Building Connections

Cynthia Murphy Ortega
By Laura Pizzo

Although Cynthia Murphy ’91 (Lambing-Ortega) grew up in a home without college-educated parents, she always knew she would be the first in her family to attend a university.

“When I was young, my family travelled around the world because my dad was in the military. I think that as my parents experienced the world around them, they saw that in order to get to the next level, whatever that may be, you really needed a college education,” she said. “So in my house, it wasn’t ‘Do you want to go to college?’ it was, ‘You’re going to college.’”

But even though she was Valedictorian of her high school class and excelled in math and science, going to college wasn’t without sacrifices.

“My parents worked hard trying to secure the money so I could attend UC Davis. I stayed up many nights trying to perfect those scholarship applications and filling out all the financial aid forms,” she said. “It was hard on me and my parents, and I don’t think I fully appreciated their sacrifices until after I got through school.”

It all became worth it when Murphy began living her dream career. She landed a job as a chemical engineer at Chevron Corporation, where she has worked for the past 25 years. Murphy transitioned into human resources in 2011 and is now a Chevron University Partnership Program manager. In this role, she develops strategic relationships with universities, including UC Davis, to help them develop the curriculum, faculty and facilities they need to lead students to success after college.

Murphy recognizes that her passion for student success may partially stem from her past involvement in the Special Transitional Enrichment Program (STEP program), which exposes incoming students to opportunities and support systems on campus.

“As a first-generation, low income, Hispanic female engineering student, I felt very well-supported at UC Davis,” she said. “One of the reasons I was able to quickly succeed in college was because I had a group of peer students and access to faculty through STEP who genuinely wanted to make a difference in our lives. Through STEP, I had a deeper connection with that community. In contrast, I noticed the students who didn’t have a community—who didn’t live on campus their first year, who didn’t know where the resources were—sometimes didn’t succeed.”

A career in driving student success

Similar to her experience at UC Davis, it was the people and culture at Chevron that made Murphy feel at home.

“If you look various energy companies, we’re all striving to explore, produce and refine crude oil into finished products,” she explained. “So it comes down to the culture and values of the company, and the people you’ll be working with day in and day out.”

She continued, “So my enthusiasm for facilitating connections and strategies between Chevron and our university partners, as well as for recruiting students, stems from the diverse and collaborative environment where I work. I want people to join Chevron for these same experiences. We need a great fit on both sides.”

Murphy has found that part of enjoying where you work is contributing to the growth and development of the people and company.

Early in her career, Murphy became involved in the onboarding processes at Chevron. She noticed that it took time for skills and knowledge to be passed on to new engineers—as they worked in the various facets of the business—and she wanted to help expedite the process. As a result, Murphy began managing Chevron Technical University and then went on to work on the development of the Horizon Program. The mission of both of these programs is to accelerate technical competency development of new technical hires, which is done through a unique combination of technical training and learning, mentoring and diverse work assignments.

“Taking the idea of the Horizons program and making it a reality was my proudest moment in my career,” she said. “Once in a while, I will meet a new hire who has been in the program, and they’ll tell me that it made a difference in their career or exposed them to new types of work. I am so pleased to hear that the program has continued to make a difference for our new hires and that it has evolved as the company has grown.”

Murphy continues to go above and beyond when it comes to her relationship with UC Davis. She serves on various boards, including the College of Engineering Dean’s Executive Committee, where she says she enjoys being a part of a diverse group of alumni and industry participants who want what is best for the students and university.

“Being a chemical engineering student at UC Davis was challenging but, at the same time, I always knew that the faculty, staff and my peers were pulling for me and really wanted me to excel.”

Note: This story originally appeared in the fall 2016 issue of AggieXtra.