Though he’s a native of the Mississippi Delta, Lorenzo Esters has been a valuable part of the Indianapolis community for years. In the nearly seven years he’s lived here, Esters has served on the board of trustees of Martin University, supported the Indiana Commission for Higher Education and is active in the community through the United Methodist Church.
Esters’ love of his adoptive hometown and passion for higher education — along with an impressive resume — made his decision to take on his new role as chancellor of Ivy Tech Community College’s Indianapolis campus easy. When he starts May 17, he’s looking forward to engaging with students and the overall community.
“This community has a strong ecosystem, and it’s a prime location for innovation through partnerships,” Esters said. “There is this ecosystem of support, tremendous opportunities to build pathways for students, whether they’re recent high school graduates or they’re single parents seeking credentials for a higher wage job. … It’s a place where we can build all the great things already underway at the college to put students and community at the center of everything we do.”
Ivy Tech President Sue Ellspermann said Ester’s connection with the community and his background will serve him well in his new role.
“His broad and rich experience along with his recognized leadership in higher education makes him ideal to serve our largest and most diverse campus,” Ellspermann said in a statement. “… As a resident of Central Indiana, he has deep ties to many Indianapolis organizations and communities. I am confident he will ‘hit the ground running’ as the Indianapolis campus has an outsized role in developing talent for the city’s growing economy and increasing the prosperity of our students, families, neighborhoods and communities.”
While Ester has plenty of firsthand experience cultivating partnerships — he served as vice president for advancement and member engagement with the Association of American Colleges and Universities before coming to Ivy Tech, as well as the vice president for the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities Office for Access — he also understands the importance of an education.
Raised by a single mother after his father died, Esters grew up around his grandparents, who were sharecroppers. His grandmother’s second husband, Willie, only had a ninth-grade education, but could always be found with a book in his hand.
“He read mostly Christian books and watching him taught me there’s something powerful about reading and learning and applying that to education,” Esters said.
When Esters received his undergraduate degree in English literature from Rust College in Mississippi, he became the first person in his family to get a college education. He went on to receive his master’s from Jackson State University and a doctorate in higher education from Morgan State University. Esters realizes his status as a first-generation college graduate gives him something in common with many of Ivy Tech’s students. His personal experiences with higher education, he said, will shape his decision making as chancellor.
“I didn’t have a roadmap,” Esters said of his college experience. “No one in my family had gone to college, so it made an incredible difference for me when I got to know several teachers in high school who took personal interest in me. When I got to college, I met a professor, Ila Wells, who was the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in English from Northern Illinois University. She took a personal interest in me, and I declared my major in English because of her. That is the power of faculty and why I’m eager to support faculty development.”
While the pandemic turned the education world upside down last year, Esters isn’t daunted by the challenges that lie ahead. Instead, he views them as opportunities to grow.
“Our community and students have been challenged to reimagine education, so it’s a great opportunity for us to do that,” Esters said. “To reimagine how we serve students regardless of where they are. Thinking about the future, it’s important for Ivy Tech and higher education in general to be focused on providing multiple methods for engaging students in teaching.”
Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.