Kokomo native Mike Dukes has two lifelong hobbies – comic books (Spiderman is his favorite super hero) and tabletop role-playing games (think Dungeons and Dragons) – but it wasn’t until he came to Ivy Tech Community College Kokomo that he found a way to turn those passions into a career.
Now the “digital media specialist” for the City of Kokomo, Mike spends his work days taking photographs for use in print and web publications, videoing events and programs, designing motion and print graphics, creating video programs for both the web and broadcast, and maintaining all the city’s video equipment and related technology. It’s a long way from nearly 10 years working quality assurance for Tyson Foods and Delphi.
Industrial work had seemed the thing to do after graduating from Kokomo High School. It was monotonous to the amateur artist but it paid the bills. It was a layoff from the factory that opened the doors to two years of college paid for through the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program and Mike ran with the opportunity.
Enrolling in Ivy Tech, Mike first thought he’d major in industrial technology but after he learned about the College’s Visual Communications program – and the chance to study graphic design – he was hooked on a new direction. “Both comics and role-playing games heavily involve graphic design,” Mike said. “I asked if I could change my major and it was approved. Ivy Tech offered the chance to learn the software that would allow me to create.”
“What do I like best about my job with the city?” Mike repeated the question and answered with glee: “I get paid to create.” Speaking about the impact of his experience at Ivy Tech, he said, “Every time I look back, I know I’m just barely scratching the surface of what I know I want to do.”
Mike said he loved being at Ivy Tech and took the advice of his TAA counselor at the unemployment office. “We had monthly check-ins. He told me to sit in the front row, always do the best I could do,” he said. “I took that to heart.” More than a dozen years out of high school, Mike ended up at the top of his class, earning Phi Theta Kappa honor society membership and the Outstanding Student Award when he graduated in 2010.
He took advantage of opportunities for independent study, getting real-world experience that applied toward his degree and built his resume. In his first semester, he designed a 328-page book in support of a role-playing game developed by a friend. Mike served as a lab assistant as a student and as an adjunct instructor after his graduation. And, at the recommendation of program chair Kyle Wiley, Mike had his first official “visual communications” job as a prepress graphic designer at Humphrey Printing by the time he transferred to Indiana University Kokomo. There he completed a bachelor’s degree in New Media (where he also was named the program’s outstanding student) in 2013.
Degrees in hand, Mike has been able to create a new career with every opportunity to exercise his imagination and creativity, becoming a one-person production crew. Among the credits on his resume: Creative director or art director for several design studios, photographer/videographer for the Kokomo Herald, and owner of his own production company that creates “Gaming on Geek Street,” live-action shows of people playing role-playing games shared on YouTube. His work is featured weekly in the city’s “Pet of the Week” project for the Kokomo Humane Society and his drone skills have resulted in valuable footage of the Seiberling Mansion and Ivy Tech’s Kokomo Campus transformation project.
The COVID-19 pandemic offered even more opportunities. In his city job, Mike helped develop the technological capabilities that allowed city and county officials to share community-wide updates via live-streaming. “With everything shut down, we had to find new ways to get information out,” he said. “It involved a lot of IT (information technology) work, with computers and cameras and lights and microphones, to make that work.”
Another product of the pandemic resulted in Mike’s credits as camera operator and producer for a an episode of the Amazon Prime series “A Toy Store Near You.” What became Episode 4 of Season 2 focused on Kokomo Toys, a mecca for toy lovers from all over the world found on East Sycamore Street in downtown Kokomo. When the professional film crew was blocked from travel, Mike was recruited to handle filming, lighting, drone piloting, capturing audio and arranging talent for the episode.
“What do I like best about my job with the city?” Mike repeated the question and answered with glee: “I get paid to create.” Speaking about the impact of his experience at Ivy Tech, he said, “Every time I look back, I know I’m just barely scratching the surface of what I know I want to do.” And as he looks forward to advances in technology, to the promises and challenges of artificial intelligence, he sees a future with exciting possibilities.
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.