Paul Murphy spends his days discovering clues to America’s past.
Surrounded by a magnifying glass, latex gloves and a hand-held dusting brush, the University of Mary Washington historic preservation major sorts through a box of seemingly innocuous objects to identify and catalog bits of history.
He spies a small sherd of ceramic, perhaps part of a bowl or plate once used by Native Americans; a triangular chipped rock, probably a prehistoric spear or an arrow; and a smooth piece of stone, likely used by hunters to skin animals.
“It’s not like being a historian where you read what somebody else wrote and then write your ideas about it,” said Murphy. “It’s something new. You’ve found it, you’ve excavated it, and you interpret it to study how other people lived.”
Murphy is one of 11 veterans working at The Veterans Curation Program in Alexandria – an employment and training program for wounded, disabled and recently separated veterans who served during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts—as an archeological laboratory technician to identify, catalog and digitize the archeological findings of the Jenkins Plantation Museum in West Virginia.
“Our purpose is twofold; we work on the rehabilitation of collections and the teaching of transferable skills, and we also assist with professional growth and development,” said Jasmine Heckman, archeological laboratory manager for the VCP.
Through this job, Murphy is learning writing and problem-solving skills, artifact identification and database management; he also participates in mock interviews and receives résumé and job search advice.
Murphy, 37, served in the U.S. Marines for more than 12 years before deciding to pursue his degree.
He served two tours in Ramadi, Iraq for seven months each. He was a dismount squad leader and guard chief who provided security and served as a quick reaction force. He also spent time in Malaysia, Borneo and Indonesia where he learned jungle warfare training.
“The Marines taught me the leadership traits that I bring with me to a job: judgment, dependability, initiative, decisiveness, tact, integrity, enthusiasm, bearing, courage, knowledge, loyalty, endurance, justice and unselfishness,” said Murphy.
Now, Murphy spends his days juggling a full-time class load, working at the VCP and helping his wife, Amie, raise their newborn twins.
“Adult/veteran students often are combining the serious issues of life – jobs, families, children, challenging finances, commuting –with their education,” said Doug Sanford, professor of historic preservation. “Balancing all of these issues with the various time commitments of each can prove pretty challenging. Paul often does have a different perspective [in the classroom], given his military background and greater age. He is more mature and more realistic than some of our younger, traditional students, as you would expect. He thinks more in terms of an immediate career and current job opportunities, rather than planning for a job ‘down the road.’”
As soon as Murphy’s term ends with the VCP, he will begin an internship with Dovetail Cultural Resource Group in Fredericksburg in its archeological laboratory. He also plans to participate in an oral history project at the Quantico Marine Corps Base next semester.
“Paul has physically worked harder in his life than most faculty ever will. He knows the value of his education,” said Gary Stanton, associate professor of historic preservation. “The combination of his knowledge and skills could lead him in a variety of different ways. We find that the preservation degree can be a gateway to real estate, construction management, museum work, property management, compliance work, and planning. But whether he finds opportunities in those areas, or writes for a newspaper, his degree will be an asset.”