When Michael Skarda started the journey of becoming a commissioned officer in the U.S. Air Force, there were no indications that his military career was beginning amidst two decades of conflict. In 2002, Skarda joined the Air Force’s Reserve Officer…
From the iSchool to the Army, and Back Again
In 1992, Dwayne Murray ’97 was studying sociology through the Maxwell School while enjoying a semester abroad in London, when the School of Information Studies (iSchool) first flew onto his radar. He seized the opportunity to take a couple of classes being offered by visiting iSchool Professor Jeffrey Katzer and found the coursework to be surprisingly well-aligned with his interests and career ambitions. Murray remembers a project assignment that had him endeavoring to bring the NBA to London. Using the precursor to the modern-day social media industry, he had to sell the scheme to all of the “stakeholders” in England’s capital city. Murray appreciated the process of hypothesizing the upsides and uses of social media, way before its current ubiquity, and predicting how to use it to get the city amped up about the idea. That exercise, among many of the other lessons derived from Katzer, inspired Murray to fully pursue a degree from the iSchool when he returned to Syracuse. By that time, having nearly completed his B.A. in sociology, Murray doubled down and dedicated himself to finishing with a B.S. in information studies as well.
Murray’s deep appreciation for some of the core tenets he took away from the iSchool is evident when he says, “They talked me through being willing to take risks, and taking chances on ideas and being innovative. And not just to take chances, but how to present them to people that might not be interested initially. The iSchool prepared me to be innovative and to think innovative, and that innovation starts with trying to solve a problem. A problem generates innovation. A problem innovates change.” Throughout his education and career, Murray has repeatedly relied on this approach for identifying and solving problems, and he’s grateful that those lessons sank into his psyche at the time they did.
After getting back from London, and setting his sights on finishing school with a dual major and great experiences, Murray started to think more seriously about what he was going to do after graduation. He was excited about the field of information studies, but he saw a path towards self-development and employability using his fresh iSchool education, combined with a “hard-nosed” education. Murray was presented with a four-year stint in the U.S. Army, that turned into 25 years of an exciting, challenging and rewarding military career.
For Murray, the Army fit perfectly into his background in sociology and information studies, his passion for travel that his trip to London ignited, and his curiosity about the discipline of military life. He was also interested in a wide variety of jobs, wanted to learn new skills and find ways of putting his own unique combination of skills to good use. Across his career he worked in cyber security, information technology, tactical and strategic satellite communications; he’s done “everything that Verizon can do, and more.” But it wasn’t all just pressing keys and clicks behind a computer desk, Murray was also trained to crawl through manholes and work in the mud. He got the physical and mental training he was looking for to complement his technical skill set, and he was exposed to all of the leadership training that comes with the territory.
One of the most rewarding jobs that Murray had in the Army was when he worked for the U.S. Cyber Command. His title was cyber battle captain and he was tasked with managing an operations team through any cyber crisis that may come up throughout their shift. These 24-hour operations were fast-paced, critical to the fight, and existed on a whole new battleground with fast-moving front lines. He was responsible for everything from providing cyber defense and protection of government agencies and NGOs, to developing and executing offensive strategies and operations in a never-ending campaign to stay ahead of adversaries.
Other than his introduction to Katzer and the iSchool while he was in London, Murray most credits his fellow students and friends from the University with inspiring him in his educational purpose, as well as his general ambitions moving forward in life. His close friends Jason Mills and Anthony Percival – who founded BLISTS (Black and Latinx Information Science and Technology Society) with Myra (Linen) Miller and Lisa Lyndsay in 1992 – were instrumental in Murray’s personal growth and helped to align and validate his own value system. He believes that he was fortunate enough to have attended Syracuse University during one of its many golden eras.
BLISTS, which has since grown from a small group of IST students and friends, into a robust and well-respected organization, seeks “to educate students about careers in information science and technology, provide computer literacy support, and help students build strong corporate and alumni networks.” In those early days, Murray, who was a diligent student, a track and field athlete, and involved in many other organizations, was also around during the forming of BLISTS and he looks forward to being involved with them at this stage in his life and with his additional perspective as an educator. Murray is also passionate about his involvement with Coming Back Together (CBT), which is a tri-annual reunion of black and latinx alumni, who come together to network and socialize, but also to mix it up with current students to help them explore their career possibilities.
Murray’s impressive resume tells the story of a motivated and inquisitive person, who continues to push himself forward into challenging roles and opportunities for the sake of learning and growing as an individual, but also to help those around him do the same. He has two bachelor’s degrees, two master’s degrees, he’s worked in several positions in the Army, for the National Security Agency, United States Cyber Command, and was the lead professor and department chair of Military Science at Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University. Murray now serves as the deputy director in the Office of Veteran and Military Affairs.
In his position now, Murray’s goal is to make as many real connections as he can with students, staff and all 1,500+ individuals involved in the relationship between the University that he loves so dearly, and the Army – which provided him with his first career and a lifetime’s worth of experiences. His current job checks all of his boxes. He’s a Syracuse University graduate, student-athlete, veteran, first-generation college student, a city kid from the Bronx and much more. Murray has great respect for every student at Syracuse. Not just for getting accepted, but for showing up every day and grinding, being innovative and competing. With genuine passion, Murray says “I just want to spread Orange joy. My achilles heel is the threat of taking on too much, because I want to help everybody.”