Even before graduation day, 2024 Ivy Tech Fort Wayne grad Eli Evans has had that “finally” feeling.

“I can finally say I have my associates.”

Since starting Ivy Tech in 2019, Eli’s been busy. He’s served in leadership for different student organizations, works for Disability Support Services (DSS), and can soon say he’s a Visual Communications alum. While his time at Ivy Tech has been pretty active, it didn’t start that way.

Becoming a leader

“When I started, I was definitely blinders on,” he says. “I told myself I will not be participating in any activities, any clubs, because I don't need that distraction. I did really well in school, but I wasn’t having fun. I wasn’t growing as a person. I was just checking boxes off towards my diploma.”

A few years back, he received an email he was about to flag as spam until his mom encouraged him to look further into it. It was from Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), an international college honor society. After some research, he was convinced to join and took the steps to revive Ivy Tech Fort Wayne’s chapter.

Now, it’s changed his life.

Through PTK, he’s met members from all over the world and has used his digital media skills to run the region’s social media page. He’s also grown Fort Wayne’s chapter, with members who will support him even when he’s recovering from COVID-19 and trying to organize an induction ceremony.

In early April 2024, Eli traveled to Orlando, Fla. for the annual Catalyst PTK conference, where he was nominated and received an award for Distinguished Regional Officer, an award only 10 people get. It’s for his role as Social Media and Public Relations officer—and he’s seen great success.

“The Facebook Meta data says engagement has been going up. It’s really cool to say it’s tripled over my time taking it over.”

Lori Roe, communication professor and Ivy Tech Warsaw’s PTK advisor, has been instrumental help for Eli. She helped him get to his first Catalyst event in Ohio and has allowed him to shadow Warsaw’s chapter.

“She took me under her wing when she didn't have to.”

It’s something he’s planning to pass on. When he graduates, he’ll be unable to participate as a member, but he’s planning to stay on as an advisor.

Eli’s passion for leadership has extended to giving new life to Ivy Tech Fort Wayne campus’ only LGBTQ+ club, Queer Student Union. He’s also involved behind-the-scenes with Perception is Perfection (PIP). It’s an excitement for serving that began at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art.

I was able to take my time at Ivy Tech and finish things at my own pace.

– Eli Evans | 2024 Visual Communications Grad

Visual communications

The idea of pursuing visual communications began at the museum. He volunteered, giving tours to high school students and visitors. However, he dreamed of working there full time. After talking with staff members, he knew his path and joined Ivy Tech’s program.

“I was able to take my time at Ivy Tech and finish things at my own pace.”

Through the visual communications program, he was able to explore several different media of art.

“My favorite project I ever did was mural painting. We did 60 feet long and eight feet tall. We actually got nominated for it.”


The visual communications mural class had the opportunity to paint a mural at the Horace Mann Elementary School during the fall 2023 semester. The point was to incorporate all grade levels to best represent the students there. The class created a survey asking the elementary schoolers different questions like “what do you want to be when you grow up?” and “why do you love your school?”

The class spent several 6-to-8-hour days planning and painting for almost seven weeks straight.

The mural was nominated in the 2024 Arts United Awards where the students in the class competed against several local artists for the top prize. While they didn’t win, it’s an experience Eli will never forget.

He says it’s really the instructors like Jared Applegate, Erin Salyers, Claudia Paulson, and Joe Wood, who pushed him to be his best self through the program.

“Claudia helped us develop a clear vision from the beginning,” Eli says of his photography instructor. “That changed everything for me. I was able to take more personal photos and get the composition and the colors right.”

Jared, the visual communications Program Chair, has given Eli a new way to think about his work.

“Jared definitely always raised the bar for my own expectations. Now when I create, I have this imaginary Jared in my head telling me where to add and where to take away.”

It’s also partly the support of Jared and his other instructors that helped him through several months of hospitalization.

Overcoming challenges

Eli has gastroparesis, which is paralysis of the stomach. It’s now regulated with medication, but until he was 22, he had to use a feeding tube.

“I was hospitalized several times to the point where I had a final assignment in a class extended four months because that’s how long I was in the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.”

At this time, Eli was getting his feeding tube out. That also meant he had to learn how to eat again, which was an unpleasant experience.

“That was a huge mental barrier. They would feed me and then they would wean me off until finally they said ‘okay, no more feeding tube’.”

Eli has successfully been off the feeding tube for a few years now and even though he’s had to have smaller hospitalizations, he feels grateful for the support he gets from the college.

Finding support

Eli’s experience of encouragement extends outside his program. He’s also found that in his current job at the college.

“I love my job. I want to stay there for as long as I can.”

Eli currently works in DSS as a part-time administrative assistant, a job that came to him when he visited one of the Registration Fairs. He works with DSS Director Meg Yoquelet and Assistant Director Kelsey Bickel.

“I really like my bosses. They're genuinely curious about me as a person, which is something I wasn't used to.”

Through his work, he’s been able to help the department receive a grant to create a positive sensory room. It’s now the PIP room in Harshman Hall.

“It was just an empty room, and now it’s beautiful, and we’re almost outgrowing it because PIP is getting so big.”

What comes next

“My story is that I’m someone who is disabled, but it’s living proof that I’m still able to graduate.”

Eli’s time in college hasn’t been easy, but things are looking up. Last June, he received a life-changing top surgery after three years of waiting. He moved into his first apartment. And he was awarded a great scholarship to Indiana State University where he’s planning to pursue a bachelor’s online this fall.

It all ties back to that “finally” feeling. The relief that he made it. And the journey doesn’t end here.

You’ll still see Eli around Ivy Tech Fort Wayne with a smile on his face working in DSS. He hopes to one day use his passion for service and art working in a nonprofit in digital marketing.

He leaves everyone with this advice:

“Apply for financial aid. Join a club. Talk to your professors—they’re human, too!”

About Ivy Tech Community College

Ivy Tech Community College is Indiana's largest public postsecondary institution and the nation's largest singly accredited statewide community college system, accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Ivy Tech has campuses throughout Indiana and also serves thousands of students annually online. It serves as the state's engine of workforce development, offering associate degrees, long- and short-term certificate programs, industry certifications, and training that aligns with the needs of the community. The College provides a seamless transfer to other colleges and universities in Indiana, as well as out of state, for a more affordable route to a bachelor's degree.