Street Level Influencer: Meet Jane Murtaugh and Her Passion for HR Education

Profile photo of Jane Murtaugh, SHRM-CP
Jane Murtaugh, Professor at College of DuPage, and founder of the HR Management Certification program.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela

It’s been a while, but the Street Level Influencer is back! Now more than ever, we need reminders from those individuals at the ground level making an impact in our daily lives – many times without us knowing it – that life is overwhelmingly good, even when it’s “bad.”

Street level influencers provide that for us.

COVID, social unrest, systemic racism, political division, hatred from all sides. All these things have caused cracks in even the most tempered of personality foundations. Concrete, eventually, will crack under the weight of the burden.

When I began my idea of the Street Level Influencer, I had no idea how positive people would respond to it! I’m excited that it struck a chord with people. Remember, the Street Level Influencer is a reminder that everyone has the ability to radiate positive light in the world around them, and light is brighter when surrounded by shadows.

So far in the series, I have introduced you to:

  1. Kirk Hamsher
  2. Kristy Freewalt
  3. Sue Oswalt
  4. Okie Smith
  5. John Newton
  6. Olga Piehler
  7. Blake Quinlan
  8. James Woods
  9. Anthony Eaton

The first professional job I had out of college was not in HR, or even a typical post-graduate job. I graduated during the Great Recession when starting a career was difficult to say the least. However, I didn’t give up on finding some semblance of income, so I turned to an unlikely source!

I reached out to an old professor I had at Joliet Jr. College, the community college I went to after high school. Dr. Buck helped vouched for me, and I was hired as an adjunct professor in the Social Sciences Department. I taught Political Science 101.

Being an adjunct professor was one of my favorite experiences I’ve ever had. I am passionate about education, helping develop minds, and brining a love of learning out of even the most skeptical students’ minds! I was proud of what I accomplished during my tenure at JJC.

I’ve always had a connection to community colleges. In all facets of what I’ve done professionally over the years, I tried to support local community colleges. They’re a foundation of learning, and a necessary bridge for some or a lifeline for others.

So, about a year ago, I was thrilled when Jane Murtaugh of College of DuPage reached out to me with a proposal. Jane started the Human Resource Certificate Program at COD a few years prior, and she wanted me to be on their advisory council! I met Jane through social media, and I knew her passion for HR and higher education, so I was honored and geeked to join their advisory council.

Aside from our connection through community colleges, the human resource community, and living in the western Chicago suburbs, her and I both are proud alumni from Northern Illinois University. Go Huskies!

So, without further ado, here is Jane’s story!

1. Tell me about the organization you currently work at and what your role is.

For the past 20 years, I have worked at College of DuPage (COD) as a full-time professor of Business & Management. COD is a community college located in DuPage County, about 30 miles west of Chicago. My area of focus and expertise is in HR Management from my former corporate days; and as the developer and chair of our HR Management Certificate program since Fall 2017, I am now enjoying helping both advise and instruct our HR students as they work to either launch or advance their careers. I enjoy every minute being able to work with and mentor our HRM Certificate students and watching them reach their career goals! Plus, I get to work with great HR professionals such as yourself in a variety of roles as you all support these students as either members of our HR Advisory Board, as mentors, as career advisors, as guest speakers, as presentation reviewers, and as employers. The current education environment is challenging right now, but I am most grateful for the opportunity I have been given to work with students.

2. What is the number one misconception about HR you see your students come in believing?

I chuckle a bit at this question – I see many non-HR students put off taking the one required HRM course for our Associate of Applied Science in Management degree students. HR has a negative perception to many of them as the Department who says “no” or obstructs them from doing what they want to be doing. Others see HR as merely those people in boring payroll jobs or those who like to discipline. I spend a lot of time talking about and selling the value of HR and how each of us are better managers, better supervisors, and better employees the more we learn and understand about HR. Understanding how jobs are designed, how jobs are paid, how benefit offerings are determined, how training is created and implemented, how employees are retained, etc. all adds value to our organizations and ourselves. The two areas of study all seem to be very interested is in employment law and discrimination AND terminations and discipline.

I don’t have to really sell the value of studying HR to our HRM Certificate students – they already have an interest in HR and are eager to learn more so they can become HR professionals themselves.

