Alumni Series Rolls On: A career pathway forged at South Colonie

Class of 2003 graduate Leah (Ziamandanis) Murphy.
Today’s Alumni Series feature dives deep into the skill sets developed by Class of 2003 graduate Leah (Ziamandanis) Murphy. Learn how she’s making an impact at Amazon for customers throughout the globe.

As a student, Leah (Ziamandanis) Murphy took advantage of her experiences in the classroom, while enjoying the benefits of extracurricular opportunities outside of it. During her time in the district, she was class president for three years and competed for the district athletically. But, it was at South Colonie where she found the early stages of her interest in a possible career choice. It was in middle and high school that she was put in contact with teachers who would allow her to gain a better understanding of the basic principles of math, which would then lead to her eventual career pathway strengthening as a student at Union College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, respectively.

“Originally, I wanted to study political science while attending Union College as an undergraduate student,” said Ms. Murphy. “But as I began to think more about it, I found that mathematics spoke more to me and I wanted to see where that could take me as a career opportunity.” In 2007, she graduated from Union College with a Bachelors of Science (Mathematics). A year later, she completed a Master of Arts in Teaching. She followed up those achievements by obtaining a Master of Science in Analytics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 2018.

Today, she’s currently Principal Storage Specialist, Global Healthcare and Life Sciences at Amazon Web Services (AWS). She’s responsible for the day-to-day process of assisting Amazon business clients with understanding and implementing how to navigate what’s better known as “cloud computing.” She is playing a role in providing structure and opportunities for businesses worldwide – – 190 countries and counting – – with streamlining their costs to better serve their customers.

Join us, as we share her Q&A in this week’s Alumni Series feature. We introduce you to 2003 South Colonie graduate Leah (Ziamandanis) Murphy.

Why mathematics? How did you become drawn to that subject while at South Colonie?

I remember back in second grade, in Mr. K’s class at Veeder, he worked with me and a few other students on extra math topics in the back of the room.  He encouraged me that I was “good at math,” a concept I started to believe and carried with me into middle and high school.  Over the years, I realized that mathematics is a structured way of thinking about the world and approaching problems.  It’s a universal guide on how to reason towards and quantify solutions.  The math teachers I had over the years at Colonie, Mrs. Pollay, Mrs. Balkwell, Mr. Chapski, Mrs. Comi and Mr. Schiano all helped shape my academic journey towards college and career, pushing my personal development and passion for learning.  At Amazon, we have a Leadership Principle called “Learn and Be Curious.”  I developed that skill over the years at Colonie.

Does anything stand out specifically when you knew what your passion would be?

In retrospect, there were signals of my passion while at Colonie, always wanting to be around people and getting involved in a variety of projects.  I was voted “Most Involved” my Senior year.  Opportunities on the Colonie Youth Bureau, Curriculum Review Board, and Girls’ State gave me exposure to collaborating on teams for a shared goal.  Working in life sciences and technology today brings together people and complex projects, my two favorite things.  Dr. Perry was my grade-level principal at Colonie and always encouraged me to think big and get involved to make an impact.  Looking back, there were many teachers, administrators and coaches who really got to know me and helped me break out of my comfort zone.

How do you apply your skill sets developed at South Colonie and college in today’s workforce?

While high school was an overall wonderful experience for me, there were some setbacks that helped prepare me for the corporate world.  I was cut from the basketball team my Sophomore year and lost the Class Presidency my Senior Year.   Both losses were devastating to me at the time, but in the end I learned how to move on and learn from those experiences.  Realizing that failure isn’t a representation of you as a person or your potential, but actually an opportunity to grow is one of the most valuable lessons I carry with me today.  At work you might lose a key project to the competition after spending countless hours of work or receive a piece of critical feedback that you may or may not agree with.  It’s what you do with those setbacks, not the setbacks themselves that define you as a professional.

Amazon is famous for its processes and business platforms. How do you play a role in that field?

At Amazon Web Services, the cloud division of Amazon, and in the life sciences vertical, I have the opportunity to collaborate with industry leading, global companies working to solve the world’s most complicated health-related problems.  Scientific computing and research and development provide breakthroughs in treating genetic diseases, oncology and the COVID-19 pandemic every day.  Making data accessible to scientists for high-performance computing, artificial intelligence and machine learning, and data science are part of the culture of innovation at AWS that I participate in with our clients.

What do you suggest to today’s students to find their niche?

At Amazon we talk a lot about identifying and leveraging your “super power.” Your special skill(s) doesn’t always jump out in high school (or even much later), but if you continually challenge yourself, it will become clear.  High school and college years are a great time to try new things and break out of your comfort zone.  The more at bats you have in classes, clubs, sports, part-time jobs, friendships, etc, the more you get to know yourself.  Don’t be afraid of failure.  If you aren’t failing once in a while, you aren’t growing!  It’s a great time across industries to explore employment options from locations other than big cities.  A growing remote workforce brings more job opportunities right to where you live.

Finally, what’s your favorite memory at South Colonie?

Definitely going to games on a Friday night.  I went to a lot of football, soccer, and basketball games with friends.  Cheering on the team, dressing up, and going to Friday’s or a friend’s house after are some of my favorite memories.  Especially in the years after 9/11, when we weren’t sure how things would ever be “normal” again, rooting for the Raiders was a happy place where our community came together each week.