Meet KPU: Joel Murray
Murray has been at KPU for over 20 years and still enjoys his work, almost as much as he loves solving crossword puzzles
Dr. Joel Murray is the recently appointed associate dean of the faculty of trades and technology at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. He has been at the institution for over 20 years and was the co-chair in the English language studies department before becoming the associate dean of the faculty of science and horticulture in 2014.
Before working at KPU, Murray received a bachelor’s degree at the University of British Columbia and began teaching at a private school before learning his real passion was teaching post-secondary students. Eventually he applied to work at KPU, before it became a university.
Although he enjoys being an instructor and sharing his love of teaching with students, Murray is pleased to be working as an administrator.
When did you join the KPU community and why?
I have been at KPU since 2000 and taught for 12 years before becoming an administrator. I had been teaching in private schools for quite some time, as it was a bit more stable than the public system. Then, I decided that what I really wanted to do was to go into the college system, and in order to do that I needed a master’s degree. So, 13 years after getting my bachelor’s degree, I went back to school for a master’s. It took me five years of studying at night and teaching full-time in the day to get my master of arts degree.
After that, I worked at the British Columbia Institute of Technology and applied for a position at KPU, which was then known as Kwantlen College. To me, it just seemed more serious than the public system, so that is primarily why I wanted to work here. Once I started, I loved working at KPU and still do. I love working with students, my colleagues in the department, and learning about the institution. That has never gone away.
What is your favourite story of your time at KPU?
I remember a student on the first day I taught in September 2000 who was waiting to get into the classroom. He came in with a bit of an attitude and after a couple of classes, it was pretty clear that this student was horsing around and getting distracted. However, I saw a spark in him and the potential to go far. At one point mid-semester, I asked the student to come to my office and said, “Look, I know you don’t want to come to class, but you need to be here. I think you’re intelligent and I really believe you’ll go far, so try not to distract the other students and just do your work.”
From that point on, he stopped horsing around and got serious about the class and passed with a high mark. Eventually, he got his degree from KPU and went onto UBC to do further work. Even today, we are still in contact and friends on Facebook. We try to arrange to see each other for coffee once in a while and say “happy birthday” to each other every year. He looks back at that conversation as a sort of pep-talk and I feel like it changed his life. It was great to see the spark in a student’s eyes and then see him taking the initiative to take on what he needed to do and ultimately become successful.
Most people go into teaching because they want their students to be successful and that was extremely gratifying for me and the highlight of my time here. It is always good to approach a student from the positive and in this case achieve a wonderful outcome.
What is something you would like to say to people new to the KPU community?
A lot of students when they first come to post-secondary find being here overwhelming. The advice I would give students is to not be afraid to approach your instructors. Don’t be afraid to go to counselling or seek out peer tutors in the library. There is so much help available for students and they don’t have to feel like they are on their own to figure it out by themselves.
Whether they have problems that are related to their classes or lives, there is a lot of support here. Don’t just sit back and try to handle things on your own when you need help. With the COVID-19 pandemic, it was so hard on students to be expected to do whatever they can at home. You just don’t have the self-care that you get in-person, by making those relationships in class with your instructors and classmates. You just can’t get that sitting behind a computer screen. It was so difficult and I felt bad for students during that time. It is great to see how much better it is now.
What are you working on right now?
I’m in the faculty of trades and technology and, in general, trades are a male dominated field with only approximately four or five per cent of all trades people being women. I am trying to learn more about the challenges that women face in the trades and in trades training. I’m trying to do what I can to make things better for our female students and ensure that they have a positive experience in trades classes and are in a safe environment with their classmates. I know that I am approaching it from a male perspective, but I am sensitive to the fact that there are inequalities and inequities and I will do what I can as an administrator to reduce those as much as possible, if not try to eliminate them.
What is something you would like people to know about you?
I’m a cruciverbalist, which means someone who loves doing crossword puzzles. I do the New York Times crossword puzzle daily. After dinner, I sit for an hour and solve a puzzle on my phone. I stopped solving crossword puzzles on paper because I can just take out my phone if I am waiting for someone. Plus, it is always with me. If I do it on paper, I would have to take the newspaper with me and it gets awkward. I love words and I love solving crossword puzzles.