Friday, August 27th, 2010 - 10:21 am

Experiences for a Lifetime!

Beyond a Purdue degree, the Purdue Calumet experience is distinctive by experiences that shape and enrich lives


Erika Rose is a 1992 Purdue Calumet alumna in communication. A former newspaper designer and public relations professional, she is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Purdue Calumet INSIGHT.

What has led you to be the accomplished, confident, respected, knowledgeable, fulfilled person you are today? Many factors, undoubtedly; but you likely can cite an experience—maybe several—like the time I did X, the knowledge I gained from doing Y, the benefits I got out of Z.

Year after year, for student after student, numerous significant, life-altering, career-shaping, relationship-building experiences occur at Purdue University Calumet.

A college education is much more than an endurance test en route to a brain packed with formulas and theories. It’s being touched, surrounded and affected by people, circumstances and opportunities that engage students’ lives.

It can be one of those ah ha! moments of clarity. It’s succeeding when and where one may not have expected to do so. It’s establishing nurturing relationships. It may even be the experience of failing and the subsequent experience of success triggered.

But Purdue Calumet alumni already know that.

The Purdue education Purdue Calumet students gain has always meant attentive professors who get to know their students personally; a more tight-knit learning environment; and a hearty dose of the real world. In recent years, Purdue Calumet has become a place where students are solving real problems, contributing to real knowledge, and making a real difference with their lives and in the lives of others.

In the midst of all that, Purdue Calumet students are finding their true calling, steering their future, forging relationships, effectively juggling the demands of their life, developing social grace and business savvy, and blossoming into extraordinary people.

The recollections and stories Purdue Calumet students and alumni share, whether today or decades ago, touch on just about every area of personal enrichment. They relate experiences that have shaped their lives—experiences for a lifetime!

‘Experiences ignited my passion’

Katherine Brown
Brown’s experiences ignited her passion.

Dr. Katherine Brown, Class of 1999, makes no bones about it. “The opportunities provided to me as a student at Purdue Calumet prepared me for my career today as founder and president of Dr. Katherine and Associates CPR Courses,” she says.

While on campus, she worked for the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program and supervisor Roy Hamilton; served as a graduate teaching assistant for the micro-counseling program under the tutelage of Dr. Joy Whitman; and was a graduate practicum counseling center supervisor for Dr. William Giddings.

“These experiences ignited my passion as an educator,” she said. “Soon after graduation I earned a position as a doctoral level college professor and have been teaching ever since.”

Life in the lab

Back home in India, Amulya Lingaraju recalls being a number in a lecture hall, just another faceless student with a desire to study abroad and a passion for scientific research. After earning her bachelor’s degree, she came to the United States and to the doorstep of Purdue Calumet, where she is pursuing a master’s degree in biology.

Amulya Lingaraju
Lingaraju is no longer a number in a lecture hall.

Lingaraju admits she had some catching up to do; for even though she is working on an advanced degree, she said she was not on par with what American undergraduates knew. At Purdue Calumet, she explained, students are accustomed to life in the lab, even as undergraduates, doing research right alongside their professors.

“I learned a lot more here than I did at the big school (in India),” she says.

Another reason for that, she says, are the many debates and discussions she has with her professor and principal investigator of her research project, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Radmila Sarac. Professor Sarac’s accessibility, Lingaraju says, makes her more of a colleague than an instructor. Whether it’s by email, phone or just walking into her office, Lingaraju values the fact that she doesn’t have to wait in line for answers to her questions.

“We even got her to text,” Lingaraju laughs.

‘I needed guidance’

For a formerly degree-hopping, unfocused, undecided Gloria Roldan, career goals finally came into focus, she says, thanks to an advisor/professor who listened—really listened—to her and pointed her down a path previously unfamiliar to her.

While finally following her desire to earn a college degree, Roldan enrolled as a student in her 30s. After working previously in the airline industry, she was at a career crossroads and changed majors three times.

“Even at my age, I needed guidance,” Roldan says.

She was lost in indecision when Advisor and Associate Professor of Communication Lynda Willer urged her to enroll in a particular class before switching majors yet again.

Roldan hasn’t looked back since that day. After studying organizational communication and persisting to earn her cherished Purdue degree, she moved directly into a job at Purdue Calumet. She remains there today as assistant dean of students, her thoughts of more career-jumping now cured.

“It was connecting with a faculty member in (my) department that helped me graduate,” she says, matter-of-factly.

Intimate, meaningful relationships

Associate, baccalaureate and master’s degree Purdue Calumet nursing alumna Janice Tazbir says she was intimidated and anxious about attending college until a Simon and Garfunkel-blasting professor with a knack for comedy relaxed her students with a down-to-earth, it’s-OK-to-be-you kind of personality.

Tazbir says it was Nursing Professor Karen Fontaine who helped her shed her anxieties and get down to learning.

“I think that transcends into my classroom now,” says Tazbir, an associate professor of nursing at her alma mater. “I hope that I touch people who are like me—first generation college students—that it’s OK to be real, and it’s OK to be who you are, and that that is a plus, not a minus.”

