Center Snapshot - Debbie Murray
Debbie Murray helps a LARSS student.
Image above: Debbie Murray helps a third-year LARSS student, Brandon Haygood, at the Graduate/Career Enhancement Seminar. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith.

By: Denise Adams

Debbie Murray spends most of her time helping others.

When she isn't helping to process and house Langley Aerospace Research Summer Scholars (LARSS), she is helping people who lose their homes in disasters as a volunteer for the Red Cross.

After the events of September 11, 2001, Murray and husband John felt the need to help others: "Just as so many others did, I think we just felt so helpless and wanted to do something."

They knew they could make a difference through the Red Cross.

As a part of a Disaster Action Team (DAT), she and John are on-call every third week. They have responded to several local disasters, some involving single families, some on a larger scale.

"It is very heartbreaking and rewarding at the same time," she said.

She joined the National Red Cross Team and has traveled to Wheeling, W.Va., after Hurricane Ivan and also to Pascagoula, Miss., after Hurricane Katrina, to help with disaster relief.

"They were tremendous opportunities. You see so many people put on such a level playing field," she said. "People with very little are left with nothing, and people with a lot were also left with nothing."

The Red Cross DAT now has three teams, but Murray explained that they hope to be able to put a fourth team together through new volunteers.

The lessons learned from these disasters hit close to home for Murray, whose family means the world to her.

She has two daughters and three sons. She also has two granddaughters, and her first grandson was born nine weeks ago.

When she isn't volunteering, she spends most of her time with her family and stays involved in her church.

And when she isn't involved in either of those, she is working at NASA Langley and has been for 19 years.

Murray is the LARSS and the Undergraduate Student Research Program (USRP) coordinator. The VA Space Grant Consortium, Murray's employer, under the auspices of the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA), manages the LARSS Program for NASA.

She coordinates all aspects of the day-to-day program responsibilities such as the recruitment of student applicants, the review and selection process by the NASA mentors for all three sessions and housing for the LARSS Program.

She most enjoys interaction with people. "I have the opportunity to work and communicate with so many students, faculty and researchers. I am very much a people person," Murray said.

She also enjoys seeing that she has made a difference in the students' futures.

Murray becomes connected with the students. She was even invited to a wedding this summer for a former student who met her future husband while in the LARSS Program. Murray frequently receives Christmas cards and thank you cards from current and past students.

"We urge them to keep in touch with us and let us know what opportunities they receive as a result of the program," Murray said.

She also emphasizes the importance of networking and encourages her students to network as much as possible while in the program. "Networking allows the students to build a very valuable list of professional contacts, which may open future doors for employment, internships, references, as well as potential partners for writing publications and proposals as possibilities," Murray said.

According to Murray, The LARSS Program has always been popular with the NASA researchers since its inception in 1986.

She explained that strong partnerships with sponsoring organizations such as the NASA Space Grant Consortiums, and contractors, such as ROME, have played a vital role in funding additional students.

"Due in large part to these partnerships and many other recruiting avenues, the applicant pool increased from 387 in 2007 to well over 500 for the 2008 program," she said.

"I have to say a program is only as good as those who run it, and because we are a true team, I have to give due credit to Sarah Pauls, LARSS Program Assistant, for her role as well," Murray said.

The summer student application deadline passed on February 1, and the next application deadline for the fall session is April 15.

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