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Ivy Tech grads include workers retooling skills

Ceremony Friday to honor nearly 500 students who earned certificates, degrees

By Nicole Brooks 331-4232 |

May 14, 2009

Graduation Friday

Ivy Tech Community College students graduate at 6 p.m. Friday in the Indiana University Auditorium.

An expected 477 students will receive an associate degree, technical certificate, or other certificate. Fifteen students will earn summa cum laude honors for maintaining a 4.0 grade point average.

Bloomington’s ceremony is one of 14 being held this month at Ivy Tech campuses across the state. Ivy Tech will award an estimated 8,500 associate degrees and certificates this month.

Ivy tech Graduation
Alex Voorhies, left, listens Wednesday as teacher Tammy Burgess reads at Bedford Head Start Center. Burgess will receive an associate of applied science degree Friday from Ivy Tech’s early childhood education program.
Jeremy Hogan | Herald-Times

When Bedford’s Visteon plant laid off Tamara Jo Burgess in April 2006, she felt relief.

“I was on the bubble. We weren’t sure if I was going to get it in the first or second group,” the Bedford resident said. “It had been so stressful not knowing.”

Thrust into unknown territory, Burgess used the layoff to make a big decision. Out of school for 25 years, the mother of six returned in June 2006 to pursue her first higher education degree.

Friday, she will receive an associate of applied science degree from Ivy Tech’s early childhood education program.

“I know a little bit about raising children,” she said of choosing her major. “Having the six kids helped.”

When she enrolled full time at Ivy Tech in Bloomington, her youngest child was 8. Her oldest was getting married. “I had one out of the house.”

Her husband was supportive, she said. Collecting unemployment requires a full-time load of classes. Burgess being back in school added some interesting twists on family life. “We had four of us in some kind of algebra all at the same time. They had to help me more than I helped them.”

Going back to school was terrifying, she said. “It was scary. But I tell you, my first teacher, he was a real nice guy. He gave us his phone number, his home number, said ‘I’ll meet you at the library,’” when students need help, Burgess said.

Diane Purnell, with Enrollment Services, advises students. Her constant encouragement had a major influence on Burgess.

“She just let me know that she felt like I could do it.” And on days Burgess walked into the room stressed, “She could tell.”

Burgess spoke Wednesday by cell phone during her lunch break at the Bedford Head Start. Her degree helped her land a job there as a lead teacher of 3- to 5-year-olds. In fact, she had the job before she had the degree. Staff there knew her — Burgess’ program required a practicum, and she volunteered at Head Start. They also knew her as a mom — three of Burgess’ children went through that Head Start.

“I think it gave me some more insight into why kids do the things they do,” she said of how her studies aided her career.

What would she tell another adult thinking of going back to school? “First off, if I can do it, anybody can. You just have to decide that’s what you’re going to do. You have to decide what you like.”

Another successful return

Jackie McGinn of Solsberry will receive a technical certificate in business at Friday’s ceremony. She plans to return to Ivy Tech in the fall to start a human resources degree.

The 45-year-old said she was supposed to have graduated from high school in ’81. But she dropped out, and 10 years later earned her GED. In 2005, after 13 years with GE, she was laid off. She started Ivy Tech then, and ever since has taken classes either part time or full time, scheduling around work and family.

School took a special kind of discipline, McGinn said — especially the two online classes she took last semester.

“You’ve got laundry to do, somebody calls and says, ‘Hey, do you want to go to a yard sale?’ I’m just an average student,” she said. “But I’m doing it.”

More grads

The 477 students up for a degree or certificate Friday include Ivy Tech’s first 16 graduates from the respiratory care program and its first four from the elementary education program.

Chancellor John Whikehart said this is the third consecutive year Ivy Tech has given degrees in a new program. Most programs are related to life sciences and health care, he said, and are in response to what the college’s health care partners have asked for in training.

“It’s very rewarding for those of us at the college who have seen it go from concept to reality,” Whikehart said. The respiratory care program, for example, is a result of a partnership with Bloomington Hospital, he said.

Tom Snyder, president of the statewide Ivy Tech system, will hand out diplomas.

Handshaking is optional this year, Whikehart said. Due to the threat of H1N1 influenza, IU had banned handshaking at its ceremonies.

Ivy Tech will award former Monroe County Commissioner Joyce Poling an honorary associate degree in community service. “I think she’s a model for public service,” Whikehart said, noting Poling has “always been highly civil and respectful” in her role in local government. Plus, he said, the college’s new Indiana Center for the Life Sciences would not have been possible without Poling’s leadership.

There is no commencement speaker Friday, although the college usually has one, Whikehart said. He wants to give Poling time to make remarks, and also provide the large group of students time to walk across the stage for their degree.

Ivy Tech ceremonies are often family-oriented, Whikehart said, and he doesn’t want to make children sit still too long.

“I never mind crying babies. It’s all part of the experience.”