Before Bliss Murphy enrolled as a freshman at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, she considered herself something of an introvert.
“I never really liked to try new things because they caused me a little bit of anxiety,” Murphy said.
Since starting at UTC in fall semester 2022, that has changed. Dramatically.
“I went on MocSync after I was told about it and just checked all the events,” said Murphy, now a rising sophomore majoring in environmental science with a concentration in biology. “I thought, ‘Maybe there’s something new; maybe something I haven’t tried before. Or maybe they’ve got free food and it sounds like a great time to meet people.’”
Murphy’s freshman year, along with the usual load of classes, was filled to the brim. During the academic year, she was a member or involved with 18 different on-campus groups or organizations, including the Center for Women and Gender Equity, the Wildlife and Zoology Club, the Ecological Decisions for a Global Environment (EDGE), Healing Through Harmony music therapy group and Undergraduate Research and Creative Endeavor (URaCE).
Sometimes, she just hung out on Chamberlain Field with other students.
“I made so many friends,” said Murphy, who graduated from East Hamilton High School. “A lot of the time I get, ‘Hey, I saw you at another event. You’re everywhere.’ I’ve heard that a lot.
“I used to think of myself as a really reserved, introverted person until I actually was given the opportunity for a lot of things in my interests and an environment I felt comfortable trying new things.”
Whether you’re introverted, nervous, or just plain scared, Murphy recommended the plunge-right-in method to make the most of your freshman year at UTC. Doing so has been critically important to her as a first-generation student, she said.
“Find the group that you have a special interest in first. Look at their social media or check MocSync and see when their events are and attend those. Try to get connected with as many people as you can. Reach out. And, at least in my experience, people have reached out to me and just started conversations with me when I was a little too shy to do it.”
In what she said may be the most important decision she made, Murphy joined the Arts and Sciences Residential Learning College in Decosimo Apartments for first-year students.
“It’s really helped having built-in study buddies and having those connections with similar interests and career paths,” she said.
Especially interested in reptiles and amphibians, Murphy is a volunteer at the Chattanooga Zoo this summer, working with turtles and hellbenders—the largest salamanders in North America—as well as giant anteaters and other species. She hopes to make a career that involves animals.
“I’d love to explore the outdoors and see our native wildlife,” she said.
Dr. Bradley Reynolds, senior lecturer in the UTC Department of Biology, Geology and Environmental Science, said Murphy is an example of someone who has taken advantage of the opportunities at UTC and thrived.
“She’s heard me say it before: Take advantage of every opportunity. Do absolutely, positively everything you can to build experience, to build your skill set and advance yourself as a scholar and as a practitioner,” he said. “That’s how you get employed, and that’s how you set yourself apart from everybody else.”
Murphy—named after her mother’s best friend, “one of the coolest people she had ever met”—is on the autism spectrum, but you wouldn’t know it by chatting with her. Conversation comes easily, and she makes confident eye contact. The one tell might be the squeeze ball she continually swaps back and forth between her hands as she talks.
Throughout her life, being on the autism spectrum has meant some teasing and bullying, she said, but that’s not the case at UTC.
“Everyone that I’ve met has been extremely friendly and welcoming and accepting of who I am. If you’re different, they don’t judge you for that.
“I realized, ‘Wow, I’m actually a really outgoing person when I’m given the resources and opportunity.’”