graduates with the creative writing degree. Carol was a major influence in that accomplishment." He completed a Master of Arts in English, with an emphasis in writing from Indiana State University.
"GM was always a nurturer in my classroom experience," Giere said. "She would help you draw your own conclusions by giving you ample opportunities to speak without being corrected." He remembers Guerrero-Murphy's positive, yet passive, support. "Carol always had an easy way about her that encouraged you to keep trying until you were satisfied. It was then she'd weigh in. If you had given her your best efforts, rarely was there any need for correction or counsel. If you had fallen short of your own potential and capability, she would softly prod you to try harder next time. And soft or not, her prodding made it clear she wanted more."
Another former student, Michelle Le Blanc, received her MFA in creative writing from Antioch University in Los Angeles in 2012. It was a class she took from Guerrero-Murphy that set her on her current path. "Dr. GM is a personable and patient teacher. While she gives guidance and instruction, she also creates the space for her students to make their own discoveries, to have epiphanies."
Serendipity for Adams and Guerrero-Murphy
In 1995, a friend sent Guerrero-Murphy a clipped ad from the Chronicle of Education for a position at Adams State. She held a tenured position at Roanoke College. Leaving a tenured position in a private university with ample benefits to accept a position at Adams State, was nothing short of "magical" for Guerrero-Murphy.
Earlier that same year, playing a family card game, she described where she would like to be in five years: "west, diverse, state-supported, I was picturing Adams State." She had taken teacher education courses at the college in the 70s when she was teaching preschool in Gardner, Colo.
To apply, Guerrero-Murphy wrote a "crazy, over-the-top letter, describing the wind and catching trout…" When offered the position, Guerrero-Murphy initially turned down the offer, because of the cut in pay. "I called Dr. Joe Kolupke (then dean of Arts and Letters) and asked for twenty-four hours to reconsider."
She and her husband, David Guerrero, and their son, Galen, had spent time listing the pros and cons of relocation, but finally all rational reasons not to accept went "out the window. It was such a good decision."
Emeritus President David Svaldi said Guerrero-Murphy's commitment to diversity and inclusive excellence was clearly demonstrated when she left a tenured position at an eastern liberal arts college to accept a position at Adams State College because of opportunity to work with the diverse students and in a diverse community.
Teaching with grace and kindness
Whatever the winds of faith that connected Guerrero-Murphy and Adams State, the stars aligned when she followed her path. In one of her last classes, the tables formed a rectangle, facing inwards, a barely perceptible tension swirled through the students as they formed collaborations. Guerrero-Murphy acted as a conduit encouraging metaphors, drawing out reticent students and keeping the outspoken to a low simmer. When the lesson began to falter, she had the students stand, mingle with each other and complete that morning’s classroom assignment.
Giere said: “It is Carol’s kindness and patience that I carry with me into my classrooms as I teach young writers each semester who struggle to find their voice among the echo chambers of academia. I am a better teacher for sharing time with Carol and a better person. That much is certain.”
Le Blanc, currently a college reading and writing professor at Trinidad State Junior College, said Guerrero-Murphy served as her faculty supervisor during her field study and pedagogy study while earning her MFA. “Carol really allowed me to stretch and engage in any way I wanted to, helped to guide my purpose into practice with students. I am still astounded at how freely she shared her classroom with me that semester. If there was something I wanted to try or that I was challenged by, she gave me the space and advice to try it.”
Patience, perseverance, passion, and engagement – words chosen by Le Blanc to describe Guerrero-Murphy. Now an adjunct professor in the English, Theatre, and Communications Department, Kathy Park Woolbert uses the same expressions when remembering her struggles in a modern poetry class with Guerrero-Murphy. “Carol was patient and persistent and determined to help us all become miners on the search for precious gems. I remember one class she brought in a complicated poem that was completely cut apart into separate lines, and we had to figure out how to reconstruct it on the basis of meaning, rhyme, and rhythm.”
Woolbert graduated in 2007 with a major in English/creative writing and a minor in theatre. She later received an MFA in creative writing/nonfiction from Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass. When her declared major, interdisciplinary studies, didn't feel right, Woolbert approached Guerrero-Murphy. “Carol took a look at my transcript and class schedule, and said: ‘Oh, it's obvious. You're a creative writing major.’ Although I have written a lot in my life, I had never thought of myself as a writer. An artist, yes, of course, but a writer seemed to be a different beast altogether. Carol helped me enfold the art of writing into my identity as an artist.”
As an undergraduate, Le Blanc received her degree in journalism from CU-Boulder. “I had always wanted to try my hand at creative writing from an academic point of view and I knew Carol as a poet, I decided to take her creative writing course. From day one, I felt like I had been launched into something that fit my personality and creative side. The restraints of writing formal poetry and short fiction actually freed me to really write for the first time.”
An inspiration for future students
Inspired students took a variety of courses with Guerrero-Murphy including Freshman Composition and General Education Literature, Women and Literature, Creative Writing, Fiction and Poetry, Reading Poetry, and Contemporary Poetry.
"I remember struggling with Carol's teaching style at first, which I can now see is more right-brained and holistic than my own," Woolbert said. "But once I learned to relax and go with it, I saw how much space she constructed into her classes. I am talking about creative space, to think and ponder and wonder and reflect. I remember her encouraging us to share secrets, parts of ourselves that shocked us a little. She helped us gather the courage to put all of that on the page."
A valuable lesson in teaching Le Blanc learned from Guerrero-Murphy was that a classroom "has a specific purpose, there's no fat; that's how I try to teach now. Fill the day with purpose and many opportunities for students to find their place, they will learn."
Diversity could well be a key word for Guerrero-Murphy. Adams State appealed to her, largely because of the diversity in the student population. She understands the need to establish programs for faculty and staff so that they can better understand themselves and become more effective teachers and colleagues. Since 2013 she taught part-time and served as the President's Liaison for Inclusion and Equity part-time. She will continue half-time in this position and as Chair of CIELO, Community for Inclusive Excellence, Leadership, and Opportunity, in transitional retirement.
"During her voluntary work with CIELO, she became a campus leader in the pursuit of inclusive excellence for ASU and I, at the request of the CIELO President's Advisory Group, formalized her leadership by appointing her as the President's Liaison for Inclusive Excellence and a member of the Executive Team," Svaldi said. "Her caring work both with our students and with ASU employees has added value to our community. Carol will continue her work with Dr. McClure during the 2015-16 academic year. She is a fantastic committed person and leader and a wonderful poet."
Ph.D. in English – Denver University
MA in English – Denver University
BS in education – University of Wisconsin, through the Teacher Corps.
Table Walking at Nighthawk, WILLA (Women Writing the West) Award Comstock Review, Ibid, Manifest West Anthology, Barnstorm Literary Journal, Pilgrimage, Spirituality and Art Anthology, Messages from the Hidden Lake, A Walk Along the Rio, Southwestern American Literature, American Literary Review, Prairie Schooner, and several others
Women's Studies Program director through 2014
Head of the English, Theatre, Communications, and Languages Department from 2000 until 2009, helped found the Creative Writing Program
Kindred Spirits administrator
Strategic Planning Steering Committee
Presidential Roundtable on Budget
Vice-president Roundtable on Student Retention Initiatives
ASU Board of Trustees Faculty Member
Writing Studio Director: 1995 until 2000
Hispanic Serving Institutions Title V interim project director: 2004/2005, helped found the Student Summer Scholars program
Husband – David Guerrero
Children – Sophia and Galen
Horse – Lucky
Cats – CC and Natty Bumpo