When Zanele Kutamo left South Africa to work as an au pair in northern Indiana, she experienced changes in nearly every area of her life. The one thing that remained the same, however, was her commitment to hard work - and that commitment has paid off in ways that Zanele never could have imagined when she started her journey five years ago.
While living in South Africa and preparing to come to the U.S., Zanele had worked four jobs to save money. But she still needed to earn more in order to realize her dream of attaining a degree. In 2003, Zanele found work with a Valparaiso couple, Mary and Britt Jensen, who welcomed Zanele into their home to care for their three daughters.
As an au pair, Zanele was required to take six college credits, and she enrolled at Ivy Tech Community College. Zanele demonstrated a passion for learning and showed she was ready to put in the time-both inside and outside of class-to make herself a success. Impressed by Zanele's drive, the Jensens supported Zanele by paying her tuition and encouraging her to continue her education.
Ivy Tech proved to be a natural fit. Zanele was able to continue her duties as au pair while pouring herself into her schoolwork. Soon it was more than just her adoptive family that noticed her drive and gifts. One of her first honors was making the Dean's List in 2005. Then she was invited to join the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and the Kappa Beta Delta Business Organization. In April 2007, Zanele was elected President of Phi Theta Kappa, Alpha Pi Omega Chapter for Ivy Tech Community College Northwest.
Honors and awards kept coming her way. In December 2007, Zanele graduated from Ivy Tech with a degree in Database Administration. By that time she had acquired six awards and scholarships based on her leadership and academic abilities.
As her time at Ivy Tech was drawing to a close, Zanele began thinking about the future. Her goal was to continue on and complete a bachelor's degree, but she wasn't sure how she would pay for two more years of college. With the help of faculty members Bruce Brackney and Ethel Harvey, among others, Zanele found a way to keep her dream alive. On the day she graduated in December of 2007, Zanele was told she had been granted a full tuition scholarship at Valparaiso University through a partnership with Ivy Tech Community College.
Ethel Harvey, associate professor of Computer Information Systems and a Phi Theta Kappa advisor, says Zanele displayed all of the qualities that such scholarships are meant to reward.
"I met Zanele Katamo when she was voted in as our Alpha Phi Omega Chapter president," Harvey says. "She exemplifies what hard work and perseverance can accomplish. She is such a remarkable, intelligent, energetic individual, and she prioritizes her time around helping others."
Now in her junior year at Valparaiso studying Computer Science, Zanele says that her success would not have been possible without Ivy Tech Community College. Her classes were challenging, but the faculty and friendly staff made it possible for her to navigate a new environment.
"Everyone from the Phi Theta Kappa advisors to my tutors helped me succeed," Zanele says. "They helped me get good grades and qualify for scholarships. All I had to do was ask."
Because of her success, she is often called upon to encourage incoming students from a variety of backgrounds. Using herself as an example, Zanele is quick to outline the many ways in which Ivy Tech accommodates busy schedules and high aspirations.
"Even if you work or take care of family, class schedules are flexible," she states. "Ivy Tech prepares you if you want to continue your education, like I did when I transferred to Valparaiso. They have tutors available, too, if you need help."
After finishing her studies at Valparaiso, Zanele wants to continue learning and get her Master's degree and Ph.D. and eventually go on to start her own consulting business. But one thing is certain: no matter what Zanele does, she will always take a piece of Ivy Tech Community College with her.
"Ivy Tech has been my home," Zanele explains. "Everything I've done I owe to Ivy Tech."
When you ask Julius Anderson about Ivy Tech, you are immediately struck by his unrestrained excitement and dedication toward his alma mater. That's because he gives the college much of the credit for the accomplishments in his life, culminating in his being named Ivy Tech's Distinguished Alumnus of the Year for 2006.
Each of the college's 14 regions chooses an individual to be recognized as a distinguished alumnus and Julius was chosen from these 14 to represent the state. "It's a very humbling experience," he said. "I never anticipated this happening to me. All of the nominees are amazing people and I am extremely honored."
Julius worked hard for his education. At one point he juggled four jobs, his obligations to the Navy Reserves and a young family, all while attending classes to better his education. "I never missed a beat," he said. "I took a step of faith to go to Ivy Tech because I knew that it would bring me opportunity."
He was right. He earned his associate degree in industrial maintenance in 1984. "I was getting cutting-edge information and theory," he said. "I was able to focus on the hands-on aspect of learning."
When Julius was working toward his degree, industry was booming in Indiana. Today, as Indiana's economy changes, Julius sees Ivy Tech as a catalyst in retraining the workforce. "People can learn a trade that is relevant for today's society," he explained. "Nurses, electricians and mechanics are always needed. I was in the right place at the right time when I went there, and this is still the right place and the right time."
