After graduating in 2005 from what was then known as Ivy Tech State College with her Associate of Applied Science in Surgical Technology, Dr. Tashika T. Carlton went on to work as a certified surgical technologist at Memorial Hospital in South Bend. 

"I have never been afraid of blood or anything like that. I'm a hands-on person. I have to see it; I have to touch it," Dr. Carlton said of why she chose to become a surgical technologist. 

Dr. Carlton passed the Certified Surgical Technologist examination on her first attempt a year after she graduated from Ivy Tech's Michigan City campus. "That just tells you the power of that degree. It was still in me a year later," she said. 

After becoming certified, Dr. Carlton worked at Memorial Hospital for nearly 10 years. She loved everything about it. 

"I just loved the fact that I was helping to fix something. I can look and see what the doctor is doing and know what instruments to hand them because I know my anatomy. And Ivy Tech was really strict. Before you even get to the operating room – back in that time – we had to go around the room and name each instrument," Dr. Carlton said. "I didn't want to do paperwork. I wanted to just work for patients. My job is to keep the field sterile, ensure that it is not compromised. I am like the scrub police."

Dr. Carlton had not considered continuing her education until the lead surgeon asked her why she wasn't teaching during surgery one day at work. It just so happened that at that moment, Dr. Carlton was doing another part of the job that she loved so much – precepting a surgical technologist. That surgeon had a front-row seat to Dr. Carlton's teaching style and expressed that he thought she should consider becoming a professor. 

Suddenly, it was like a light bulb went off in her head, as Dr. Carlton remembers it, and she was off to higher education races – at the speed of life!

"I received three degrees in less than eight years," Dr. Carlton said. "One surgeon, he always tells me, 'Tashika, when you stop learning, you're dead!' So, I'm always learning, and I'm always trying to improve. I don't have all the answers, but I have experiences that I can use to make a living, and hopefully, this can help many students."

Student Teaching at Ivy Tech Indianapolis

Dr. Carlton graduated with her Bachelor of Science in Human Services degree from Bethel College in 2015. Directly after, Dr. Carlton enrolled in Ball State University’s Master in Adult and Community Education Program, which she attended by way of Indianapolis. 

Before graduating as a master’s student in Ball State’s Community Education Program, Dr. Carlton needed to submit a research thesis to the Institutional Review Board (IRB) and complete her student teaching requirement. When she contacted some Ivy Tech professors for help with her questionnaires, Ivy Tech Indianapolis’ Dr. Claire Maxson, Dean of Business Administration, Logistics, and Supply Chain, was one of the first to respond and offered to assist and set her up with teaching opportunities. 

Dr. Carlton taught five courses on the Indianapolis campus of Ivy Tech from 2018 to 2019, including Student Success and University Transfer and Student Success in Health Care. 

“It was not just about teaching those IVYT classes. I also wore many hats,” Dr. Carlton said. 

From wearing her “Ivy Tech Class of 2005” t-shirt on her first day of teaching classes to giving students tips on how to get a paper finished in time and advising them on career and life decisions, Dr. Carlton made it a point to make her students know that she can relate to them and where they were at in their higher education journey. 

“We were both going through the same thing together. We were both students. It’s just that I had been where they were years before. And I was so blessed to be able to share that with them,” Dr. Carlton said. “Like, ‘I have a paper to write too!’” she laughed. “I understand what you guys are going through, and I’m gonna help you!” 

Dr. Carlton loved when students asked, “Why do I need to know this?” and she had real-life scenarios as an answer for them. What she loved even more than that was knowing what would help particular students if something was challenging. 

“I was so not a math person, for instance, so I took advantage of the Ivy Tech tutoring,” Dr. Carlton shared. “And I also told them that when I was at Bethel, trying to complete my Bachelor of Science degree, I went back to Ivy Tech to take a couple of classes so I could transfer them,” Dr. Carlton said, as further examples. 

Although Dr. Carlton is ready with advice for her students, she says she doesn’t always have the answers. And neither will her students, but that’s OK. 

“If you don’t have it figured out, that’s OK. That’s why you go to college – to figure it out,” Dr. Carlton says. 

“Ivy Tech always holds a special place in my heart. But to go back and teach at your alma mater, it just … I just can’t even describe the feeling. It’s great,” Dr. Carlton said. 

When Dr. Carlton’s time teaching at Ivy Tech Indianapolis came to a close, she realized she didn’t want to stop learning, and she definitely did not want to stop teaching. 

“I just didn’t want it to end! I just love education. So, I decided to do one last degree, the Doctorate of Education from my home state of Illinois.”

From a 1.9 High School GPA to Achieving a Doctorate

Dr. Carlton graduated high school with a 1.9 grade point average (GPA) and remembers not being engaged in classes. 

"I goofed off in high school a lot, but I slid through," Dr. Carlton said. "When I decided to get really serious about education, when I was a little more mature, I was in my late 20s."

Dr. Carlton was nervous about returning to school and felt community college would be her chance to start over. 

"To be honest, my high school grades were so horrible," Dr. Carlton said. "I basically just went into Ivy Tech and asked, 'Is there any way I can get in? Can you help me? I can read and write. But I just don't know where to start.'"

Dr. Carlton remembers clear as day Ivy Tech's Michigan City campus started her out with only math and English classes.

"I was like, 'What?!'" Carlton laughed. "But I bit the bullet. I know they did it because they wanted the best for me. I really felt that was the case. And it was sincere." 

Carlton says she can still vividly remember her professors and what they said to her in the late 90s. "I don't know if they'd ever remember me, but I remember them because they made a huge impact on my life." 

Reminiscing – remembering her educational roots  – is something Dr. Carlton has done often since late 2022 when she graduated from Bradley University with a Doctorate of Education in Higher Education Administration. 

"You know, Ivy Tech's Surgical Technology Program is really tough. I'm telling you. There were many times I was ready to give up. And I didn't have a very nice preceptor," Dr. Carlton said, chuckling. "But I didn't let that stop me. And I'm so glad I didn't."  

"I'm always representing Ivy Tech," Dr. Carlton said. 

For those considering Ivy Tech for their first step in higher education, she shares, "Just take two classes and see how you like it. Just give it a chance."

Now, Dr. Carlton is back in Indiana to be closer to her parents. She hopes to begin teaching again, hopefully at Ivy Tech, where she wants to give back to the community that poured into her. 

"I have to go back and find this doctor and tell him I listened to what he said! Now, I'm a doctor! Not a medical doctor, but …" Carlton said, laughing. "I had many doctors who reached out to me on LinkedIn, celebrated my degree, thanked me, and said, ‘I remember you! You used to be my scrub tech!' So, I mean it when I say it's been a really great journey. And it all started with Ivy Tech. Ivy Tech produces doctors!" 

NEXT: Eli Lilly retiree reinvents her career path with Ivy Tech degree, certifications

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.