New Strategic Plan seeks to position PUC as a leader and provider of effective education
By Kris Falzone
Growing up in LaPorte, Tony Kmitta thought he’d never want to work in the steel mills.
A visit by an ArcelorMittal human resources manager to one of Kmitta’s electrical engineering senior design classes at Purdue University Calumet changed all that. Kmitta had heard about the career opportunities available for young engineers within the steel industry due to attrition of the industry’s aging workforce. He sent a resume and within a week, had an interview.
Kmitta joined ArcelorMittal as a process control engineer in July 2007, shortly after earning his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. He has since earned a master’s degree in engineering with an emphasis in electrical engineering/software and controls from Purdue Calumet.
This fall, as one of 50 employees chosen for a new leadership development initiative from among ArcelorMittal’s 320,000 workers worldwide, Kmitta is venturing to points around the globe to help manage greenfield and brownfield projects.
Purdue Calumet alumni are going places.
And the university’s 2008-2013 Strategic Plan aims to ensure that reputation for success continues well into the future.
The five-year plan, approved by the Purdue University Board of Trustees in September, builds on the accomplishments of Purdue Calumet’s 2001-06 plan by extending the campus’ commitments to student success, community engagement, a quality learning environment, and faculty and staff excellence. The plan is designed to fit within the context of northwest Indiana’s regional needs and the state of Indiana’s expectations for higher education.
The plan outlines a strategic vision for Purdue Calumet and five specific goals to achieve during the next five years. Each goal is highlighted below. Full details of the Strategic Plan can be found on the Purdue Calumet Web site at www.calumet.purdue.edu/strategicplan/.
Goal I: Foster Engaged Learning
Most of the objectives to achieve the goal of engaged learning revolve around fully implementing the university’s experiential learning requirement for new, baccalaureate degree-seeking students. The requirement calls for these students to complete at least two experiential learning courses/equivalents. To facilitate making ample opportunities available, Purdue Calumet is working to expand partnerships and resources that create a wider network for internships, cooperative education, practica, senior design projects, undergraduate research, service learning and study abroad.
Jeanine Veal, a senior program analyst with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in Merrillville, believes Purdue Calumet is greatly benefiting its students and the community with its aggressive approach to active, applied learning through its experiential learning initiative.
“In actuality, it’s of better benefit to the student to get that hands-on, practical experience while in college,” said Veal, who hired and supervised student trainees from Purdue Calumet for more than two years in her previous role as a frontline manager.
Students who work for the IRS go through the organization’s regular training program, earn benefits and are responsible for planning and scheduling audits, reviewing and analyzing tax returns under supervision, as well as meeting and communicating with taxpayers and their representatives.
Veal noted that the role helps the working students develop verbal and written communication skills, organizational skills, and the ability to work as a team player.
As a community partner, the IRS stands to benefit by identifying qualified prospective employees for hire when they graduate.
Goal II: Prepare an Educated Workforce and Citizenry for our Region
Purdue Calumet aims to contribute to the economic, educational, cultural and environmental vitality of its surrounding communities. Objectives include selectively increasing undergraduate enrollments; expanding graduate enrollments to 15 percent of the student body; and stimulating the creation of businesses in the region related to targeted growth areas identified by the state of Indiana as advanced manufacturing, logistics, computing technology and life sciences.
Kmitta said his Purdue Calumet experience has contributed to his career opportunities. That’s because such major northwest Indiana employers as ArcelorMittal, U.S. Steel, Hadady Corporation and Northern Indiana Public Service Company partner with the university to present projects and challenges that generate opportunities for faculty research and hands-on student learning.
“The tools I learned in school…helped open up doors,” said Kmitta, who benefitted from co-ops and an internship with industrial employers while earning his degrees. “Most of the employers know Purdue Calumet because we are so close, and they know we (offer) a good Purdue degree. A lot of our alumni are in higher-up positions in these companies and are actively recruiting on campus. It’s a two-way street.”
Goal III: Improve Student Success
The Strategic Plan recognizes that the majority of Purdue Calumet students juggle multiple priorities of school, work and family. The university is intent on motivating, retaining and helping students graduate by expanding the use of contemporary learning technologies, such as distance learning and virtual laboratories, developing additional support services and enhancing the academic advising system for students.