Armed with his degree, Julius set out as an electrician, eventually starting his own business, JJ Electric. For the past 26 years, he has worked as supervisor of residence hall maintenance at Ball State University, where he is responsible for maintenance, renovations, and special projects.
With the success his degree brought him, Julius encouraged his wife, Belinda, to study computer programming at Ivy Tech. Led by example, all three of Julius' children also started their education at Ivy Tech. "It's very affordable and you get a quality education," he said. "My kids saw the success my wife and I had and they just followed in our footsteps."
But Julius didn't stop with his family. He reaches out to his community to the spread the message about what Ivy Tech has to offer. He has used his skills as an electrician to lend a hand with Habitat for Humanity and he is currently the vice president of the Muncie Community Schools Board of Trustees and a member of the board for the local chapter of the American Heart Association. Through these volunteer efforts, Julius again leads by example, and serves as a powerful advocate for Ivy Tech.
"I was looking for someone to help me when I was a youth and I couldn't find encouragement," he said. "Now I can give back to the youth in my community. I take every chance I can get to talk to middle and high school students about what's out there and what they can do with their lives."
Julius adds that every aspect of his life has been touched by the education he received more than 20 years ago. His success in his career and his family's success are a testament to how one person can change so many lives.
"If you apply yourself, you will have opportunities," he said. "I am just one of thousands of people that have been successful at Ivy Tech and I am constantly climbing and moving because of my education. In the end, I want to be an instrument for Ivy Tech and say to people, 'your dreams can come true, too.'"
Every college student struggles with time management. For many, it's a matter of fitting their studies into a schedule that includes extracurricular activities, social time, and-for some-work. The goal is to satisfy all their obligations and still have some fun before heading off into "the real world."
For Ivy Tech Community College students, however, things are a little different. The vast majority of those who take classes at Ivy Tech-74 percent-work. Nearly 40 percent have children and 25 percent are married, both rare among undergraduates at other colleges. As a result, and mostly out of necessity, 70 percent of Ivy Tech students attend part-time, balancing their studies with work and family obligations. For these students, fun is part of the agenda, but it's a rare luxury, enjoyed after a long day of work, family time, and study.
Rebecca Dobbins typifies the challenges our students face every day. Most mornings, Rebecca-a mom, wife, medical laboratory employee, and student at Ivy Tech's Columbus campus-awakes long before most of us, and many nights she's up long after many of us have gone to bed. While many of her friends wonder how she does it, Rebecca simply schedules her day and moves forward, focused on her dream of a better life for herself and her family.
THIS IS HER STORY. THIS IS A DAY IN THE LIFE OF AN IVY TECH COMMUNITY COLLEGE STUDENT.
Thursday, 2 a.m. | Good morning. Rebecca wakes up to get ready for work. It's early, but she's gotten used to an atypical schedule that allows her more time with her son. After a shower, a quick bite to eat, and a glance in the mirror, she's off to work.
3 a.m. | Work. Rebecca starts her job at Greenwood Medical Laboratory, drawing blood at several nursing homes. "Even though it's so early, many of my patients get up extra early for me," she says. "They need the company and I try to brighten their day. That's one of the reasons why I want to be a nurse practitioner."
8 a.m. | Commute. With only an hour until class, Rebecca drives nearly 45 minutes to the Ivy Tech campus in Columbus. The time in the car affords Rebecca a rare treat: a little quiet time to herself.
9 a.m. | Class starts. She's in Advanced Human Physiology, a requirement for the nursing degree she anticipates she'll receive in 2011. While Ivy Tech students take an average of nine credit hours, Rebecca is taking 14.5 credit hours this semester so she can graduate as soon as possible. Another key to Rebecca's success is that she was awarded the Sandy and Bill DeMichieli Nursing Scholarship, given to a student who demonstrates both academic achievement and financial need. Like many of her peers, Rebecca might not be able to attend Ivy Tech without this much needed financial support.
12 noon | Break. Rebecca finally has a chance to grab a full meal with her classmates before the second part of class. This is her social time and about the only chance she has to connect with her classmates and hear about their lives. Knowing that others are parents with full-time jobs gives her a kinship with them, because they share the same struggles and joys that come with a busy schedule.
1 p.m. | Study time. On many days, Rebecca has a laboratory class at 1 p.m., giving her hands-on experience that prepares her for her career. When she's not in the lab, she studies or takes online courses from home. Rebecca is part of growing number of Ivy Tech students who take online courses, making it easier to fit college into their busy schedules.
