Kerri Cokeley

Kerri Cokeley Named Distinguished Alumnus Of 2008

Kerri Cokeley, a graduate of the Sellersburg campus of Ivy Tech Community College who exemplifies the life-changing experience Ivy Tech can provide, has been named the statewide Ivy Tech Community College Distinguished Alumnus of 2008. The Jeffersonville, Indiana native was presented with the award by the Ivy Tech Board of Trustees and Sellersburg regional Chancellor Rita Shourds Thursday at the Lawrenceburg campus.

A panel of judges selected Cokeley from candidates nominated by Ivy Tech campuses around the state. Qualifications include outstanding professional achievement and a solid record of volunteer leadership and efforts. Competitors included corporate vice presidents, government leaders and other graduates whose success and contributions to their community attest to the quality of Ivy Tech and its alumni.

Of Cokeley, one judge stated, "She shines in each and every way." Another noted,"It is clear that enrolling at Ivy Tech was the turning point in her life."

College was never a consideration in Cokeley's hardworking family - her high school diploma was considered a breakthrough achievement. Working as a waitress, she accepted an offer for an office job a family member arranged, but she had no further plans.  Her new boss encouraged her to try Ivy Tech and Cokeley reluctantly enrolled in one course. Ignited by her experience, she never looked back.

In 2003, Cokeley graduated magna cum laude with an associate degree in business administration. Enrolling at IU on a Lee Hamilton Scholarship, she went on to earn a bachelor's and an MBA from the IU School of Business, and was one of 74 undergraduates nationwide chosen by the Harvard Business School for its Summer Program in Management.

While pursuing her degrees, she committed several thousand hours toward community service leadership. She created and taught a CAD class for at-risk students, and secured a $100,000 software donation to introduce middle school students to engineering and technology.

She served as chapter and regional officer of Phi Theta Kappa international two-year college honorary society, leading efforts for 9/11 and Asian tsunami relief, Project Graduation and SOAR, and she successfully proposed a scholarship to promote leadership, service and scholarship among low-income students. At IU, she received an Undergraduate Research Fellowship to help people start nonprofit organizations and businesses. Copyrighted by IU, the resources she produced are in their second edition.

Currently she is Associate Director of Community Building for the Metro United Way of Louisville, working with 76 agencies. Her supervisor, Howard G. Mason, says Cokeley is "helping transform our region through her work. With new technology and methods, she has pioneered community input as a process to instigate change."

Cokeley was honored by a consortium of southern Indiana community foundations with an Emerging Woman in Philanthropy Award, and is recipient of the American Association of Community Colleges Award for the state of Indiana, the IU Volunteer of the Bell Award and Outstanding Service Award, and the Metro United Way Volunteer of the Year and the Louisville Science Center Volunteer Award. She was also nominee for the national NFL Community Quarterback Award.

She has served as Advisory Board member for Indiana Campus Compact and president of the Ivy Tech Sellersburg Alumni Association, which she initiated and helped organize.

She also served on the Board of Directors of the Obelisk Federal Credit Union in southern Indiana during a key transition.

The following received Ivy Tech Alumnus of the Year Awards from their regional campuses:

  • Evansville - Paul V. Brenner
  • Fort Wayne - Chuck Pastor
  • Kokomo - Jean Koch
  • Madison - William F. Anderson
  • Northwest - Lauren Arnold
  • Richmond - Kathleen G. Campbell
  • Sellersburg - Kerri Cokeley
  • South Bend - Darryl Boykins

Read more about Kerri's Success

When Kerri Cokeley sets goals for herself, she thinks big. Really big. It should be no surprise, then, that Kerri was chosen to attend Harvard Business School's Summer Venture in Management, a one-week management training program for promising college students.

As only one of 74 students from across the U.S. invited to the program in 2005, you might think Kerri would have been intimidated by the challenge. But when you consider how far she's come, you quickly realize that there are few opportunities that she won't wholeheartedly embrace.

A 2003 Ivy Tech graduate, Kerri laughingly refers to herself as "Ivy Tech's poster child." That wasn't always true, however. After finishing high school in Jeffersonville - "I barely graduated," she says - Kerri joined her mother working as a waitress in a restaurant, and harbored no further aspirations. "It was a big deal in my family just to finish high school," she said.

Growing up, she had listened to her grandfather and stepfather - both welders - talk about people who worked in an office as if they were somehow different, and more privileged. And that's what they wanted Kerri to do someday.