3. Why was it important to you to push an HR Management Certificate program at the community college level?

Interesting question – the reality is I was frequently being asked why COD only offered one HR course and why we didn’t offer a degree in HR. It was honestly a question I had asked myself many times as well.  At the community college level, we need to be able to demonstrate employability for each of our offered certificate programs. As I began investigating growth in HR careers and job openings back in 2016, I saw double-ditch growth projections. So, I began working on developing our HR certificate, created three advanced HRM courses, and launched them in the Fall 2017 semester. We now have approximately 150 alums!!

Community colleges are known primarily as two-year colleges offering a way to begin the pursuit of a four-year degree by completing general education coursework at a lower tuition cost, but we are also so much more than that. Career and workforce development through Career & Technical Education programs is a huge part of our mission and one that employers are asking us for more and more of these days. Our Human Resource Management Certificate is an example of just that.

As you know, many individuals can end up in an HR career without having completed any college coursework in HR. Or others are looking to begin or advance their HR career without needing to complete a four-year program. And others are looking to advance their careers through certification exams. Our HRM Certificate fits that need. It is truly an example of career and workforce development! Our students come to us for this two-semester program and head out into the workplace ready to meet employer needs.

We’ve seen great success of students completing the program and obtaining employment upon earning their HRM Certificate. Others have achieved their HRCI or SHRM certification upon completion, others have moved into HR internships.

My personal goal continues to be for SHRM National to acknowledge there are many emerging HR professionals looking to certify and be recognized as HR professionals without need of a Bachelor degree and that community colleges can also offer credible HR coursework and certificate programs. HRCI has done that through their aPHR exam, and I have many students who move in that direction upon completing our HRM Certificate. HRCI sees our coursework as being aPHR prep, and we are listed on their website as such. Today’s students aren’t always just the traditional 18-23 year old students.

4. That’s an important point! As much as I am a lover of continued education, I believe the bachelor’s degree has been overvalued over the past several decades. There are SO MANY amazing HR pros who don’t have a bachelor’s nor need one, per se! How would you define being a “good HR professional?”

Ethical – Honest – HUMBLE

Proactive communicator

Respectful

Empathetic

Continuous learner

Enjoys people

Enjoys HR

Knowledgeable

Willing to learn new things

Passionate about working in HR

Eager to share what they know with others across all levels of stakeholders

5. With the HR management certificate program, what types of students do you see come through your classes? Why do you think that is?

This is changing – we began offering our advanced HRM courses in Fall 2017. That semester we primarily had students who completed our advanced HR courses as electives for their Management degrees. Now though we primarily see students coming to us from the local community who are not traditional college students but are those seeking to launch or advance their HR careers. Again, the value of offering a career development certificate such as this. It’s something I am very proud of as it helps educate not only the students, but the DuPage County workforce as well.

6. I’ve been pretty vocal about the need for HR to embrace being uncomfortable as it relates to the social injustices plaguing the Black Community – especially in the workplace. How would you advise an HR professional who is intimidated or hesitant to speak up themselves – as I once was – about wrongs they’ve seen in the workplace for whatever reason?

I absolutely encourage speaking up!! In HR our responsibility to and focus on the people in our organizations, our internal stakeholders. I realize in my current role I have the security of tenure and that may make it seem easier for me to speak up, but I have always led with ethics, convictions, and values. If HR is truly the department that is meant to drive and foster culture and organizational values, we have to speak up – we have to guide – we have to use ethical practice. This isn’t always easy. Followers enable leadership, and I would encourage HR professionals to work to ensure we aren’t enabling a toxic culture or unethical leadership. By speaking up when we see wrong helps to ensure that toxicity doesn’t get the leverage it seeks. We need to be building relationships and credibility with management across all levels of the firm, and my hope is that by doing that we can also work towards fostering a mutual trust and respect and a willingness to listen to each other when discussing those positives and potential wrongs in our organizations. So, start by building those relationships, seek input from a mentor either within or external to your organization, bring a proposed solution to what is wrong, listen, but at all times remain loyal to your values and professional standards. 

7. How do you feel the HR profession can bring about real, lasting change for Black workers, and other marginalized people in the workplace?

My hope is we, as HR professionals, truly are able to bring about cultural change within our organizations. I have worked in organizations where HR is valued to help bring about that change and in others where it is the exact opposite because HR had no voice or input. For many of us, we have much work to do in this area for HR to truly be seen as the drivers of cultural change. 

We all know there is also much work to do in addressing the inequities within our organizations and institutions in general, and there is a need for us to be courageous in our listening, a need for us to be willing to have the tough conversations about race and social justice, a need for us to actually observe the realities of our behaviors and their impact on Black workers and other marginalized people in our workplaces. It’s the “how” of doing that that is tough in helping to bring about the real, lasting changes needed.