4 p.m. | The drive home. Rebecca arrives at the babysitter's to pick up her two year-old son, Aidan.
5 p.m. | Mommy time. Rebecca and Aidan arrive home as her husband, Jeff, begins making dinner. She sets aside the early evenings to spend with Aidan reading books, playing games and working puzzles. "My schedule is crazy, but I make sure I'm not missing out on mommy time with Aidan," she explains. "I study while he sleeps so that I'm not interfering with the attention he needs."
8 p.m. | Goodnight, Aidan. After reading stories, Aidan goes to bed for the night. Despite her busy day, Rebecca makes sure to set aside some one-on-one time with her husband, Jeff. "I wouldn't be able to do any of this without Jeff," she explains. "We are really a team when it comes to raising Aidan."
9:30 p.m. | Lights out. Rebecca heads to bed. She has to get up again at 2 a.m. to head back to work in the morning.
Rebecca's day doesn't allow much time for reflection, but what drives her is her determination that it's all worth it, despite the sacrifices she's making.
"It's a busy life, but I'm really blessed with the way things are going right now," Rebecca says. "I know that it will all pay off in the end and Ivy Tech is making it possible for me to reach my goals and dreams to be a provider for my family and a better mother to my son."
When Frank Torres was growing up in East Chicago, there was never much discussion about college. His father was too busy providing for the family and Frank-the youngest of eight children-saw his siblings get married and take good paying jobs that didn't require a degree. Times were different then, so Frank took the same path, working as a paramedic for the East Chicago fire department.
After several years, however, Frank decided he wanted something more. So at 43 years old, he went back to school, enrolling in the Accounting program at Ivy Tech Community College.
"I liked crunching numbers," he said. "I always did my coworkers' taxes, so I decided to advance myself."
Frank graduated from Ivy Tech in May 2008. He didn't stop there, though. He is now in the accelerated program at Indiana Wesleyan University and plans to receive his bachelor's degree in accounting and, eventually, become a CPA.
"I have two main goals," Frank explained. "One is to work for the IRS. And the other is to start my own home-based business."
For someone who is the first in his family to graduate with a college degree, this experience has been life-changing-and not just for Frank. He says one of the best things about attending Ivy Tech Community College is that it's given him the tools to help his teenage daughters, 16 year old Marisa, and 14 year old twins Monica and Mariah, with their studies.
"Now when my kids come to me and say 'dad, we need help with our homework in Algebra and English,' I'm prepared for them."
In addition, Frank is now a role model to his daughters, both as he succeeds in his studies and as he takes on a new challenge.
"They see Dad is struggling and they know it isn't easy," Frank states. "I want them to see that I'm pushing myself to make everything better for all of us and I think that will help them to create big goals for themselves."
Frank hopes that college will be among the goals that Mariah, Marisa, and Monica set for themselves. But like he did, Frank wants them to make that decision independently.
"I won't force it on them, but I would like them to choose college," he says. "It would really make me proud. I think a college education will help them and I hope they see that through what I'm doing."
One lesson Frank hopes his daughters learn from him is that while it's never too late to start college, there are advantages to getting a head start.
"It took me a long time to get to where I am today," he says. "But if I had gone to college right out of high school I could have gotten to where I am now 25 years ago."
On November 6, 2005 a 200 mph tornado ripped through Southwest Indiana. The wind lifted her mobile home and smashed it back into the ground. Twenty five people lost their lives in the disaster, including Kathryn's two year-old son, C.J., her mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law.
In spite of this tragic event and the loss of her youngest child, Kathryn continued on her path to receive her degree. "If there was one thing my mother-in-law would have wanted me to do, it was finish school," Kathryn said. "I knew I had to keep going."
Only six months after the tornado tore through her life, Kathryn was able to walk with her 2006 Ivy Tech Community College graduating class. She received her associate degree in Human Services.
Kathryn's degree gave her a specific understanding of the environmental, social and psychological needs of those in crisis, along with an understanding of how not-for-profit organizations work. Armed with this knowledge, she decided to work to help others.
One of the things that angered Kathryn most about the tornado is that there was no warning to citizens in the affected area. She started calling and writing to local politicians in support of the installment of weather radios inside new manufactured homes. The radios would give off a piercing sound whenever the National Weather Service issues a severe weather warning.
That work quickly paid off. In April 2007, Governor Mitch Daniels signed Bill 1033 making the installation of weather radios mandatory. Known as "C.J.'s Law," this was the first step Kathryn took to converting her loss into something positive.
Professor Mary Hess of Human Services at the Evansville Ivy Tech Community College campus could not be more proud of Kathryn. "The things she learned in class, she really took to heart," Mary said. "She is using what we taught her."