Goodall, a Merrillville native and the first child in a single-parent home to attend college, worked full-time while taking a full course load. He took a few semesters off, and he changed majors. It took him seven years to earn his bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering technology. He landed a job through Purdue Calumet’s Career Services that is turning into a career with Southlake Automation in Merrillville.
“You have to work hard,” Goodall noted of college. “If you want to get ahead and make the most of your education, you have to put forth the effort. You’ve got to … present yourself right in order for the faculty to see you as someone who is serious about your education.”
Goodall took distance education courses whenever possible, especially when he was already working full-time in the engineering technology field.
“It allowed me to spend less time on campus,” he said. “I needed the ability to work when my employer needed me.”
Goodall also took advantage of Purdue Calumet’s tutoring system to persist through physics, a required course that was difficult for him even though he is good at math. Also, during his final semester, the instructor of his senior design class worked with him on flexible arrangements to accommodate Goodall’s recent promotion at work, which required him to travel quite a bit.
“That’s a definite advantage to (attending) Purdue Calumet, compared to bigger campuses,” Goodall said. “You can make connections with all the professors and the heads of departments. The technology department here is kind of small…. (The faculty) knew me, knew my situation.”
Goal IV: Increase Support for Faculty and Staff Excellence
The Strategic Plan calls for strengthening professional development, faculty research and other opportunities, as well as additional support, resources and recognition for faculty and staff to support a full range of learning experiences for students.
Dr. Jim Johnson chaired the Faculty Senate sub-committee that facilitated approval of the first 69 Experiential Learning courses offered to students this fall. The process, while requiring applicants to meet all eight rigorous standards of the National Society for Experiential Education (NSEE), also is designed to support faculty who design courses that will help students meet the new graduation requirement.
“We worked really hard to move (course applications) through quickly,” Johnson recalled. If an application did not meet one or more of the standards, the subcommittee would go back to the faculty member with suggestions for changes to gain approval. This would happen about one week before the full Senate meeting, so that the instructor would have time to rework the application and have it approved on a timely basis.
Johnson, who worked for many years in the private sector, for International Harvester and other corporations before earning his doctorate in adult education and joining the Purdue Calumet faculty in 2001, said faculty members would benefit from having more opportunities for release time. In addition to managing a full course load, with test preparation, monitoring, lecture preparation, class time, meeting with students and these days, participating in online discussion boards, faculty members must keep current with their fields’ teaching methodology, serve on committees and engage in scholarly research.
“There’s little time left during the semester to be reflective on things like course evaluation or to think strategically or long-range,” Johnson said. “Release time would be important to work on special projects such as developing experiential learning opportunities, or research projects that could translate into dollars for the university.”
Goal V: Develop a Vibrant Campus Community
The final goal in the Strategic Plan calls for Purdue Calumet to provide opportunities and resources to attract and retain diverse faculty, staff and students. The campus’ growing international student population-more than 460 enrollees this fall-and continually expanding options for students to become involved in campus life, are positive indicators that the university has been making strides toward achieving this goal.
Rasha Abed greets many of those international students as they arrive on campus each semester. A Palestinian native and Hammond resident whose friends have dubbed her “Miss Purdue Cal” for her longtime involvement with the university, Abed is a coordinator in the International Programs Office.
She helps Purdue Calumet’s international students adjust to the logistical and cultural challenges of moving to America’s northwest Indiana; assists in coordinating study abroad programs; and helps plan programming to educate the campus community about cultural issues. The university has been actively recruiting international students for about three years.
Abed, an Honors Program graduate who earned a bachelor’s degree in business management with a focus in marketing last spring, believes Purdue Calumet will change dramatically over the next five years, especially with the opening next fall of additional student housing.
“It’s attracting students with different backgrounds from around the country and around the world, and it’s going to bring a different atmosphere to campus,” she said. “This is going to be the real world. When we finish school and look for a job, we are competing with a lot of different kinds of people. A more diverse campus prepares us for that.”
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