Ivy Tech president gets better feel for students by teaching class

Drawing on her own life experiences and diverse employment history, Ivy Tech Community College President Sue Ellspermann shared her story with about 20 students during a Student Success class focused on career exploration.

Ellspermann, formerly Indiana's lieutenant governor, served as a guest instructor Monday while visiting the Wabash Valley campus, and she sought students' input on what they like about Ivy Tech and how the community college system can improve.

Trained as an industrial engineer, she admitted to the students she didn't like one of her first jobs out of college with a major company, but stuck it out for a year. By staying, it enabled her to complete a one-year training program. "I needed to know I wasn't a quitter," she said.

She eventually went to another company that had previously recruited her, Frito Lay, where she worked as a corporate industrial engineer. Among her experiences there was making 4,000 pounds of potato chips in an hour. "Potato chips right out of the fryer are awesome. I was 10 pounds heavier," she told students.

The IVYT Student Success class she taught is an introductory class that all freshmen take.

"It's my chance to get to know 20-some students and understand their experience here as well as work with them on a little bit of career development," Ellspermann said. "I think it's very important for me to understand where our students are here in Terre Haute … and having a sense of their story as well as what their hopes, dreams and career goals are."

The students in the class had a variety of backgrounds. Some are of traditional college age, while others had been in the workforce many years and were starting their post-secondary careers. "I think that's the real challenge and opportunity for Ivy Tech — to meet each and every student where they are," she said.

Ellspermann asked students what they liked about Ivy Tech, and they told her class size, extracurricular activities, affordability and resources such as the writing center.

She also asked students what they wish they would have known before starting at Ivy Tech. One student, Jeremy Baker, said he had been intimidated about going to college after many years in the workforce, but everyone at Ivy Tech went out of their way to help him. Another student said he wished he had started sooner.

Baker also said he would like to see more done to help students who make it two-thirds of the way through a course, but then quit attending or quit trying, maybe because the course gets more difficult.

Ellspermann even gave the students an assignment — to research their career goals using a Department of Workforce Development occupational demand data base, where they will learn about demand for the occupation, pay levels and education requirements.

They'll email her their assignments, but she promised she wouldn't grade them.

After the class, Baker, 42, said of Ellspermann's visit, "I think it's fantastic any time the head of an institution shows interest in what's going on in regional areas … especially asking the concerns of the students and their ideas on things they can do to improve."

He is studying human services and is in his second year at Ivy Tech; he hopes to become a therapist. Before Ivy Tech, he had worked in a factory. Attending Ivy Tech "is the best thing I've done in a long time," he said.

Among the students Ellspermann talked to was John Lee, 56, of Bloomingdale, who also is seeking an Ivy Tech degree after many years in the labor force. He is studying information technology, but one of his challenges is no internet connection at his home. Ellspermann, who told students it took her eight years to complete her master's and doctorate, told Lee to "hang in there. Stay with it," he said after their conversation.

He's been out of school for 30-plus years and has worked in construction and manufacturing. Now, he is caring for an ill family member and also seeking a career change. "I believe I can do it," he said.

After class, Ellspermann had lunch with students and then toured the Center for Workforce Development, which houses programs in the Division of Technology. She also went to the TechLab building, which houses many of the nursing classes.

She has been Ivy Tech president since July 1 and is the first female president for the college.

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