By Jennifer L. Warren
NEWBURGH – Jamira Torres-Murphy chuckles and smiles wide as she utters, “She’s not getting rid of me,” lovingly referring to her relationship with 2018 Newburgh Free Academy PTECH graduate, Suriana Rodriguez, who appears more than fine with having her mentor of over six years around.
The special bond the duo share has ironic roots. Torres-Murphy, originally from Puerto Rico and 23 year veteran of IBM in Poughkeepsie, where she works as a Manager for Mainframe Support, immediately became intrigued about taking on a mentor role once she learned about the PTECH program, a unique secondary education path allowing students to earn a high school diploma, industry-recognized associated degree, while attaining pivotal work experience in a growing field. The education-work partnership seemed like the ideal future setting for her two children who resided with her in the Newburgh School District at the time. So, she decided to research the school as well as its mentorship program. Despite Torres-Murphy and her family leaving the District before her children attended PTECH, her desire to be a mentor remained. It was intensified when she was matched up with her first student, Suriana Rodriguez, a freshman, back in 2014.
“I fell in love with Suriana’s dedication and could really relate to her,” recalled Torres-Murphy, who was matched with Rodriguez based on their interests and backgrounds. “I really love working with kids, and the PTECH experience I had with her is one of the most significant I have had; the program is just wonderful and really makes a difference.”
That game-changing relationship is perhaps most evident in Rodriguez’ life today. Hired by IBM in Poughkeepsie (site of her high school internship) full-time as an Electrical Lab Technician at just 19 years old, she is now in her second year in the professional workforce, testing mainframe product quality before it is released to clients. Able to hone her technical and professional skill sets in her selected Cybersecurity major while at PTECH, Rodriguez was a first generation college graduate, whose passion for technology, particularly hardware and the management end, blossomed during her four year tenure. Meanwhile her mentorship with Torres-Murphy, opened up other arenas in her personal journey, each critical to her career and life.
“She (Torres-Murphy) really helped me to open up; I was very shy and kept to myself, but to have someone believe in me and be able to go to that person who really understood where I was coming from was so helpful,” explained Rodriguez, who is of Mexican descent.
“She was that person I really needed to have in my life, especially when it came to my future goals as well as reaching out to others and wanting to become a mentor myself.”
Although some of those initial goals have been met (Rodriguez landed a job at IBM and she mentors students at both NFA and Poughkeepsie), and the “formal” mentorship through PTECH has ended, the two have remained in touch, still learning and growing from one another. It’s a relationship that has evolved over time; back in high school, the focus was on guiding Rodriguez through such skills as public speaking and building her resume.
Today, it still involves pieces of being an effective “worker;” however, at its epicenter, it will always have an even deeper reach.
“It’s really about helping her evolve as a whole person,” said Torres-Murphy, whose own children are now 16 and 12 years old. “I really care about her as a person and want her to be successful on many levels.” She added, “These mentorships are so important and need to happen more; they really opened up my eyes, and I grew myself from helping Suriana, so I truly believe mentorships will make society better overall.”
As for Rodriguez, who e-mails Torres-Murphy on a semi-regular basis, typically asking for advice on how to handle certain issues faced by a young professional working at IBM, the feedback and the bond remain priceless pieces of her life.
“Having her as a role model, especially as a woman who is also Latin-American, really shows me anything is possible,” said Rodriguez, who feels blessed for her relationship with Torres-Murphy. “I see what she has accomplished, and I want to be able to do the same.”