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Monday, March 4, 2024

Industrial Strength

Joann Wallace isn’t your typical college student. Great-grandmothers rarely are. Yet that’s not an issue at Ivy Tech Community College – Southwest. At this North Side campus, life experience isn’t just the norm — it’s an asset. And men and women like Wallace are counting on it.

“I think Ivy Tech is a great school for the nontraditional student such as myself,” the 48-year-old says. “The staff is great, (and) the teachers are great. I was nervous and a little stressed out about being out of school for that long, but they made it comfortable for me.”

Wallace, of Evansville, isn’t the only one who thinks so. She’s going to the First Avenue campus to obtain an associate’s degree in certified medical assisting and will graduate in May. Yet there are just as many others who are enrolled at Ivy Tech studying automotive technology, culinary arts, graphic design, computer information technology, early childhood education, engineering technology, and more — all on the same campus.

There are a number of different types of students on the Ivy Tech campus, as well. Wallace was laid off from Whirlpool in 2010, but other students have recently graduated from high school. Some, like Gerald Smith, have worked numerous jobs but are looking for a career.

“I was a bumbler through life,” the now-Evansville resident says of his previous employment in a warehouse, assisting in a municipal election in Michigan, as a host at a Denny’s Restaurant, and in sales and customer service. “My father was in the military. He was a Marine, and we bumped heads. I rebelled and didn’t go directly to college. I didn’t go into the military. I was working feverishly. It was unpleasant, until I came to the realization that I needed some formal education.”

He moved to Evansville in 2008 to care for his aunt, who is in her 70s. The next year, he started at Ivy Tech. It took him some time to decide on a major, but now he’s set to receive his associate’s degree in business administration in spring 2014. Once he graduates, Smith hopes to obtain a bachelor’s degree in finance before ultimately earning his MBA.

When he’s not taking care of his aunt, Smith does clerical work at the college while completing his studies, and he is a chess enthusiast. He’s also had the opportunity to represent the Southwest campus at an annual Ivy Tech Foundation meeting in French Lick, Ind.

“It’s been wonderful,” he says. “For me, it was a life saver.”

And for Walt Davis, it was a life changer.

This rural Warrick County, Ind., resident began his studies at Ivy Tech in 1985, focusing on automotive service technology. At that point, he’d already been working at Alcoa for five years. Some 28 years and three associate’s degrees later, he is now a rolling mill reliability professional. Davis also earns more money and has better health benefits than when he first began working at the Newburgh aluminum plant. That’s important to the 56-year-old because he has a health condition that has caused him great pain. Now that he is a technical advisor, he says he’s not required to do many labor-intensive duties.

“It was a godsend,” Davis says. “No question in my mind. If I had not had the professional training from Ivy Tech, the formal training, I probably would not have been considered for the job I have today.”

For Alcoa, it’s very much a symbiotic relationship.

Jim Beck, communications and public affairs manager at Alcoa Warrick Operations, says Alcoa entered into a formal relationship with Ivy Tech in 1986. That’s when the company built an on-site training facility and hired Ivy Tech to provide instruction at the facility. Since 1986, more than 200 apprentices have graduated from the program.

Davis is one of those graduates. He says an Ivy Tech instructor visited the site about two to three times per week to teach classes outside of Davis’ full-time work schedule. At the same time, Davis also worked with journeyman electricians to receive hands-on training tied to what he was learning in class.

Beck says the on-site training facility currently offers three-year electrical and mechanical apprenticeship programs that require at least 6,000 hours of academic instruction and on-the-job training and skills.

But Ivy Tech’s instructors work at Alcoa’s on-site training facility to help in other ways, too. Beck says the instructors teach skills in electricity, electronics, hydraulics, welding, millwork, pipe fitting, and steam systems. Ivy Tech also has offered problem-solving skills through instruction in algebra, trigonometry, andphysics.

Since 2002, more than 400 employees have attended various training courses offered on site by Ivy Tech, and some of them, like Davis, attended formal apprenticeship programs.

Ivy Tech has also been instrumental in preparing students for careers in power generation, Beck says. Alcoa Warrick Operations has an on-site, coal-fired power plant that provides electricity for the entire facility, which includes aluminum smelting, casting, rolling, and fabricating.

In fact, Alcoa’s Warrick Power Plant partnered with Ivy Tech a few years ago to create a degree program in Power Plant Operations. Additionally, representatives from Alcoa, Vectren, American Electric Power, and Ivy Tech participate in an Energy Consortium to present a “Get Into Energy” program. This program is designed to provide students with information about the Ivy Tech program and how it can open up opportunities within those three organizations.

“Ivy Tech Community College has been an important educational asset for Alcoa Warrick Operations and the entire southwestern Indiana region,” says Ed Hemmersbach, vice president of Alcoa Global Packaging.

