Ivy Tech committed to La Porte County

Photo by Ted YoakumAco Sikoski, chancellor of Ivy Tech's Michigan City and Valparaiso sites, discusses the recent reorganization of the La Porte County location during a presentation to the Rotary Club of La Porte on Monday.

La PORTE — Recent changes to Ivy Tech's Michigan City campus aren't a sign that the community college is stepping back its commitment to La Porte County, according to the chancellor.

This summer's reorganization actually means just the opposite, Aco Sikoski, chancellor of Ivy Tech's Valparaiso campus, who now oversees the Michigan City location as well.

With support and resources from its larger counterpart, the MC campus can now offer more courses focused on manufacturing, the backbone of La Porte County's economy, he said.

Sikoski discussed Ivy Tech's new leadership and course offerings during a presentation to the Rotary Club of La Porte on Monday at the Blue Heron Inn.

Sikoski – a member of the Valparaiso Rotary Club – has worked at Ivy Tech since 1997, though his passion for education goes back years before, he said.

A native of Macedonia, he "fell in love with the United States" while visiting relatives in 1988, he said. At one point during his stay, his family took the then-engineering student to Purdue University, which amazed him with its sheer number of laboratories.

"Back home, in my engineering school, I had to make an appointment for some [lab] time – like five to 10 days in advance – just so you can practice what you need to do for the program," he said.

Sikoski would later return to the U.S. on a foreign-student visa, initially studying at the University of Chicago before attending Purdue for a post-graduate degree. 

He would later take a job with an area engineering consulting firm, where one of his assignments – a project to implement a fully automated line at the former Bethlehem Steel – required him to learn more about computer-aided design, he said.

The engineer decided to attend night CAD classes at Ivy Tech's Valparaiso campus, he said. The course instructor, after learning more about Sikoski's situation, told him he should consider teaching math part-time at the community college.

Given his prior experience in education – back in Macedonia, his first job was as a lab tech at his college, where he got to work with students – Sikoski decided to apply. He landed a job as an adjunct math instructor at the Valparaiso campus in 1994.

"I fell in love [with teaching]," he said. "I said, 'Oh my gosh, this is something I want to do.'"

Three years later, the college offered him a full-time faculty position, which he accepted, and he continued to climb the ladder in the ensuing two decades, serving as a program chair, department chair and dean. 

"When I see an opportunity to serve as a servant-leader and help so many out there, it's a joy," he said.

Following a systemwide restructuring of the Ivy Tech's campuses and sites in 2017, Sikoski was named chancellor of its Valparaiso campus.

This past spring, administrators began looking at ways to sustain the Michigan City location, which had suffered declining enrollment, Sikoski said. Officials decided to reclassify the school on Franklin Street from a standalone campus to a site under the Valparaiso campus.

Beginning in July, Sikoski took over chancellorship of both, with longtime faculty member John Schoenfelder named Michigan City's vice-chancellor. In addition, a single board of trustees serves both locations, though Michigan City has its own advisory committee, the chancellor said.

The reclassification will offer several benefits, he said. Not only will Valparaiso's deans take on responsibilities at Michigan City, but, by turning the latter into a site, the college can more easily receive approval for program changes, Sikoski said.

"This is not downgrading, but in fact, upgrading in terms of what we can offer," he said.

The college has already begun expanding Michigan City's course offerings since the change. 

Chief among the additions are industrial technology classes, which can teach students more about electrical maintenance and welding, Sikoski said.

Thanks to agreements, Ivy Tech students can transfer to four-year engineering programs at Valparaiso University or Purdue, with the community college offering transfer scholarships of up to $24,000, he said.

Ivy Tech has also started teaching criminal justice in Michigan City, an addition that makes sense given that La Porte County is home to two correctional facilities, Sikoski said.

While the community college is committed to maintaining a presence in the county, college officials are concerned about the Michigan City facility. A former hospital, the building is difficult to retrofit.

"Those walls are not the easiest thing in the world to remove," he said.

Following his talk, Rotarians asked Sikoski about the transition and the college itself. 

Asked how administrators were responding to the growth of internet-based colleges, Sikoski said Ivy Tech offers a growing number of online classes, but its physical classrooms won't disappear anytime soon, especially for technical courses.

"What we do in Ivy Tech, hands-on, you cannot replicate that," he said.

IVY TECH ACCREDIDATION REAFFIRMED

The Higher Learning Commission has reaffirmed the accreditation of Ivy Tech Community College for a full 10 years – the longest term granted, indicating the college provides quality education and services to students and stakeholders.

“Ivy Tech’s accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission reinforces that Indiana’s community college system is providing valuable educational opportunities for Hoosier learners,” said Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers.

Preparation for the accreditation review began in 2014 and included an extensive self-study of programs, policies, and procedures, Batten said. On-campus visits by the HLC occurred in April 2019 at 10 Ivy Tech locations, according to Sue Ellspermann, president of Ivy Tech

“The full reaccreditation ... reflects the high quality of Ivy Tech programs, faculty, and staff on each of our 18 campuses and more than 40 locations,” Ellspermann said. “Ivy Tech is Indiana’s workforce engine, critical to the success of more than 150,000 Hoosiers each year as they pursue and complete credentials from which they transfer to a 4-year college or enter the workforce immediately to enjoy high-wage, high-value careers, in both cases strengthening our great state as more than 90% of Ivy Tech graduates will remain in Indiana.”

During the review process, HLC noted assessment as an area for improvement, including measuring student learning in and out of the classroom, and using that measurement to improve teaching, curriculum and assessment methods. In 2023, Ivy Tech will submit an Interim Report on assessment and progress made since 2019.

“Like our students, Ivy Tech is itself committed to continuous improvement and learning," Board of Trustees Chair Terry Anker said. "I am grateful to the faculty and staff for its dedication to our students, and to the Higher Learning Commission for confirming the college’s many strengths, while helping to identify areas of potential improvement.”

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