Corissa McClammer will earn her biotechnology associate degree from Ivy Tech Indianapolis this summer. Only one year later, she will complete her bachelor's degree in biotechnology from Indiana University - Indianapolis (IUI) in 2025, focusing on genetics and deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA).

Since the fall of 2020, McClammer has been steadfast in her part-time studies, campus-based job as a lab manager, and active on campus at Ivy Tech Indianapolis. She’s the vice president of the Student Government Association, a board member and volunteer with Women & Hi Tech, a volunteer with the Office of Student Life, and Lilly Scholars @ Ivy Tech recipient.

Although the last four years have been the most significant in her higher education journey, McClammer isn’t a traditional college student and shares that it took over 10 years to find her footing. 

“I’ve been working since I was 16,” McClammer shared. “I didn’t realize you could go to school part-time when I first started college in 2012 when I was 18, and I kept pushing myself to do four and five classes at a time while working full time. I could barely make my classes. And at the time, work was more important because it paid the bills, and school was going to be a bill – so I had to work, and I lost my balance many times.” 

Balancing work, school, and personal struggles

Soon after starting college at IUI – then known as Indiana University Purdue University - Indianapolis (IUPUI) – pursuing a biochemistry degree, McClammer dropped out as she struggled to balance working and attending class. Working in the service and retail industry, she often juggled three to four jobs. 

“I was working like 70 and 80 hours a week. And I couldn't make it to my classes,” McClammer said. 

After a couple of years away from school to focus on working, McClammer decided to return to school because, as she’s heard it, “any degree is better than no degree.” A phrase McClammer says she’s heard time and time again, but found to be inaccurate 

“My mom’s an accountant, so that’s why I tried accounting at Western Governors University (WGU). But I didn’t like it at all,” McClammer said. “I actually loved school. I love science and always have.”

So, McClammer dropped out of WGU and later tried biochemistry again, this time taking some classes at Ivy Tech in addition to IUI around 2016. Soon, however, she withdrew from school again. 

The back and forth of going to school and not going to school changed for McClammer in 2020. Not only did the COVID-19 pandemic stimulate the internal dialogue of higher education for McClammer, but her fibromyalgia, which she was diagnosed with in 2017, had increasingly worsened, making her serving and bartending jobs unbearable. 

“It got to the point where I could only do carry out. I could barely work more than 20 hours, or my body just didn't want to move. I just really struggled to get myself back up to that point,” McClammer said, describing the pain of working as a server with the chronic disorder. 

“Finally, I said, I can't do this forever. The world is getting so expensive. And I just want a better life for myself,” she said of her thought process. “So this time around, I was like, ‘I have to learn how to balance it, and school has to be a priority. It can't be work over school. It has to be school first.’ And it was.” 

McClammer remembered how much she liked the class sizes, instructors, and overall atmosphere at Ivy Tech Indianapolis and decided to start part-time and work her way up. 

“When I started taking classes here (Ivy Tech Indianapolis), there was no doubt in my mind that I was in the right place.”

Ivy Tech Indianapolis experience, scholarships, and feeling good about the future 

When she returned to school in 2020, McClammer changed her major from biochemistry to biotechnology. 

“Back then, I wanted to be a part of making drugs and stuff like that, but as I've aged, biotechnology called to me more,” McClammer said. “Biotechnology is more about finding solutions to make the world a better place.”

McClammer fell in love with her classes and her professors, like Dr. Don Pappas and Dr. Allison Babij. McClammer recalls a time when she almost withdrew from school again, but Dr. Babij – who did not know McClammer was considering leaving – told her about a new on-campus position as a lab assistant. 

“Even though it was an online class, Dr. Babij was fantastic and always made me feel comfortable asking questions. She allowed me to meet with her multiple times. One of those times, she told me she felt I’d be a good fit for this position. I was going through a crazy time personally, so I just put everything into getting this job. I said, ‘If I get this job, it was meant for me to stay; if I don’t, I’m moving out of state.’”

When McClammer was chosen to fill the role, she explained that it provided her with great stability and resources—two things she desperately needed. 

“Getting the lab assistant job just motivated me and further pushed me. Dr. Babij became my boss, and naturally, the job worked around my class schedule. Working on campus has allowed me to work even closer with my instructors and ask them questions,” she explained. 

“Every single step I've taken since I've come back to school, specifically starting back at Ivy Tech, has been in the right direction,” McClammer continued. “It's solidified that this is the right path for me. And now, there's no doubt in my mind that I was doing the right thing by continuing my education, coming here first, and choosing this degree and ... just everything.”

Over the last four years, McClammer was promoted from lab assistant to lab manager, and subsequently, being on campus regularly made her more engaged with campus happenings. Additionally, because she had already accumulated about 12 credit hours through IUI in the years prior, she was able to pursue her bachelor’s while pursuing an associate degree at Ivy Tech. 

As she prepares to wrap up her schooling at the end of 2025 at IUI, McClammer says she appreciates the additional financial support the Lilly Scholars scholarship provided her during her last couple of semesters at Ivy Tech and looks forward to its continued benefits post-graduation. The Lilly Scholars @ Ivy Tech covers all tuition and fees for students in biotechnology, smart manufacturing, digital integration, and industrial technology studies. In addition to financial support, Lilly Scholars are granted networking opportunities with industry leaders and mentors​; they can participate in industry-related experiences​ and, if applicable, can apply for full-time employment at Eli Lilly after graduation.

“As a Lilly Scholar, I’m excited about the opportunities and to simply say I’m a Lilly Scholar and put that on my resume. I think that will push my resume out there even more,” McClammer said. 

McClammer says it's been a long time coming, but she’s proud of her work. 

“Everything I've done since coming back to school has set me up for the future,” McClammer said. “I wanted to make sure that everything I did set me up for success, and Ivy Tech helped me get here.”

Learn more about biotechnology at Ivy Tech. 

Learn more about Lilly Scholars @ Ivy Tech.

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.