Because of her work with C.J.'s Law, Kathryn recently received the Mark Trail Weather Service Award honoring individuals devoted to saving lives during severe weather episodes and the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis award in Washington D.C. for public service.
While in Washington, D.C., Kathryn and Mary Hess petitioned for C.J.'s Law on the national level. "We were all over Capitol Hill," Mary said. "We were very well met and we want to get this bill passed nationwide."
But Kathryn isn't even stopping there. With first-hand experience in a disaster situation, she saw the need to help parents and children in the aftermath. She came up with the idea for C.J.'s Bus.
Funded entirely from donations, C.J.'s Bus is a rapid-response, self-contained vehicle unit to be deployed nation-wide in the face of disasters to keep children distracted and entertained in a safe environment.
"After finding out about family, kids want to know about their friends," Kathryn explained. "C.J.'s Bus will give children ages three to twelve a place where they can play with their peers while their parents work at cleaning up the mess."
C.J.'s bus was completed in August of this year (2007) and will be deployed to disasters in the Midwest, including tornadoes, and fl ash floods. The bus will be equipped with state-of-the-art equipment to keep children entertained in both active and passive ways. Certified volunteers specially trained in disaster child care will be on hand to play with the children and guide them through the devastation that a disaster brings.
The majority of money raised for C.J.'s Bus has been small donations from the Evansville area, including donations made online at www.cjsbus.org. Kathryn, Mary and other members of the C.J.'s Bus Foundation Board also have gotten the word out through several fundraisers and countless public appearances.
Kathryn's efforts to honor C.J.'s memory have been a huge success. "About two months before the tornado, my mother-in-law told me to treat people like it is their last day on Earth," Kathryn said. "I really believe that and I live by that."
Having spent 25 years working in manufacturing, Dave Murphy was ready for a career of a different sort. He wasn't sure quite what until two experiences handed him the answer he was seeking.
First, his son-in-law, Dana, 23, was involved in a car accident that took his life. Four organs from the young man's body—a heart, liver, and two kidneys—made their way to donors. Then, just a few months after Dana’s death, Murphy found out he’d need a liver transplant. In August, 2002, exactly one year to the day that Dana’s family donated his organs, Murphy’s received a new liver. He is now celebrating the seventh anniversary of the transplant and considers it one of the transforming experiences of his life.
Through these experiences, Murphy, 56, noted the expertise of the nurses and what a difference their compassion and skill made in his and his family's lives. He also knew the positive impact of organ donation and decided to pursue a career in the organ donation field. According to Indiana Donation Alliance Foundation, 29,000 lives were saved in 2008 nationally thanks to organ donations. "I really appreciated the care I was given," Dave says. "I can't say enough about it. It inspired me to do something different and to help others like they had helped me. After recovering from my transplant, I decided that what I really wanted to do was work in the organ donation field, and it's been one of the best decisions I've ever made."
Murphy came to Ivy Tech's Kokomo campus to earn an associate of science degree in nursing, graduating in 2006. He gained the job he was seeking as an organ procurement technician at Indiana Organ Procurement Organization, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing organ donation in Indiana. The organization serves 86 counties in Indiana. His education at Ivy Tech prepared him well for this demanding job. "Not only do I get to use the skills Ivy Tech taught me, I am doing things I never dreamed I'd be doing," Murphy says. "It gives you satisfaction to know that people are being transplanted and lives are being saved because of our work."
Murphy's job is to assist with the logistics of organ donation. Once a family has made the decision to donate a loved one's organs, Murphy and a partner work together to match donated organs to a waiting list of donors and coordinate the organ-recovery process in surgery. He is assigned to the Fort Wayne area and lives near Peru, Indiana. However, on-call on weekends, his work can take him anywhere in the state.
Part of Murphy's legacy is spreading the word about organ donation. Any time he's asked, he gives presentations to schools, civic groups and others on the importance of organ donation. He always reminds those in attendance to indicate their preference for organ donation on their driver's license—but also to have that important conversation with their family to make their wishes known. "If you haven't thought about organ donation, really give it serious consideration," Murphy says. "If one of your loved ones was sick enough to need an organ transplant, you'd want others to donate to help save their lives. Even if you register, make sure your family knows what your wishes are. It makes it much more dif_ cult for the family if they don't know what you would want them to do—and it’s a much easier decision when they do."
Indicating that you'd like to be an organ donor is as easy as indicating that preference the next time you renew your Indiana driver's license. You can also register online at the website for the Indiana Donation Alliance Foundation, IndianaLastWishRegistry.com.
