College is hard but it’s not impossible...I got a lot of encouragement … and I wasn’t the only older person in the room. There were others about my age who were working and going to school, I thought, "Hey, man, you’re not alone."
– Desmon Williams
Kokomo native Desmon Williams comes from a “factory family.” And following his father before him and three of his four siblings, his first stop after graduating from Kokomo High School in 1999 was the manufacturing floor of a Chrysler plant.
“I graduated on Friday and started at Chrysler on Monday,” Williams says. He figured he’d make it a career, heading for the “30 and out” early retirement plan that made the United Autoworkers job so attractive. That wasn’t to be. He had worked there for about seven years when the Great Recession loomed. With his wife LaShaya happy in her job as a schoolteacher in Kokomo, he took a buyout and left Chrysler rather than relocating to a plant in another city.
After a couple of “odds and ends” jobs, in 2010, Williams was hired by Haynes International for another factory floor position.
“When I started at Chrysler, I was 19. I didn’t know much,” he says. Over the next seven years, he had learned about working in a UAW plant and now had to learn the ways of the United Steelworkers union. It didn’t take long for the vocal new employee to get involved; he soon became a shift committeeman. He got elected to the union local’s executive board and was tapped to be on the negotiating team.
“That experience really opened my eyes,” Williams remembers. “There were a lot of aha moments as we negotiated employment policies. I felt I wanted to know more.
“I decided I never wanted to leave my destiny in someone else’s hands,” he continues. “I decided I wanted a degree so I will never be in the position where I didn’t have something to fall back on.”
LaShaya started filling out his Ivy Tech application as Williams wrapped up negotiations that summer. Once admitted, Williams met with Ivy Tech adviser Chad Lewis; together they determined Williams’s interest would lead to a Business Administration degree.
“I was nervous,” he says about starting classes in the fall of 2018. “I was 38 years old and hadn’t been in school for 20 years.”
But business professor James Fitzgerald, who became a mentor to Williams, says he never saw a hint of nerves. “Desmon walked in and he commanded the room,” Fitzgerald says. “He was the person who made sure group projects got done.
“Desmon was a very smart, determined reliable and goal-oriented student who demonstrated leadership qualities,” he continued. “Determination, consistency, and focus are keys to his educational success.”
Williams was known for always being on time, taking seat at the front of the classroom, sharing his 20 years of experience in the workforce. “Sometimes I talked too much,” Williams says with a laugh. “I didn’t want to be the teacher’s pet, but I was interested. I enjoyed it.”
Williams appreciated Ivy Tech’s small class sizes, the support of faculty and staff, and having teachers like James Fitzgerald who brought years of experience in the business world into his classes. Williams became comfortable discussing where the lessons from his textbooks diverged from his real-world experience.
And he continued to succeed. First, based on his high grade-point average, he was notified he was qualified to join Phi Theta Kappa, the international academic honor society for students in two-year schools. Then he was invited to participate in Ivy Tech’s Student Leadership Academy. Both provided encouragement and opportunities to work with a variety of students from diverse backgrounds who were all working hard to hone their academic and leadership skills. Williams served as an Ivy Tech ambassador, greeting prospective students and assisting the enrollment services staff with tours.
In 2021, Williams graduated summa cum laude with an Associate of Science degree in Business Administration.
“I didn’t know what ‘summa cum laude’ meant,” he says, chuckling. “My wife said that means you have a high GPA, you graduated with honors. That felt good. When I picked up my cap and gown, I was given honor cords to wear, but I was more happy that I graduated. It was good to get honors, but I was more impressed with getting my degree.”
And he hasn’t stopped. With all his Ivy Tech credits transferring to Indiana University Kokomo, Williams is now in his fourth semester of work on a Bachelor of Applied Science in Business Administration degree, minoring in human resource (HR) management, with a goal of graduating in May 2025. He’s still balancing work at Haynes, where, as a trustee on the Steelworker local’s executive board, he focuses on contract negotiations every summer.
After graduation, he may find himself on the other side of the negotiating table.
“My goal is to go into HR,” he says. “I want to make sure people are treated with respect. Everybody deserves to be treated as human beings.” Areas of interest include hiring and training and helping with policies and procedures to assure a safe working environment and accountability at all levels.
“I have another perspective I can offer,” Williams adds. “I’ve been on the floor. I’ve been laid off. It’s different than someone coming right out of college. I’m learning the ‘other side’ now, why they make some of the decisions they make.”
Williams isn’t the only one in his family who’s been balancing college and work. LaShaya, a 16-year veteran of Kokomo Schools, is working on her doctorate at Ball State University and their oldest son, Damarius, recently finished his degree in Culinary Arts at Ivy Tech’s Muncie Campus. Williams and LaShaya also remain deeply involved in the education and therapy of their 15-year-old son Dayne, who was diagnosed with autism when he was 5 years old. The whole family is engaged with their church, Reformation Faith Ministry.
All this while continuing to work second shift (3 to 11 p.m.) at Haynes. “I wake up at 9 a.m., go to classes on Mondays and Wednesdays, do school work while other people are out of the house,” Williams says. “You have a lot of time in the day. As long as you prioritize, you can get it done.”
He continued, “Ivy Tech made coming back to school very comfortable for me. Starting here taught me how to prioritize. It gave me confidence. All the resources were always at my hand – tutoring assistance. I would recommend to anyone to start at Ivy Tech; starting here gave me a leg up. It’s the best place for untraditional students to start.”
“College is hard but it’s not impossible,” Williams says. “I got a lot of encouragement … and I wasn’t the only older person in the room. There were others about my age who were working and going to school, I thought, ‘Hey, man, you’re not alone.’”
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.