Daniel Murphy Scholarship Fund Is About More Than Just Funding. And it’s Working.

Daniel Murphy Scholarship Fund Is About More Than Just Funding. And it’s Working.

The Daniel Murphy Scholarship Fund (DMSF) was founded over 30 years ago to give high school scholarship assistance and educational support to Chicago students who demonstrate financial need and academic and leadership potential. What began with two Scholars in two schools has grown to almost 500 Scholars who attend over 60 partnership schools in Chicago and across the country. Since its founding, DMSF has offered over 3,000 scholarships and ensured the Scholars’ success in high school, college and beyond. One hundred percent of Murphy Scholars graduate from high school and 87% of Murphy Scholars who attended colleges and universities have graduated, or are on track to graduate, with a bachelor’s degree within six years. 

Those last two numbers piqued our interest and we wanted to know more about how DMSF was working to achieve such laudable numbers.

We interviewed Cindy Hallums, Chief Education Officer of DMSF to get the full scoop.


Educational Endeavors: To start, what does a Chief Education Officer do?

Cindy Hallums: As the Chief Education Officer (CEO) I have the privilege and responsibility of working with members of the Education Department to support Scholars and provide all Scholar-facing programming. Additionally, I work closely with all partnership schools to ensure we’re in sync on providing all the resources and tools needed for our Scholars to succeed and feel included and welcome at their school. I’ve had a number of other roles at DMSF over the years and took over as CEO in April 2020. It was a challenging year for all, but we’re very pleased with what we’ve achieved with our programming even in this most difficult period.


EE: It’s called the Daniel Murphy Scholarship Fund, but it really is much more than a fund, a pot of money that provides financial aid to students. What other sorts of support does DMSF provide to students? 

CH: Yes, you’re absolutely right! While we provide direct tuition contributions for each Scholar ranging from $3,000-5,500 annually, we offer a whole range of programming options and supports including a two-week “Summer Bridge” program that prepares students for the rigors of school, one-to-one tutoring when students need help, mentoring, alumni support, college counseling, and other services that may impact students’ abilities to succeed in high school and then move on to college.


EE: What strikes me as particularly interesting about the DMSF approach is that you’re not just helping them pass their classes or get a good GPA and SAT score, but that you take a more holistic approach to student support? Why have you found this important?

CH: Our Scholars come from diverse backgrounds — with 45% identifying as LatinX, 39% African American, 7% Asian American, 7% White and 7% multi-racial — and come from over 73 Chicago neighborhoods. Our Scholars’ needs are as diverse as their backgrounds and we absolutely try to support the whole Scholar. If we don’t specifically provide necessary support, we work to connect Scholars with outside resources and partner organizations. We have learned over the past 30+ years that it takes much more than good grades and high test scores to be a successful person, and support runs much deeper than academic support. Additionally, we work really hard to ensure both high school and college are a good fit for Scholars — that these are not only places where they can see themselves, but also places that can meet their academic, social and emotional needs. We want Scholars to feel like they are an active part of the DMSF and their school community. 


EE: It also seems that you focus on making sure students get a fair amount of one-on-one support, be it tutoring or counseling or anything else. Why does that one-on-one support make a big difference? How does it work?

CH: Each Murphy Scholar is so special and has their own unique talents and needs. We have found that the more Scholars get to know DMSF and staff individually, the more likely they are to be a part of our programs and take advantage of what we have to offer. Our journey with Scholars begins in their interview and high school placement support and continues through the summer prior to freshman year with our Summer Bridge program. Unbreakable bonds with staff and fellow Scholars develop during those two weeks and set the foundation for the years ahead. Our Education Coordinators meet with cohorts of Scholars by school each semester and one-to-one with any Scholar who needs academic support or requests a meeting to see how we can provide additional resources. The highlight of our day is when we get to work with Scholar — they are the reason we do what we do! 


EE: What, if anything, has changed over the years in terms of the types of support students need, or how much and when they need support? Do you have a sense of what is driving these changes?

CH: Over 30 years ago when DMSF was founded, the program consisted mainly of tuition support. As the number of Scholars grew, the need for programming became clear. Over the past twenty years, all programming has been developed out of a need identified by Scholars and/or staff. When designing and implementing new programs, we spend a significant amount of time researching and speaking to experts and partner organizations to learn best practice. We continuously receive feedback from Scholars to help improve and adjust our approach. I believe a healthy organization, and one that will meet Scholars’ needs, is one that will always take time to really look in the mirror and see how they can improve. 


EE: DMSF is based in Chicago, serving Chicago-area students exclusively. Let’s say someone wanted to replicate your success in their own city. What advice would you give?

CH: DMSF accepts applications from 8th graders who live in Chicago, Cicero and Berwyn, and considers applications on an individual basis from those who live immediately south of the city. I’ve had the chance to connect with similar organizations to DMSF across the country and would love for there to be even more! My advice would be to really home in on who you want to partner with — which Scholars, families, communities, organization and schools — and work hard to develop and maintain strong partnerships that are grounded in Scholar success. 



More information about the Daniel Murphy Scholarship Fund.


Read Ignite: A Scholar’s Journal, featuring writing from the Summer Bridge program by the Daniel Murphy Scholars.