Amiyah Murphy-Allison, a third-year UCF social work student, is rewriting her life story. The 20-year-old has endured more loss and hardships than most people her age, and at one point people in her community told her she would never amount to anything.

But thanks to loving friends and some adult role models, she came to learn that she is in charge of her future.

Life didn’t start easy for Murphy-Allison, who was born to a 16-year-old mom who had to overcome many struggles of her own. Her mother tried to break away from Murphy-Allison’s abusive stepfather when she was 8. Her mom was packing up the kids and her belongings when her stepfather unexpectedly returned home.

In the struggle to get away, her mom was murdered by her stepfather. Murphy-Allison and her three siblings – all of whom had witnessed the event – were not harmed physically.

The stepfather was ultimately convicted and imprisoned.

Amiyah Murphy-Allison didn’t like where she was heading with her life, but also didn’t see how she could change it.

Murphy-Allison – the eldest child – and her siblings were taken in by their maternal grandparents in Illinois. But less than two years after their adoption, Murphy-Allison’s grandfather died from lung cancer.

Soon after, Murphy-Allison – then in middle school – began hanging out with the wrong crowd and participating in what she calls “adult activities.”

“I was doing things I had no business doing,” Murphy-Allison said.

She didn’t like where she was heading with her life, but also didn’t see how she could change it. Things came to a head one day when she broke down at school, on her late mother’s birthday.

Until then, Murphy-Allison had kept her story to herself. She was not a “victim,” a term she detested. She did not want to tell people her story for fear they would feel sorry for her.

Then a compassionate teacher took her aside and listened. “This happened to you,” the teacher said, “But you have the power to change your future.”

Things began to turn around for Murphy-Allison with that conversation and when her grandmother announced that she and her grandchildren were moving to Florida to live together with family. It was a move that set Murphy-Allison on the path to success.

She also connected with a social worker whose therapy and compassion helped to turn her life around.

“Colleen [the social worker] would take my sister and me out for ice cream and just to see how things were going with us,” Murphy-Allison said. “She made a very big impact on me and my siblings’ lives.”

With a new school, new environment and, best of all, new friends, Murphy-Allison became more extroverted. “People gravitated toward me,” she says.

Her new friends inspired friendly competition: Who could get the best grades was a popular game.

She discovered dual-enrollment – a free program where Murphy-Allison was able to earn college credit hours while completing her high school education. She became involved with student council and sports, and graduated from her Tampa-area high school with a weighted 5.8 GPA.

Murphy-Allison was accepted by all 12 colleges to which she applied, but it was not hard to decide on UCF, she says. She was invited to attend UCF Access at the end of her senior high school year, for a six-week academic, on-campus intensive program for students like Murphy-Allison who show exceptional promise and ability, and who can also benefit from the opportunities that the Access program provides, such as mentoring and additional academic preparation before attending university classes in the fall.

In her time at UCF, Murphy-Allison has continued to focus on her academics; a current goal is keeping her GPA at a level that will qualify her for the Master’s in Social Work advanced standing program. That program allows successful students to obtain their master’s degree in social work in just one year.

In August, she was surprised to learn she was selected as the first recipient of a new scholarship created by College of Health Professions and Sciences Dean Christopher Ingersoll.

She is also involved in UCF’s John T. Washington Honor Society, an organization that focuses on scholarship, community service, networking and raising the standard of education for African American students.

In addition, Murphy-Allison works in UCF’s Wellness and Health Promotion Services.

“I’ve had the pleasure of working with Amiyah since she started in our office as a first-year student,” says Megan Case, nutrition and outreach coordinator. “Of course, we are all impressed with her leadership skills, but she is also incredibly fun to work with and has a gift for putting people at ease. I’m not sure she realizes the positive impact she has on those around her. I feel fortunate to be one of those people.”

She decided to major in social work to be a positive influence in other’s lives at times when they need it most. She wants to help them realize their destiny can be greater than what’s been laid out before them.

“What happened to me does not define me,” Murphy-Allison says. “And what happened to you doesn’t define you. There is a whole lot of stuff happening out there today. I just want you to know that, whatever it is you want for yourself, you can do it.”