Ivy Tech: 50 Years of Changing Lives...And Counting

Ivy Tech Community College’s origin can be traced to a 1961 report on the caliber of post-secondary education in Indiana. This evaluative measure by the Indiana Post High School Education Commission praised the state’s colleges and universities in general but determined “a large gap in the area of vocational-type technical training.” The commission’s findings proposed a fresh educational entity that was to be “coordinated and vigorously administered, yet retain flexibility.”

This agenda-setting opportunity was delegated to Glenn Sample, vice president and secretary of the Indiana Farm Bureau. His work with the commission led to the state legislature’s approval in 1963 for a new school to be named Indiana Vocational Technical College. Sample later served as its interim president in late 1968 to early 1969 and as its president from 1975 until his death in 1980.

The ambitious statewide vocational–technical college was a joint enterprise of commerce, industry, agriculture, labor, education and the public at large.

Soon nicknamed I.V. Tech, the college was given a seemingly insurmountable charge: College-level, job-oriented training was to be made available to all Indiana residents through a meager first-year budget. With only $50,000 in funding, the college was expected to begin developing locations statewide, employ a qualified president and small staff, defray expenses for office quarters and pilot a few academic programs.

The establishment of the college proved to be an exercise in frugality wherever possible.

Former Ivy Tech Board of Trustees Chair Joan McNagny said Sample did not foresee a lasting brick-and-mortar presence for the college in Hoosier communities. “I think we just assumed we would move into, say, a garage, utilize it for training and when we were finished, we would close it and move on to another training need somewhere else,” she said.

IVY TECH COMES TO NORTHEAST INDIANA

As the ’60s were concluding, the presence of Ivy Tech–Northeast was just beginning. The regional campus was launched in leased space at the former Concordia High School in Fort Wayne just in time for fall quarter classes in 1969.

Janet Geib, who taught Secretarial Sciences at the college for 36 years, was one of the first instructors hired. “It was exciting. Here was a brand new school, and it provided an opportunity to get in at the ground floor. I decided to take the chance,” Geib said.

What Geib and her peers were unable to foresee in taking that chance was the personal sacrifices from growing a brand. They taught five days and four nights a week in the beginning, and during quarter breaks, faculty were expected to go out to business and industry, distribute class schedules and speak to anyone they could about training at Ivy Tech, she said.

By the mid-1970s, numerous regional campuses began receiving vacated school and office buildings through donation for the benefit of repurposing the college. This statewide shift toward permanent physical locations inspired Ivy Tech–Northeast proponents to follow suit. The state legislature was lobbied to fund a college-owned building, and the Indiana–Purdue Foundation was approached to deed a parcel of land on which to build it. The present-day Coliseum Campus opened in October 1976.

REGION’S ECONOMIC ENGINE

As Ivy Tech–Northeast began to expand its student enrollment and academic programs significantly, the college assumed a greater role in helping the state’s economy beyond serving active technical certificate- and associate degree-seeking Hoosiers.

The college took an early lead in workforce and economic development by working with area businesses to satisfy their onsite supervision and skills-based training needs, providing northeast Indiana employers with some of the first robotics and PC-based CAD instruction available.

“Ivy Tech–Northeast is nimble enough to do what some institutions can’t do,” said Beyler, the retired campus administrator.

This characteristic even applies with unforeseen requests. Beyler recalled a specific clause in a training contract with Fort Wayne’s now-defunct Falstaff Brewery. “We had to build a beer break in the class schedule,” he shared. “But again, that’s the kind of flexibility you had to have to meet certain industry expectations.”

PROUD TRADITIONS, FUTURE

For what was once a small vocational–technical college, Ivy Tech is now the nation’s largest singly accredited statewide community college system, with 31 degree-granting campuses and classes in nearly 100 locations throughout the state. During its 50-year history, the college has served more than 1 million Hoosiers. Nearly 97 percent of its graduates stay in Indiana after graduation and directly and positively impact the state’s economy.

One such individual is Ivy Tech–Northeast alumnus Michael Rusher. He is a practicing respiratory therapist in Fort Wayne who has developed an award-winning prototype for an airway device to help individuals with compromised lung function.

