Preparing grads for high-wage jobs could improve local economy, social mobility

Ivy Tech Community College recently offered an open house to welcome the Richmond and Connersville campus’ new leader, Dr. Walter McCollum, and help him meet more area leaders in health care, government, economic development, banking, higher education and other sectors through cookies and conversation.
The chancellor said the reception should not be about him and instead be a celebration of the tireless, passionate efforts of Ivy Tech faculty and staff who mentor students one at a time and address their obstacles to education. For instance, some students had to drop out during the pandemic to be caregivers.
“You meet students with open arms and meet them where they are,” he said.
McCollum also thanked the employees who develop community partnerships to address local workforce needs.
He said he wanted to offer a message of hope regarding Ivy Tech’s role in collaborating and solving those needs.
As Indiana’s health system is in critical need of nurses, he said Ivy Tech needs to ramp up its nursing enrollment and expand offerings to get ahead of the curve. McCollum also acknowledged the trucking industry’s struggles in recruiting drivers and the local campus’ commitment to address that shortage.
McCollum referenced the campus’ humble beginnings as a technical school in the basement of Earlham College in the 1960s and thanked the many local partners who’ve helped it grow over the years.
McCollum said he’s been well-received in the community as he goes on listening tours “so that I could actually see what the needs are of the community and build a strategy around that.”
He said it’s important to help Ivy Tech students earn a high-quality education that will provide them access to high-wage jobs as well as build economic development and social mobility in local communities.
McCollum said area residents might not realize he also brings business and military experience to his job. He was in the Air Force for 13 years, including service in Desert Storm, and in corporate work for 14 years. His biography, which was distributed at the event along with business cards, notes he worked for top multinational corporations as a senior leader in change management, quality management and process improvement.
McCollum has been in higher education for 16 years, most recently serving as vice president/senior associate vice provost for Miami Dade (Florida) College Online.
“I think when we look at the eclectic background that I have, it serves me nicely…” he said.
McCollum said he’s been pleasantly surprised by the magnitude of new businesses that are coming to the five counties that Ivy Tech serves, and he looks forward to adding to the campus’ existing partnerships.
During his remarks to the audience, McCollum explained that Ivy Tech has launched five Communities of Practice to guide the implementation and execution of these strategic imperatives:
* Increasing student enrollment and enhancing innovative recruitment and enrollment practices.
* Ensuring student success over the student lifecycle to include recruitment, admission, enrollment, persistence and completion, graduation, and placement.
* Increasing partnerships and engaging with the communities served and supporting economic development and social mobility.
* Investing in faculty excellence and employee professional development.
* Advancing military and veteran education, support and resources.
* Expanding diversity, equity and belonging in hiring practices, campus culture, student equity, and community service and engagement to include partnering with small business, and women-owned and veteran-owned businesses.
* Expanding online learning and virtual opportunities to reach demographics, increase enrollment and bridge the equity gap among Black, Hispanic and Asian students.
Clarissa Andrews, director of adult recruitment, described McCollum’s passion so far as “superb.”
She appreciates his desire to reach students when they’re young and help them receive their associate degree, transfer to a 4-year institution and enter the workforce, as well as his quick emphasis upon expanding opportunities for students to join the local workforce after graduation and stay in the community.
Andrews said she also welcomes McCollum’s strategic interest in improving diversity on campus.
She noted the campus only has one full-time faculty member of color, not counting its staff or adjunct faculty. When that fact came up at a meeting, McCollum quickly said that was going to change, rather than say he would look into it.
“That to me sparked interest – let me see what this man can do,” Andrews said. “I’m sitting back to wait to see.”
Andrews said McCollum has a very good team eager to help him accomplish his goals, and in turn, he has been quick to get to know staff at all levels, not just top administrators.
She’s glad former campus Chancellor Chad Bolser, who is vice president for strategic operations, has made several visits to help with the transition, along with support from systemwide President Sue Ellspermann.
“I love the fact he doesn’t get in your way and allows you to keep being who you are,” she said of McCollum.
She also appreciates his concern about employees getting burned out and his support for taking two hours for self-care per week, calling that “unheard of.”
Kim Thurlow, an Ivy Tech employer consultant, said McCollum “has really brought a tremendous amount of passion and energy to campus in such a short period of time.”
“He’s engaging our communities and listening to people, and just making plans that are so strategic,” Thurlow said. “We’re just thrilled to have him here.”
Kevin Handley Sr., who is president of the campus’ board of trustees, said McCollum has been a pleasure to work with and already has brought a lot of innovative opportunities to the campus.
Handley said the new leader is assisting with the recruitment and changing the narrative of how students are being recruited to community colleges, as well as increasing the number of students on campus.
Handley, the assistant principal at Dennis Middle School in Richmond, is glad to see McCollum’s eagerness in growing Ivy Tech’s partnerships with local schools.
“Ivy Tech as a whole created a bunch of expectations and strategic initiatives, and so he has come right in and aligned himself with those strategic initiatives,” Handley said.


About Ivy Tech’s new leader
Dr. Walter McCollum noted his ancestors were sharecroppers, and although they didn’t have the opportunity to pursue higher education, he appreciates their hard work that provided a strong foundation for his family and the opportunities he has had to learn.
McCollum earned an associate degree in business management from Dabney S. Lancaster Community college; a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts/psychology from The University of the State of New York SUNY Albany; a master’s in management from Webster University and a doctorate in applied management and decision sciences with a specialization in leadership and organizational change from Walden University.


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Millicent Martin Emery is a reporter and editor for the Western Wayne News.