For more information about the Indiana Organ Procurement Organization, visit iopo.org.
With a job, three children, and volunteer commitments, Chrystal Boston doesn't have much time to spare. So how does she find the time to fit a college education into her schedule? Chrystal enjoys an advantage that's becoming more common among her peers: online classes. As long as she has a laptop and internet access, college is only a mouse click away.
Online education is becoming increasingly popular among college students nationwide. Ivy Tech's online student population, however, is growing even faster than the national average. During the Fall 2008 semester, more than 19,000 Ivy Tech Community College students—nearly 20 percent—took at least one online course. This represents a 25 percent increase from just two years ago.
Chrystal says the best thing about taking classes online is that even during very busy times, she can excel.
"During the Fall 2008 semester I took care of three small children, worked, served as Student Government president, and enrolled in 12 credit hours of classes," she explains. "Online courses not only made it all possible, but I completed the semester with my A average intact."
As the demand for these classes increases, Ivy Tech Community College is expanding its online offerings. Currently, there are nearly 400 classes to choose from and ten programs available that can be completed almost entirely online. In addition, students can access any of Ivy Tech's online classes regardless of where they live.
"I can take online classes offered at any Ivy Tech campus throughout the state," Chrystal says, "which gives me the freedom to take the classes I need when it's convenient for me." One common misconception about online education is that students have limited interaction with faculty and their peers. Chrystal's experience, however, has been that students willing to make an effort can have many of the same relationships they would have on campus.
"I communicate with my teachers and receive prompt feedback on questions and concerns," she says. "Online courses require a little more dedication and discipline, but the freedom it gives the student is priceless."
When the Academy Awards for Art Direction and Visual Effects were announced in March, Hollywood wasn't the only town that had something to celebrate. Some of the loudest cheers, in fact, may have come from Columbus, Indiana. That's because Ivy Tech Community College graduate Patrick Peterson was part of the team that created Avatar, the epic work of science fiction film that has become the highest-grossing film of all-time.
Peterson's interest in visual effects started with watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He was fascinated with the look of the films, and wondered just how those effects were created. He researched how exactly he could learn to do that work - and that research led him to Ivy Tech Community College.
At Ivy Tech, Peterson specialized in 3-D rendering and animation as part of his studies in the Visual Communications program. He graduated with a concentration in multimedia, and - thanks to some support from Jonathan Wilson, Dean of Fine Arts and Design at Ivy Tech Columbus - went on to do freelance work for an ad agency in Indianapolis. Patrick soon enrolled at a technical school in Orlando, Florida, working with a software program called "Lightwave," which he first learned at Ivy Tech.
Peterson then took what he had learned about Lightwave and turned it into a career at Lightstorm Entertainment, a Los Angeles production company owned by director James Cameron. And that's where Peterson's work on Avatar began.
"I was part of a team of artists in charge of creating real time, low resolution sets and environments that would later be used on the director's camera," Peterson said. "I had the opportunity to work directly with Director James Cameron as my department provided assistance and received the feedback for the sets created."
Now, Patrick is living in Wellington, New Zealand, and working for Weta Digital, a special effects company. His current project is working on the movie The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, which is a Stephen Spielberg project slated for December 2011 release. He was offered his current position while working on Avatar, Peterson said by e-mail from his home in New Zealand.
Peterson credits Ivy Tech with helping him refine his interests and talents and land his current position. "When I started taking classes at Ivy Tech, I wasn't sure how to use my artistic skills," Peterson said. "I had interest in computers as well, but it was with the advice and guidance of many teachers that I started to understand how to make the most out of my skills."
Jonathan Wilson is among those who always thought Peterson would go far - and he's proud of what Peterson has accomplished since graduating from Ivy Tech.
"Patrick was a self-learner when he was here," Wilson said. "He could pick up the ball and run with it. He wanted to do animation in films, and he did it. He's known on a first-name basis with the directors, and that's a big deal when you're part of a huge team. He's got a credit on the screen. I will always fondly remember Patrick as one of our very best students in the program."
Dan and Teresa Baker watched their two sons graduate from high school and pursue a college degree with pride - but also with envy. The Bakers were high school sweethearts who married 25 years ago and started a family soon thereafter. They both settled into jobs and didn't feel they had time to pursue a college education.
But as their sons progressed through school, the Bakers began rethinking their working lives, deciding to pursue their education at Ivy Tech Community College. With the economy shifting, both felt the need to earn a degree that would help prepare them for uncertain times. Dan, 47, is a sales manager at a Chevrolet dealership in Alexandria. Teresa, 46, works for a school corporation as a treasurer handling funds for extracurricular activities.
