As Director of Community Engagement for Ivy Tech, I have the pleasure of working with a wide variety of folks throughout the Fort Wayne campus service area. I work closely with communities on the south side of Fort Wayne, and in Adams and Wells counties. My job is to connect students who are interested in the college with the training and education they need in order to feed the workforce. The longer I do this work though, the more I realize how my work with community organizations is key to accomplishing this mission.
One of the most impactful groups I work with is The Literacy Alliance. Over the past two years of working with this passionate, dedicated, change-making organization, I have learned as much about myself as I have the students in their program. TLA strives to end illiteracy by teaching adults through learning centers, literacy programs, and tutoring services. TLA aims to help students overcome the obstacles they faced in completing their high school requirements so they can move forward toward careers that will make a difference in their lives.
Their students are TLA’s heart and soul, and they are committed to passing their high school equivalency exams (HSE). For many, it has been years or decades since they’ve been in a school setting. Technologies may have changed or they may have families, jobs, and other daily pressures that can make school even more of a challenge. The dedication and resiliency of these students to overcome the many barriers is nothing short of amazing.
The Literacy Alliance supports and guides these students. It sees them through the tangible obstacles, but also the mental and emotional hurdles that come with the territory. TLA students often feel they aren’t good enough, smart enough, or worthy of the time and energy it takes to accomplish their goals. TLA is there for them, and sometimes they let me be a part of that transformation.
As the students are working on their HSE credits, my goal is to cultivate an understanding about the basics of college and plant the seeds for continued educational success. I visit all TLA classroom sites and act as their primary Ivy Tech contact. We invite TLA students to tour campus and even during the pandemic, we’re still providing virtual campus tours. For many of them, it’s the first time they’ve seen a college classroom. We highlight our amazing training labs in advanced manufacturing, automotive, engineering, hospitality, and healthcare. I like to think my close relationship with TLA, and presence in their classroom, shows them I’m dedicated to their success and they can trust me to have their best interests at heart.
Look, I talk Ivy Tech all day, every day. I have worked in higher ed and workforce development for most of my career, so the value of college and the accessibility of Ivy Tech are second nature to me. But when I speak with TLA students, I’m often reminded that college was not something they ever envisioned for themselves. I even had a student say to me recently “Tracy, nobody’s ever talked to me about college. Not my family. Not my teachers. I just thought it wasn’t for me.” No one in our community should feel that way. And places like Ivy Tech and The Literacy Alliance are working tirelessly to make sure everyone in Fort Wayne sees college as real option. And I’m just grateful I get to be in the room where it happens.