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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Ivy Tech Community College welcomes first woman president

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Sue Ellspermann, Indiana’s former lieutenant governor and the first-ever woman president of the country’s largest singly accredited statewide community college system, has in her own words been “bitten by the Ivy Tech bug.” That bite is evident not only in the passion faculty and staff showcase in serving the eager minds that come through the classroom, but also in the dedication of the students themselves. With more than three decades of experience in education, politics and workforce development, Ellspermann hopes to take Ivy Tech to the next level. Her tenure, which officially began in July, comes as part of a three-year contract that will reportedly pay her $300,000 per year. Of the many concerns she and her team will address, increasing graduation rates and meeting the ever-growing demands for skilled mid-level workers seem to be the most pressing. Ellspermann shared that she will be working to craft a strategic plan for the college (to be released in January) and implementing new technology and partnerships to assist in these efforts. One addition will utilize a data-mining algorithm to track students’ behaviors and levels of engagement to figure (with 81 percent accuracy) whether or not a student is on track to succeed in their coursework. Ellspermann shared that this is just one of many efforts she plans to enact through her new position.

The Recorder recently sat down with Ellspermann to discuss her transition and her plans for the institution’s future.

Indianapolis Recorder Newspaper: What has the transition been like for you, moving from politics to education?

Ellspermann: As the lieutenant governor, I had the opportunity to travel all 92 counties and saw the need back then, even four years ago, that employers were beginning to experience. Unemployment was still high, but it was coming down, and it was beginning to get more challenging to get employees. As vice chair of the Indiana Career Council, the challenge was to align K–12 and higher education to meet the needs of workforce. I spent two years in that role helping to craft Indiana’s strategic plan, so my understanding of the workforce side and the needs/role of Ivy Tech was very good coming in. What I didn’t know was how did it really work? What were all of the programs, people, talent and strategies that Ivy Tech was deploying? I had a great month in June just visiting 14 of our 32 campuses and getting to know 700 or more of our employees across the state. It helped to give me a flavor for the people and their concerns for the institution and what was important to them. The last two months have been spent really learning how this institution works and what we can do to further leverage it to help students meet the demands of the workforce. As any new leader, you see opportunities, but the goal is not to change everything in a day; it’s to really look thoughtfully at what we’re doing.

 

During your time so far, what have you learned about the people of Ivy Tech?

The commitment of the faculty and staff here — people use the term “you get bit” when you get here… you just become part of this vocation of serving individuals. For many of them, a traditional college degree was not something they had the opportunity to pursue. A couple weeks ago, I sat down with a mother and her triplets who were all here attending at the same time; (the triplets) were 19, so they were more traditional. Two of the students I get to talk to every evening as I’m leaving and they’re leaving classes, one a young man — who is 26 and works in HVAC — is coming back for his associate degree; he wants to be an electrical engineer. I’m very excited about his future and his experience here is going very well. I met our oldest student, GG (which stands for grandma), and she has five degrees from Ivy Tech. I won’t say what her age is, but she’s been here for a long time, and she loves being here and learning.

Ivy Tech’s past president, Tom Synder, has been honored nationally for his work with the college. In 2015, his efforts earned him a recognition and appointment from President Barack Obama. What are your thoughts on his legacy and building upon that foundation?

He absolutely led amazing changes at this institution — things like the co-rec model instead of traditional remediation, (and) some of the programs we’re offering now, like Inside Track, where students get a phone call every Monday to make sure that if they’re at risk, they get the help they need. ASAP, the one-year associates program, is working so well, and I think we have more than 70 minority students on the Fall Creek campus that are a part of that. That said, we still have to do more. It’s not a problem where you can do these six or 10 things and it’s solved. We’ve made marked improvement in most areas, and yet, we expect (a lot) of ourselves and the state expects even more of us, and our students deserve the very best we can give. We’ll continue to look for even more ways to improve.

On preparing students for the workforce, while overall unemployment is down, minority unemployment is still high. What are your thoughts on reaching minority students? 

On this campus, our minority enrollment is at least 15 percent, which is higher than most places in the state. But certainly the good news is, I think the minority community sees us as a good place to come and further their education. We’ve developed a number of programs — with ASAP, we’re doing an Ivy Works form of that specializing in jobs in the logistics supply chain areas, and in that program, 40 percent of the students are African-American. I think in all cases we will be elevating the demand-driven, high-wage, high-need jobs and trying to help get that word out. We recently signed an MOU (memorandum of understanding) with Fisk University, an HBCU, and we are going to Nashville at the end of October to make that official. We want to elevate those kinds of opportunities to transfer. Our students will have to meet Fisk requirements, but what a great opportunity. I think there are lots more opportunities, from internships all the way to how we engage with students.

Recently, Ivy Tech was slated to host an event on policing and race. (The event was canceled due to inclement weather but has been rescheduled for Oct. 10) Why is it important for places of higher learning to be engaged in conversations of this type?

We want to be a place where these kinds of dialogues happen. We are, to this point, viewed that way in the community. My background is facilitating and problem solving, so that is a very natural thing to want to do. We want to (show) that we are that safe place where people can have different points of view, can share their concerns, air them and talk about them, and hopefully out of that come some ideas on how we can work forward together. We don’t have all the answers, but the answers will come from all of us as we learn to work with each other and have a safe space to talk about these things.

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