The Bakers say that Ivy Tech's online education offerings allow them to find the time and energy to pursue a degree. "We've thought about earning a college degree often, but we've never had time with the kids growing up and our other responsibilities," Dan states. "When our sons started college and Ivy Tech offered programs online, it worked well with our schedules."
Teresa believes that earning a degree may allow her to increase her skills should she need to pursue a new position. "My husband and I talked about how to be marketable in today's economy," Teresa says. "Even though we have years of experience, we don't have that piece of paper that says we've earned a college degree. That can be a real hindrance when you're looking for a job."
Dan adds, "A degree helps you get in the door. It's your ticket to the interview."
Particularly for adult students who are disciplined, taking online classes is ideal, the couple says. Since they work during the day, they aren't available to take many traditional college classes. Online courses are available on a more flexible schedule. Teresa is currently taking general education courses with plans to earn an associate degree in accounting. Dan is pursuing an associate degree in business management. "Overall, it is a great experience," Teresa says. "You have to be a self-starter and disciplined with your time, and be a good time manager. It's a great opportunity for many people, especially those who have day jobs."
Dan even notes that he's already using what he's learning as he works. "This helps me with my job," Dan said. "It keeps me sharp and I've been able to incorporate it into my job as I go."
They've even taken some good-natured ribbing from their sons. Dan said he doesn't excel in math, and wanted to quit when he had trouble with a difficult math course. His sons reminded him of how hard he had pushed them - and Dan knew he had no choice but to go on. "We're more disciplined because we're paying for it ourselves," Dan said. "We know it's important."
Prior to being invited to the White House Summit on Community Colleges, Michael Rice had never been to Washington, D.C. The 27 year-old Ivy Tech student certainly made up for lost time. Within 24 hours of arriving in the nation's capital, Rice had a front row seat in the East Room of the White House to hear President Barack Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, the wife of the Vice President, and later shook hands with Vice President Joe Biden.
Not bad for your first visit to Washington. Not bad at all.
Rice and Ivy Tech President Thomas J. Snyder were among a small group invited to the Summit, which focused on the crucial role the nation's 1,200 community colleges play in developing skilled workers. It was a rare opportunity to hear firsthand about how vital community college students are to America's future - and it's something Rice will always remember.
"It was more exciting than I had envisioned," Rice says. "Sharing the experience with other dedicated community college students helped ease my anxiety - but the 'wow' factor stayed with me the entire trip."
Rice was an able representative for his fellow community college students, because his story highlights many of the challenges they face along the way. Rice was the first in his family to attend college - but it hasn't been easy. After graduating from Arsenal Technical High School, he enrolled at Ivy Tech, but the birth of his first child postponed his plans to continue his education. To support his family, Rice took a full-time job in the banking industry, and was very successful - until our recent economic challenges. Then, like many others, Michael lost his job. It was a difficult time, but he turned it into a second chance, returning to Ivy Tech in January of 2009. Rice is now enrolled full time, and is a member of the Nina Scholars Program, which provides scholarships to deserving students who might otherwise be unable to attend college. And Rice isn't just getting by - he is a Dean's list student and plans to graduate from Ivy Tech in May before transferring to IUPUI to pursue a bachelor's degree in business administration.
Even though Rice plans to move on to pursue a four-year degree, he believes the attention community colleges are receiving is well warranted. He says that in positioning the community college as the key to our nation's economic recovery, the White House is encouraging others to see the value in credentials like two-year degrees and one-year certificates. And with more than 50 percent of the nation's college students enrolled at community colleges, this respect is long overdue.
"This recognition by our President tells me that he values me and my peers," Rice says. "Community colleges are sometimes forgotten, but this recognition helps remind people how important we are to our nation's future." At the Summit, President Obama and Dr. Biden outlined some lofty goals for community college enrollment. "By 2020," President Obama stated, "America will once again lead the world in producing college graduates. And I believe community colleges will play a huge part in meeting this goal, by producing an additional 5 million degrees and certificates in the next 10 years."
As Indiana's largest college and the largest statewide community college system of its kind in the U.S., Ivy Tech will be integral in helping meet this goal. Ivy Tech President Tom Snyder says enrollment growth is a good place to begin, but only if student retention and success measures are also top priorities. That's why, he says, student success is built into Ivy Tech's strategic plan, Accelerating Greatness.
"We want our students to reach their goals," Snyder says. "For some, like Michael, that means transferring to a four-year institution. For others, it's a two-year degree or a one-year certificate that leads to a career. We can only truly say we're successful as a college when each of our students meets his or her individual goals."
