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Mission Possible: Alvin Murphy’s Doctoral Journey

By Sherry DiBari


Alvin Murphy finally has time to read all those books on his list. Murphy, who completed his doctorate from the Department of Engineering Management and Systems Engineering this semester, has spent the past few years focused on dissertation research - not pleasure reading.

He isn't the typical student - he has been an engineer and civil servant with the U.S. Navy since 1991 and currently serves as the chief system-of-systems architect for the Navy's Integrated Combat System program at Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) in Dahlgren, Virginia. "I work with sensor, command and control, weapon, and communication system experts to define how these systems will be connected and exchange data to provide warfighting capability for Navy surface combatants, aircraft carriers, and amphibious assault ships," he explained.

Murphy grew up in an Air Force family and lived in Georgia, Hawaii, Mississippi, Missouri, California and Florida. The family settled in Virginia when Alvin was in the 11th grade.

Some of Murphy's engineering influence can be traced back to his father who worked on the Space Shuttle Program during their time in California. He was also curious about technology as a child. "I used to love building electronic kits from Radio Shack and simple projects like a diode radio using a toilet paper tube and wire," he explained. "My parents bought me my first computer for Christmas with the introduction of the Commodore VIC-20 - followed by the Commodore C64." He started coding in assembly language in 9th grade.

Murphy earned a bachelor's in electrical engineering from Virginia Tech in 1991 and a master's in systems engineering from George Mason University in 2007.

Today his focus is on mission engineering. Murphy explains that mission engineering (ME) should be a part of systems engineering. "ME adds an element of documenting the intended use of the system from a user's perspective outside of the constraints of system design," he said. "This opens up the aperture for "design for purpose."

When it came time for his doctorate, ODU was the logical choice. His advisor, Jim Moreland Jr., leads a mission engineering focused cohort based out of ODU's facility at the University of Mary Washington campus in Dahlgren. "All of my PhD courses were fully online with the exception of Dr. Moreland's ME course," Murphy explained.

At ODU, Murphy's classes included those taught by Holly Handley, professor in the Department of Engineering Management and Engineering Systems. "Dr. Handley's courses in system architectures and human system's engineering really motivated me to keep learning," he said. "I really enjoyed her teaching style and reading assignments."

Handley was equally complimentary. "Alvin was a pleasure to have in class," she said. "He always participated in our virtual classroom and often linked our class concepts to experiences from his work. This made the class concepts much more tangible to the other students and often resulted in a lively discussion."

His dissertation, titled Hard-Real-Time Computing Performance in a Cloud Environment, focused on whether commercial processes and solutions from companies like Amazon or Uber could meet safety critical requirements of a system designed for warfighters.

Now that the dissertation is done, he'll finally get back to reading. "I'm looking forward to reading books from my favorite book lists which include recommendations from former President Barack Obama and Bill Gates.

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