With no expectations of going to college, however, it seemed unlikely that Kerri would leave her job at the restaurant anytime soon. Kerri's grandfather, however, helped her get a job with a friend's engineering firm. She almost didn't take it because it paid less than she could make as a waitress. But the whole family was excited for her, so she gave in. Although it was challenging at first, she soon found her niche.

"Once it clicked, I found out I was good at it," says Kerri.

Kerri's boss told her he wanted to promote her, but her math skills were too weak. He urged her to go back to school, and although Kerri resisted the idea, she wanted the promotion. She decided Ivy Tech's campus in nearby Sellersburg would be the best fit.

Just as things had "clicked" when she started working at the engineering firm, college turned out to be a surprisingly good fit. She didn't succeed immediately - her first grade was a B- - but she liked being in school. That first class piqued her interest, Kerri says. "I wanted to go back and do better. I had a taste of real education."

Soon, she was taking a closer look at what Ivy Tech had to offer. An Introduction to Business course, taught by the late Dr. Michael Hoisch, for example, gave Kerri something she never had before: a dose of confidence, along with plenty of challenges. That led her to think about doing something she'd never thought of before - getting a degree.

"Dr. Hoisch was one of those professors who found a way to relate to everyone," Kerri says. "He really engaged us. For the first time, I realized I had potential as a student."

Ivy Tech's strong ties to Phi Theta Kappa, the international honorary society for community colleges, opened another door. "I can't tell you how thrilled I was to learn that I was eligible for PTK," Kerri recalls. After getting to know her, Sue Jackson, Ivy Tech director of special organizations, and Twila Yaste of the Ivy Tech Sellersburg campus told Kerri she was a natural leader and should run for regional office.

Kerri remembers being more surprised than flattered. "I said, 'Are you kidding me?' I never saw myself that way. But I thought, 'Okay, I'll push myself for one year and see if I can do this officer thing.' I had never really pushed myself to succeed at that level before."

The "firsts" in Kerri's life kept coming. As regional vice president of PTK, she delivered her first speech at the Indiana convention in 2002. The feedback was another revelation. "They came up and said, 'You're really good at this, you're articulate, you have contagious energy.'"

At an Ivy Tech-PTK planning retreat, Kerri discovered a love for planning and strategic thinking. She started developing new approaches to problems. "I didn't know I was creative until others told me," she said. Soon after, she was named a PTK New Century Scholar.

After Kerri finished her associate degree, she got a new position with her employer. Bigger things, however, were still to come. First, Kerri wanted to complete a bachelor's degree, and thanks to a Lee Hamilton Scholarship, she was able to enroll at IU Southeast. A bachelor's degree in business management followed, and all the while Kerri continued to work full time. But she wasn't finished yet.

Kerri's next step was a career change. Ever since her days at Ivy Tech, she wanted to go into nonprofit work. Kerri thought a business degree would put her in a better position for that job - and she was right. Today, she is a Community Coordinator for Metro United Way of Louisville, Kentucky, working with 76 agencies in Kentucky and Indiana.

Kerri is happy in her current position, but she's looking to build upon her success by pursuing an MBA and continuing to take advantage of all the learning opportunities presented to her - including her stint at Harvard. Her inspiration is simple: when she imagines what her life would be like if she hadn't taken that first class at Ivy Tech, she keeps moving forward.

"It's important for people to realize that the abilities I didn't even know I had were first identified at Ivy Tech," she explains. "Finding out that I could be a leader, that I had a knack for certain skills - that happened at Ivy Tech. When you find out you're creative, that you have potential, it changes the way you think about yourself and your future, your whole life. I know that realization is possible for every student at Ivy Tech, and for every person who is thinking about college but afraid to try."

Kerri knows that she is fortunate to have had support not only when she started back to school, but along the way as well. That's why she's dedicated to helping others achieve their dreams. Kerri actively encourages students who are a lot like she used to be - unsure of themselves and their abilities. But she has done more than that: despite her modest salary, Kerri has designated a portion of her future retirement benefits to Ivy Tech. It is a gift that will grow right along with her career.

"I challenge anyone to prove to me that Ivy Tech doesn't change lives," she states. "Anyone who comes here and makes an effort to finish will have a better life. And Ivy Tech has students who help each other and faculty who push us to keep going, to reach for the next level. That's the atmosphere here.  That's why I want to follow Ivy Tech's example and give support to the students."

Ivy Tech has propelled Kerri far beyond the limitations she had accepted as her lot in life. Now she serves as an example - a poster child, if you will - for what is possible when you begin a new journey.

"I've come a huge distance." Kerri says. "I didn't dream big before Ivy Tech. Ivy Tech taught me the possibilities are limitless."