The college has been key to SABIC employees in Mount Vernon, Ind., as well.

“SABIC started our partnership with Ivy Tech a decade ago to find ways we could make it easier for our employees to gain the necessary knowledge for career advancement,” says Joe Castrale, the SABIC Mt. Vernon Site Plant Manager.

Ivy Tech is a willing collaborator that listens to industry needs and helps develop solutions that make businesses better. It is a true asset to the community, Castrale says.

Additionally, Ivy Tech’s multiple locations and variety of class times make the school a convenient choice for traditional and nontraditional students, as well as for employers who send their employees to Ivy Tech for continuing education.

Ivy Tech’s Corporate College, which is specifically focused on business, recognizes that industry is yet another stakeholder with different needs and goals, and it’s willing to work with businesses to meet those needs.

“Because of (its) ability to provide options, Ivy Tech is an important part of our growing … region,” Castrale says.

Students see that, too, and many choose to participate in more than just homework. Evon Haag, for instance, will earn an applied associate’s degree in building construction management in May. But the Wadesville, Ind., resident is also the student government president. Up until this past semester, she was also the campus activity board president. That meant she helped plan events for the college, like holiday parties. And Haag, 56, is proud of her college’s community involvement, too.

“Our students are very enthusiastic about doing different things for the community,” she says. “Every year, we have students volunteer to do the Salvation Army bell ringing at Schnucks on First Avenue, and we have clubs that do things for Holly’s House.”

But Haag is primarily there because of her studies. She decided to enroll at Ivy Tech based on its solid reputation, and she says she hasn’t been disappointed. She has worked 21 years in the construction industry, most recently as a document control manager. But she would like to get a job with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and she says her Ivy Tech training will be very beneficial.

“I can honestly say that our chancellor wants to put our students first,” Haag says. “He wants to make sure our students have what they need, and he plans for the future. And the same goes for the faculty and staff … they want their students to succeed.”

Along those lines, Ivy Tech initiated a feasibility study involving more than 50 interviews with business leaders who said advancing Ivy Tech’s mission would answer some near-term needs.

According to Ivy Tech, community partners are facing a critical shortage in their pipeline to hire skilled professionals. SABIC, for instance, is working with Ivy Tech and other Tri-State organizations to address regional manufacturing needs. This includes filling openings with highly skilled individuals as a result of increasing retirement rates in the next five to eight years.

“Ivy Tech has been a facilitator in discussing this issue with industry partners like SABIC, helping develop key actions in building a workforce pipeline that will filter new workers into industry with a specific set of skills that they began developing at the high school level,” Castrale adds.

This effort began as the Industry Advisory Task Force. SABIC sits on the steering committee of that task force, which will be rolled up under the Brainpower committee as a part of the EVV-Crane I-69 Innovation Corridor Consortium. The consortium is made up of southwest Indiana leaders in government, business, healthcare, education, and economic development. It seeks to capitalize on the construction of I-69 from Evansville to the Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division as a corridor of innovation, entrepreneurship, and creativity in the region.

Additionally, Ivy Tech is extending its Accelerating Greatness strategic plan. Accelerating Greatness 2025 seeks to help increase the number of working adults in the United States who have associate degrees or higher from 40 percent to 60 percent by 2025. According to Ivy Tech’s website, it is the first school in Indiana to align its completion goals with the state of Indiana completion agenda in such a systemic way.

Ivy Tech also plans to seek $25 million to build an 85,000-square-foot facility that could be along the new I-69 corridor, says Chancellor Dan Schenk. He serves on the feasibility study team for the Indiana University School of Medicine – Evansville, which has plans to build a four-year medical school here. The location of that new facility will likely be revealed several months from now.

“It would make sense for us to link up our health program at the IU medical school facility,” Schenk says, adding that the 85,000-square-foot facility is intended for Ivy Tech’s use only. “Potentially, part of that square footage could be connected to the new IU medical school, and part of it could be available to take care of other Ivy Tech needs.”

Meanwhile, the Ivy Tech’s administrative offices would remain at the N. First Avenue location. That would also remain the main site for instructional delivery.

“Our relationship with business and industry in the Tri-State continues to be of the utmost importance,” says Schenk. “It is the communication and partnership with local business and industry leaders which guides us as we focus on diminishing the ‘skills gap’ in our community. The workforce needs of area employers continue to evolve and change, and it is Ivy Tech’s commitment to provide the customized solutions and educational tools to meet those needs.” 

For more information on Ivy Tech Community College – Southwest campus, contact the Evansville campus at 812-426-2865 or visit www.ivytech.edu/southwest. The college also has campuses in Tell City, Ind., and Princeton, Ind.

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