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Choose KU, Choose the World

Rebecca Murga

This article first appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of the Tower Magazine

Rebecca MurgaYou can call her a writer, a director, an award-winning filmmaker, a soldier and an advocate. All would be correct. But above all else, Kutztown University alumna Rebecca Murga '03 is a storyteller.

When the Chicago native moved to Pennsylvania with family, she discovered and enrolled in the electronic media (now Cinema, Media and Television Production) program at KU - a perfect fit as she liked the idea of being in the communications field.

"It was a small, but hands-on program; I remember being excited about what I was doing. I wasn't stuck in a classroom and it didn't feel like work. I spent a lot of time out filming - football games, you name it," Murga said.

But one day on campus, there was a shift in Murga's focus. It was a fateful day for many - Sept. 11, 2001. She recalls emerging from class in Rickenbach Learning Center to learn about the terrorist attacks on the United States and not being able to attend class the remainder of the day, glaring at what she saw unfold on television, stricken with shock.

Many remember that day and associate it with a feeling of grief. Murga remembers it igniting a spark inside of her.

"I remember going home and telling my dad we were going to go to war," Murga said.

Serving in the military was an idea Murga considered even before enrolling in college, perhaps inspired by seeing relatives serve in her younger years, but her parents urged her to put school first, and she did. After 9/11 she said she felt she had a purpose she could no longer ignore, leading her to enroll in the ROTC program at Lehigh University. After graduating from KU in 2003, she was commissioned to serve as a signal officer, part of the reserves program, stationed in Tobyhanna, Pa.

"Sometimes you feel like you have a purpose, but it can be lost in logic. That day [9/11] clarified the sense of purpose I had," Murga said.

As different as it was to serve in the U.S. Army compared to serving as a writer or director, Murga's service was still rooted in storytelling. She was there to document just what it was like to serve in our military through film and with her stories, something done by less than 1 percent of our population. She was there to feel what a soldier goes through. She was there to experience what he or she feels like when they return home from war.

After 10 years of military service in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan, and being awarded the Bronze Star for her work with the Special Operations Command and the Meritorious Service Medal, she started sharing her own experience and what she learned from others serving alongside her.

It started with small groups of friends and family, then grew to groups of school children and later to as many as 600 individuals at a time, including on the Library of Congress Discussion Panel with Dr. Jill Biden.

Murga, the 2014 and 2015 recipient of the U.S. Army Keith L. Ware Award and Thomas Jefferson Award for excellence in broadcast journalism (considered the highest award in the Department of Defense), wasn't hesitant to recall her military moments.

"Not many people understand what a soldier goes through. Especially a female one. And it was therapeutic for me."

She's also shared written stories. Through her passion for veteran's and women's issues, she's had articles published in The New York Times, The Global Journal, locally in The Morning Call and in the San Jose Mercury News. And she's appeared on television shows like "Good Morning America" and "The View."

About five years ago, Murga took a leap and moved to Los Angeles, Calif., after a friend of hers joked, "You served in the military, how hard can it be to make it in LA?"

It's not easy. That's for sure.

"Nothing can prepare you for what the industry is like. It's definitely male-dominated, being only 6 percent women. You have to know who you are and you have to have a point of view. You have to have thick skin. You have to be able to weather it all," Murga said. "But I've lived my life. I have stories to tell."

She does admit that her military time prepared her more than she thinks any other experience could have. "I joke that I prepared for directing in Hollywood by going to war," Murga said.

Currently a participant in the exclusive 2016 - 2018 Disney/ABC Directing Program, she shadows directors with the goal of gaining episodic work in television. Only 10 experienced directors on the verge of making it are selected to participate from those applying every two years. It took Murga three tries to get in, and she credits her short film "One Halloween," which aired on HBO, with doing the trick.

It wasn't that she was short on experience. Her produced work includes projects for recognizable clients including ABC, MLB, ESPN, Verizon, AT&T, Walgreens and many more.

Through the Disney/ABC Program, she's been mentored by directors such as Billy Gierhart of "Sons of Anarchy" and "The Walking Dead" fame, working on "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.;" and Kevin McKidd, working on "Grey's Anatomy."

Aside from her studies with the program, Murga is hard at work on both a documentary film focused on Puerto Rico's recovery after being devastated by Hurricane Maria, and a feature film, the details of which are top secret.

Although she's in Los Angeles "making it" with big names, Murga remains fiercely proud of her KU roots. She attributes being able to do what she can now professionally to the fundamentals she learned as a KU student.

"I'm always proud to declare I'm a Golden Bear," Murga said.

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