According to The College Board, more than 40 percent of US undergraduate students attend community colleges. Along with students between 18 and 24 years of age who make up the largest group, community colleges also attract working adults, retirees and others who want to learn.
Ivy Tech Community College has been answering the call for students in Lake, LaPorte, Porter, Pulaski, Jasper, Newton and Starke counties since 1968.
Part of the 14-region statewide Ivy Tech Community College system - the state’s largest public postsecondary institution and the nation’s largest singly accredited statewide community college system - Ivy Tech Community College Northwest serves as the region’s engine of workforce development, offering affordable degree programs and training aligned with the needs of our communities, along with courses and programs that transfer to other state colleges and universities.
Annual enrollment averages over 15,000 students on four campuses: Gary, Foundations of East Chicago De La Garza Campus, Valparaiso and The Pejic Campus in Michigan City. Each campus provides programs that address the needs of its unique community, with a total of six schools offering associate degree and technical certificate programs: Applied Science and Engineering, Business, Education, Health Sciences, Liberal Arts and Sciences, Public and Social Services and Technology. Continuing Education courses also provide personal enrichment and skill upgrades on a non-credit basis.
The administrative personnel that manage day-to-day operations on each campus, in partnership with a regional board comprised of seven trustees, govern Ivy Tech Community College Northwest. The introduction of two new campus leaders last summer demonstrates the institution’s commitment to professional growth and community partnerships.
Both appointments started their careers with Ivy Tech Community College as faculty members/school deans, earning roles as regional directors through their demonstrated ability to enhance student experiences by making community connections.
Now serving as Vice Chancellor/Dean of the Valparaiso campus, Aco Sikoski joined the Ivy Tech team as an adjunct faculty member in 1994.
“I became a full-time member of the design technology faculty in 1997 and established the design technology program,” he explained. “After serving as design program chair and technology division chair in Valparaiso, I was named Dean of the School of Technology and the School of Applied Science and Engineering for the Northwest Region in 2007.”
In the late 1990s, Sikoski established what is known as an articulation agreement with Purdue University Calumet.
“Our students would complete their 2-year degree and then have the opportunity to enroll as a junior and Purdue Cal to complete their 4-year degree in either computer graphics or mechanical engineering technology,” he said. “Along with that, it was always a dream of mine to have program available that is calculus-based, a pre-engineering program. In 2005 we made that a reality and established another articulation agreement with Purdue Cal. Now, our pre-engineering students have the option to finish their degree at Purdue Calumet, Purdue North Central or the Valparaiso University College of Engineering.”
According to Sikoski, Ivy Tech Community College students can take math, science and intro engineering classes for two years while thinking about their future engineering field of study – electrical, mechanical, computer or civil engineering – making it a very affordable to get into the field of engineering.
Most recently, as a member of the Indiana Energy Consortium where he is a member of the curriculum and finance committees, Sikoski listened to the concerns of the state’s top energy providers, which includes NIPSCO.
“In the coming years 50 percent of their workforce will retire, and they are already struggling to fill those positions,” he explained. “We saw another awesome avenue for our students and created the Energy Technology program. We now have rapid growth in the program. Over 50 percent of our graduates are full-time employees of NIPSCO.”
In his new role, Sikoski looks forward to expanding the opportunities for all students on the Valparaiso campus.
“I’m really excited with this new position,” he said. “As Dean of Technology I was able to accomplish a lot by working with local industry to discover their needs. We have 23 different programs on the Valparaiso campus so I look forward to meeting even more people in the community to talk about needs, skills and objectives.”
Now serving as Vice Chancellor/Dean of the Michigan City Pejic campus, Rick Soria has been part of the Ivy Tech Community College team since 2002.
“I was a licensed funeral director practicing with a local corporation in Northwest Indiana working at a cemetery in Valparaiso when I answered a job posting to create Ivy Tech’s first mortuary science program,” he explained. “At the time, I was just accepted to the 5-year part-time law program at Valparaiso University, and they were willing to work around my schedule as long as I was committed to getting the program accredited.”
As chair Soria guided the program through a rigorous accreditation process in 2005 making it the 55th American Board of Funeral Service Education (ABFSE) accredited program in the country. He also developed numerous community partnerships that led to internships with vendors and funeral homes in Indiana, Illinois and Michigan.
“I still hold my license and work part-time in the area,” he added. “It is a joy to work side-by-side with the many proud, practicing funeral directors who graduated from our program.”
In 2007, Soria was offered the opportunity to serve as Dean of the School of Public and Social Sciences for the Northwest Region where he provided direction for program improvement, development, review and changes to better meet the needs of students and employers alike. Most recently, he directed the accreditation process for the hospitality program.
“I oversaw seven programs for all four campuses - human services, criminal justice, hospital administration, public safety, paralegal studies, library technical studies and mortuary science which is only available in East Chicago due to ABFSE restrictions,” he added. “I was able to stay connected with mortuary in a different way. Now I was looking at how we can offer more students career-related experiences outside of the classroom. Experiences that connect the dots and show what goes on in real life.”
Along with internships that give students hands-on experience in the workplace, Soria is also an advocate of making learning fun.
“In mortuary we would have ‘HBO Six-Feet Under’ pizza parties and discuss how the show relates to reality,” he said. “It was a way to take something so serious and delicate make it fun for students. I wanted to see how you can do that in other programs as well.”
In his new role, Soria looks forward to increasing programming on the Michigan City campus, which currently offers hospitality administration, business administration, medical assisting, liberal arts and sciences plus a few courses from other Ivy Tech Community College programs.
“Our students can take advantage of all the articulations and partnerships across the region and state by taking there general ed classes close to home,” he said. “I’ve also been meeting with the superintendents of LaPorte and Michigan City schools in our efforts to strengthen dual-credit offerings for high school students and aggressively pursuing opportunities for students in logistics management so they will be prepared for the new jobs in distribution, transportation and logistics at the Thomas Rose Industrial Park being developed in LaPorte County.”