Rice says he has been able to succeed at Ivy Tech because the support he's received is aligned with his unique needs.
"When you interact with your professors, you leave feeling as though they really care for you," Rice explains. "Ivy Tech has helped me take a new direction in my career."
And while not every community college had the opportunity to be present at the White House Summit, Rice says the event raised a level of awareness that will benefit students for decades to come.
"Many students across America are looking to the community college as a pathway to a career," Rice says. "It's important that people continue to look at how to support community colleges across the country so students like me can graduate and help grow our workforce."
Natalie Myer never envisioned herself as a take-charge leader. She was shy and perfectly content to stay in the background.
Part of that shyness stemmed from her hearing loss; she's 50 percent deaf in one ear, 60 percent in the other. But also, she was never interested in being the center of attention.
All of that changed when the 27-year-old Ivy Tech Community College nursing graduate campaigned to be an international vice president of Phi Theta Kappa at the organization's annual convention in Orlando, Fla.
To her surprise, she was elected by a vote of 3,600 student delegates.
"Since then, I have become a better leader, a more efficient leader," Myer says. "I haven't changed personality-wise. I'm still the Natalie Myer who loves my horses, my dog, my friends and just hanging out. But I have gained confidence to be a leader and enable others to do things they never thought they could." Phi Theta Kappa is an honor society that recognizes and encourages the academic achievement of two-year college students. PTK also provides programming to stimulate its members' growth and development.
Myer, who is staying an extra year at Ivy Tech so she can fulfill her vice president role, has been traveling to PTK chapters throughout the country to assist the society in its mission. She is responsible for overseeing 103 chapters in 12 states, and is making sure those chapters understand and execute properly the honor society's programs.
One of those programs is Honors in Action, which helps students take what they learn in the classroom and apply it to projects in the community. Phi Theta Kappa also operates a web site called CollegeFish.org that helps students at two-year colleges learn more about continuing via credit transfer to four-year institutions.
Myer, a paramedic and former volunteer firefighter with a 3.68 grade point average, acknowledges that if she hadn't decided to attend Ivy Tech, she might never have gotten such a prestigious leadership role while attending college.
The honor has also expanded her thinking about what she wants to do with her career. When she enrolled at Ivy Tech - drawn by its close-knit, nurturing environment - she was interested in being a nurse.
Now, she is studying political science in her final year, and plans to carry that interest into her bachelor's and master's studies at four-year universities. Her goal: To become a leader in forging healthcare policy.
"I'm interested in healthcare law and healthcare reform," she says. "I would really like to find a job where I can use my nursing and paramedic experience to help shape healthcare policies that benefit people."
She has little doubt she'll succeed. Because even though her shyness and hearing loss kept her in the background until now, she's never been a quitter.
"I'm one of those people who, if you tell me I can't do it, I'll do it," she says. "My hearing just makes my path a little different. Somebody told me once I'm not disabled - I'm just differently able."
Samuka Koroma has a bachelor of science in electrical engineering from Northwestern University in Chicago. He also works as a clinical systems engineer at Beckman Coulter, which develops and manufactures diagnostic systems and life science research instruments, while he considers where he will pursue his research as a candidate for a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering with a specialty in biomedical instrumentation. Right now, his sights are on John Hopkins. Regardless of where he ends up as a doctoral student, however, he'll always remember where his college education began - Ivy Tech Community College.
As a youngster growing up in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Samuka Koroma would correspond with Kay Hess, a member of the United Methodist Church in Fountain City, a congregation that supported Koroma's high school. A war broke out in Sierra Leone and Koroma moved to Morocco, but he maintained communication - via "snail mail" - with Mrs. Hess, who told him about Ivy Tech Community College.
"I looked at their course list and I was impressed," Koroma recalls. "I was most interested in computer information systems."
Shortly thereafter, he began his studies at Ivy Tech and quickly earned an associate degree. He also was elected to the student government association, became a member of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society, and acted as president of the Student Computer Association.
Koroma says that his dream of pursuing a doctorate would not be possible without the support he received from Ivy Tech.
"I never felt like an 'international' student," he says. "I felt like a local person; I was treated normal, but of course someone was always there to help me when I needed it."
As a result, Koroma had the confidence to continue his education in a challenging field of study. He is careful about his next step, however, because he wants to be certain he has the necessary education, background, and tools to return to Sierra Leone with the means to offer affordable medical equipment.
"I want to bring the healthcare of the western world home," he says. "This is mainstream technology, but they can't afford this equipment on the western market. If I can design it, I can bring it to them."
Koroma says he'll be forever grateful to Ivy Tech for being the first step in his ambitious path.