I have spent many hours since early June being courageous in my listening and reading the tremendous work that has been posted and distributed from the many books, webinars, and podcasts our HR colleagues across the country have either authored or recommended. I’ve created new assignments that require students to read articles on racism and inequities in workplaces and led discussions on what they are seeing in their places of employment and our role in HR in addressing these issues. I follow many HR professionals on Twitter and saw a post a couple weeks ago that made me stop and think about how many of these conversations have now stopped. The post said something along the lines of “in June you said you would take steps to correct the inequities in your organization…have you?” For me that’s the challenge right there. Are we still listening? Are we still conversing? We have to move forward from social justice and inequities being the current issue and challenge discussed in HR circles to the realities of it’s now time to put actions behind the “how” of bringing lasting change. Personally, I’m still working on figuring out my “how”. 

8. It sounds like you’re doing your “how” by incorporating such discussions into your course work at COD. I do not think that is insignificant. Thank you for doing this. This next question is lighter. Who’s one person in your network that readers should know about?

Paul, just ONE??!!

Claire Petrie – a tireless, HR professional who welcomes anyone into her network, and we are all better for it. She also shares my love for helping students advance – she gives back to her alma mater, and she inspires us to do the very same. When I have a student questioning how to advance in their HR career, she’s on my list of recommendations to contact. When I have a question on LinkedIn, she’s there to help. When I give my students a list of HR professionals to connect with, she, like you, is on that list. Her spirit and energy are contagious, and she inspires me to keep moving forward!! She is very active on both LinkedIn and on Twitter, and her weekly email newsletters are always very worthy of your time to read.

9. I truly mean this when I say it, that Claire is one of my most favorite people in the world. No other way to say it, other than, she’s amazing! Who is one person — historic, famous, or personal — who inspires you to be better?

This is personal for me – my oldest sister, Deb. Sadly she lost her battle with colon cancer back in 2009, but I am a better person overall due to her. We shared our love of education and bettering student lives, and we shared new approaches to meeting students’ needs and concerns we were facing. I miss her every single day.

10. What do you feel is HR’s biggest challenge going to be over the next six months?

This has to be handling the changes the pandemic thrust upon us. Our workforces have changed in size, location, and work habits. Will we be back together next June? Will we want to be? Should we be?

HR also needs to accept the reality our employees have personally changed. Are we ready to accept what that really means? As a mom of an RN whose patients include those with COVID-19, I think about this often as I’ve watched her from a distance and prayed for all healthcare workers over these past 8 months. Are we now ready to meet both the current effects and aftereffects of the stress this pandemic has brought? There has been a tremendous loss in this country, in our communities, and in our families. Our employees’ well-being needs to be considered and addressed today and tomorrow. The impact of that loss and stress will be felt for years.

11. That is an incredibly insightful and important point. We are focusing on the now, as we should. Yet, we should prep for what’s next. How will people have changed when the pandemic ends? It will end, but the effects will remain with us for a lifetime. I know people will want to connect with you if they haven’t, so how can people best reach out to you?

I’m pretty much online unless I’m asleep – it’s something the pandemic has shown me I need to work on. But please reach out to me via email at murtaugh@cod.edu or follow me on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/janemurtaugh, or on Twitter at @murtaughj (I’m a better follower than leader on Twitter).

12. Finally, what’s one thing you think the world should know about you – personal or professional? Have fun with this one!

I have learned I am not at all good at Twitter Chats! I try to engage with the #HRSocialHour chat on Sundays and am in awe of everyone’s continuous postings – and then I see Wendy and Jon (hosts of the HR Social Hour Twitter chat) consolidate everyone’s comments and release it a few days later and how they do that is beyond me when I can’t even remember to add the #HRSocialHour hash tag into my posts. I’m exhausted for a week after that one hour of trying to stay caught up with all you Twitter chat pros. Maybe you really can’t teach an old dog new tricks! Ha!!

(For the record, I don’t think that’s true! 😊 I think Claire would help you with that if you asked!)

Published by Paul LaLonde

Husband. Father. Passionate about HR, helping people, and doing the right thing. Also, heavy metal, craft beer, and general nerd things! #SHRM19Blogger. Find me on Twitter at @HRPaul49 and LinkedIn. Thoughts, views and opinions on this site are solely my own and do not represent those of my employer or any other entity ​with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated.

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