“Ivy Tech felt more like a family-type setting to me than some of the other larger colleges where I had started. There, I had felt like a number, but at Ivy Tech I felt like I was a person. If I needed help, it was there. And I got to know my professors, and they go to know me. This has really helped prepare me for my career,” Rusher said.


Retired administrator recalls service as one of region’s chief architects
Written by Merland Beyler, 28-Year Employee, Ivy Tech Community College–Northeast

From an office in downtown Fort Wayne’s Strauss Building, newly hired Vice President/Dean Mearle Donica and I began the plans for what was to become Indiana Vocational Technical College, Northeast Region.

We canvassed the city in the spring of 1969 to find a location for the new school and settled on leasing the third floor of the former Concordia High School at 1711 Maumee Ave. It sat on the corner of the Indiana Tech campus, where it housed a few student service offices. The third floor was the top floor of that building, which is historically the least expensive one to rent. The decision to lease it was easy given our modest budget.

We now had a space but no furnishings. Furniture, typewriters and drafting tables were ordered immediately. We decided to begin with classes in secretarial skills and drafting-related training since a recent study of vocational–technical training needs in Indiana indicated a shortage in these areas. Robert Ruhl was contracted to teach Drafting Technology, and Janet Geib was contracted to teach Secretarial Sciences during the college’s first fall quarter. They were our first faculty who, interestingly enough, were hired two hours apart from one another. 

Toward gearing up for registration, a class schedule was designed, and advertising through area newspapers and businesses had begun. When it was time to register students, I used my own card table and a couple of borrowed chairs. It was a challenge to convince prospective students that this empty space would have furniture and equipment by the start of classes. Nevertheless, we had 131 students sitting at borrowed tables and chairs when classes began. And our enrollment continued to grow in the winter and spring quarters.

During the 1970–71 school year, we leased all three floors of the building and hired Dean Thomas as the administrative assistant, as well as others for office support and teaching staff. I became the director of student affairs. By now, the battle for enrollment growth had begun within the Ivy Tech system because regional funding was based on student headcount.

I found myself always searching, always digging for things this college could do to advance itself. I suggested printing our class schedule on newsprint, so 20,000 copies could be printed compared to the cost of a few schedules in color and on expensive paper. The result produced a large increase in enrollment.

As the stature of the college grew statewide, its name started to change without the central administration’s approval. Our official name was so long, Indiana Vocational Technical College, regions began to abbreviate it as I.V. Tech College. The media treated this as Ivy Tech and would not stop using it. This new spin became our nickname, which helped clarify our identity and make us synonymous with post–high school vocational–technical education in Indiana—a proud distinction that remains today.

I’ve watched the growth of Ivy Tech somewhat intently for nearly 40 of its 50 years. During this time I was involved in increasing Ball State’s off-campus and on-site enrollment to the point where, for a while at least, Ivy Tech students comprised nearly 10 percent of Ball State’s total enrollment. I can honestly say that Ivy Tech is the one thing that’s happened in the state’s higher-education community of which I heartily approve.

Mark Coonan, Ivy Tech–Northeast parent and community supporter

When I began my career at Ivy Tech–Northeast in March 1981, you were fortunate enough to know almost everyone who worked here. The bookstore was located in the “fishbowl” across from the library and served about 1,000 students. Since that time, the bookstore has moved three more times and expanded from the original space of less than 400 square feet to our current location in Harshman Hall with more than 10,000 square feet. I’ve witnessed five different name/logo changes for the college over the years as well. I have met very interesting people along the way and built many lasting friendships.

Robin Bertsch, New Edition Bookstore manager

One of my most rewarding experiences at Ivy Tech–Northeast occurred in the fall of 2010 in the face of a tragedy . . . the unexpected death of my husband. Many of my students were slacking off around that time by not turning in assignments and exhibiting poor class attendance. As my frustrations about student retention and success grew, a group of students from my Technical Writing class called a secret meeting. The group drafted a petition that no student would drop the class and no one would fail. All students signed it and kept their promises. We became a cohesive group. The semester ended with 20 success stories. Everyone passed, and all but two have continued their education at Ivy Tech uninterrupted. Eight of these 20 students will graduate in May.

Gail Grieser, English instructor