"Ivy Tech was a great place to start. It was a good experience," Koroma pauses. "It gave me good experience."
Jeanette El and her daughter, Dionna El, are extremely close. They discuss problems, share friendships and just simply enjoy being together. So it makes sense that they graduated together from Ivy Tech Community College. Dionna received a degree in general studies, and so did Jeanette, with the addition of a second degree in Early Childhood Education.
One of the few ways the Els are different is in their career aspirations. Jeanette, 53, found her time at Ivy Tech so inspiring that she's planning to study French, English and Philanthropy at IUPUI and would like to spend time in Africa to help French-speaking people. She's also had the opportunity to meet many women with doctorates, and she'd like to take that path someday.
Dionna has enjoyed her time working in the Ivy Tech library so much that she would like to pursue a Master's degree in library science. She'll begin by joining her mother at IUPUI this fall, where she will study library and information science. "It's a fun job, and I am learning so much," Dionna said. "There is so much you can learn being a librarian. I love researching and helping people. I can talk to anybody."
Both of the El women credit Ivy Tech with helping Dionna clear a significant hurdle: math. Dionna avoided college initially because she could not pass the high school math portion of the Graduation Qualifying Exam, and finally had to ask for a waiver so she could receive her high school diploma. At Ivy Tech, she took basic math courses, where she found the root of the problem. She had not learned to subtract correctly. She worked with tutors extensively, and still does, to help her pass math courses.
Dionna said having her mom on campus has been helpful and encouraging. "She's doing it with me, and it keeps me going," Dionna said. "If she can do it, it just makes me want to do it even more."
Dionna has benefitted from being a TRiO Scholar, which involves receiving a scholarship, special dedicated advising, and seminars on topics such as personal finance and financial aid. Jeanette has received support as a Nina Mason Pulliam Legacy Scholar, and daughter Dionna brags, "Mom has been on the Dean's List all four years, and she's been in Phi Beta Kappa."
Both of the women also point to Dennis, Dionna's older brother, as an inspiration. Dennis was lauded all the way through college and law school. "I always told my girls that if Dennis can do it, so can you," Jeanette said. "I decided to go back to school to prove that, yes, we are, and yes, we can. Women can do it."
In April, Ury Shachaf started a full-time job as a Quality Control Technician in the microbiology department at Cook Pharmica in Bloomington. It would be a great career for anyone - but it's especially rewarding for Ury, given how far he's come to get where he is today.
Ury was a Special Education teacher and a social service administrator in Israel before immigrating to the United States with his family in 2004. His wife was hired as faculty at Indiana University, and the Shachafs moved to Bloomington. It was an exciting time, but Ury was disappointed with the career opportunities available to him.
"After arriving in the US, I didn't find positions equivalent to the level I worked at before," Ury says. "I remembered what an old friend told me once, recollecting his own immigration. He said, 'You can't look back at how it was. It will never be the same - you've got to start something from the beginning.' And so I did."
That's when Ury found Ivy Tech Community College. He learned about a free introductory class in Biotechnology, and decided to give it a shot.
"I took the class to see if this was a right direction," Shachaf said. "It was really great."
Shachaf received a massive amount of support and encouragement from the faculty in the program, and he enrolled full-time. While at Ivy Tech, the school sent him and Dr. Senyong Lee, chair of the Biotechnology program, to a National Science Foundation conference in Washington, DC. Shachaf presented a paper to a large group of peers and leaders in the industry.
In his second year of enrollment, Shachaf began an internship at Cook. This led to a second internship, in a different department, and his performance was so stellar, they offered him a job - a month before he graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in biotechnology.
Ury's job involves evaluating samples for possible contaminants. "I get to use all those lab skills I worked so hard to acquire," Shachaf said. "My regulatory background provides me with the ability to see the big picture of the procedures I am part of, and hopefully perform them according to industry standards."
Even though he's just starting his career, Ury already is respected by his peers. In May, he gave a presentation to Cook staff about an independent project he started as an intern: "Risk Assessment for Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE)."
"It will summarize the risk assessment program I worked on to reduce the transmission of TSE (a variant of mad cow disease) through our manufacturing process," Shachaf explained.
Shachaf said that his experience at Ivy Tech undoubtedly prepared him for his work. "I never had seen the inside of a lab before beginning the program. Ivy Tech not only provided me with a solid theoretical background in biology, chemistry and pharmaceutical topics such as cell culture, but the College also provided me with opportunities to gain the hands-on experience that is a key factor in such a technical field."
In his new country, and in his new career, Ury has proven that sometimes the best place to start is at the very beginning. By starting over, he's moved ahead, farther than he ever could have imagined.