Professorial impact

Similarly, for Jennifer Dinell, a 2005 elementary education graduate currently pursuing a master’s degree, Purdue Calumet professors have helped her “become the person I am today,” she says.

“One particular Purdue Calumet professor asked me to be her student teacher, which then led me to my first teaching position at Lafayette Elementary School in Hammond,” she recalled. “I was then fortunate enough to have another professor recommend me for my next teaching position at Hobart Middle School, and then again for my current job at Merrillville Intermediate School. As one can see, Purdue Calumet’s professors have made an enormous impact on my life.”

Growing up

Ask current or recent students what experiences made a difference for them, and the question may be difficult to answer. Often, it isn’t until years, or even decades, later when they are able to look back and see the source of their growth.

“I got an opportunity that I don’t think I would have gotten at a larger university, said Kevin Rose, a marketing professional who earned a master’s degree in communication in 2005.

“I was talented, but I was immature and didn’t really stand out in the crowd. But because I developed a rapport with (Associate Professor of Communication) Dr. Thomas Roach, who dug deep to reveal my potential and was willing to take a chance on me, I ended up leaving home for an internship in Minneapolis. I came home an entirely different person and gained a lot of maturity and confidence.”

You have talent!

Here’s something you might not see at your average university: the Dean of Nursing sitting in your classroom, getting to know you personally and, subsequently, recruiting you when a job became available. It happened to Tazbir.

Former Purdue Calumet Dean of Nursing Gloria Smokvina heaped praise on Tazbir, telling her she was “one smart cookie” and that she might one day call Tazbir about a job. Tazbir took it as nothing more than a compliment until the dean followed through. The rest is history, as they say, and Tazbir continues to teach in the Purdue Calumet School that once terrified her.

“Especially in the School of Nursing, we’re very lucky that we have a lot of people who are not ivory tower nurses – people who actually practice nursing, people who are connected to our area hospitals and to direct patient care,” she said. “Students learn from people who practice what they preach.”

‘Real’ world experiences brought to the classroom

Tom Mavronicles
As a student, instructor and alumnus who spearheaded neighborhood Purdue Calumet banners, Mavronicles offers plenty of experiences.

Tom Mavronicles graduated from Purdue Calumet in 1972 with a baccalaureate degree in physical recreation education. He also holds a master’s degree and earned a professional certificate in supervision in 1984. He has worked in supervision and as a safety manager for various companies; he also has taught safety as a Purdue Calumet guest lecturer.

The vice president of Purdue Calumet’s alumni association, Purdue Alumni Calumet, calls Purdue Calumet “the best kept secret in Northwest Indiana.”

One of the reasons, he says, is because faculty members are immersed in their scholarly fields, bringing problems, solutions and scenarios to their students that are fresh and happening now. This is what he came to experience from his own instructors and what he attempted to give back when he was in front of the class.

“We were full-time safety instructors,” he says. “We were giving real-life examples.”

He says experiential learning is the key to getting hired and keeping a competitive edge.

“As an employer, if I had to hire someone, I’m going to make sure that person has some background,” he says. “In my field, if you make a mistake, it can result in serious equipment damage, or it can result in the worst possible scenario: a fatality. You need to have that experience to make those decisions.”

Developing and selling a proposal

Enrolling at Purdue Calumet as a “non-traditional student,” Cindy Hall, who earned associate, baccalaureate and master’s degrees during the 1990s, says she came to the Hammond campus with more focus and goals than many other students.

She quickly tapped into opportunities often hidden among student activities, soaking up every bit of experience she could while developing her own opportunities. Volunteering as reporter, photographer, designer and, eventually, editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, The Chronicle, Hall took the initiative to update the newspaper’s computer system, providing future students the training and latest technology they would encounter in an actual newsroom.

“I put together a $25,000 business proposal that reflected goals, objectives, methods, outcomes and cost effectiveness,” she says.

Presenting her proposal before the chancellor and other administrators proved to be a taste of what she would encounter in the business world. When her proposal was approved, not only did The Chronicle obtain a technological facelift, but the experience gave Hall a tremendous amount of business savvy.

Little did she know that one volunteer project would be the springboard to her first job and, ultimately, a rewarding career as a fund raising executive.

She credits late Professor Karen Bacus for urging her to include her proposal in her portfolio.

“She was a wonderful teacher, advisor, mentor and friend who always listened to all the wild ideas I was determined to accomplish,” Hall says. “She was always encouraging, but said, ‘Make sure you create the plan to accomplish the goal.’ And that I did.”

Theory + experience = success

Purdue Calumet Associate Vice Chancellor for Marketing Mark LaCien says he emerged from a high profile university with a lot of theoretical knowledge but not much of a portfolio. Still, he expected a job, given the brand name of his education, but it didn’t happen. He says it took him almost six months to find a job.

“If I’d had better academic support and real world employer expectations from my professors, I would have had chances at employment sooner,” he says.

Real world support happens at Purdue Calumet every day in experiential learning courses—courses in which traditional, classroom learning integrates with hands-on, applied learning. As a condition of degree completion, each Purdue Calumet undergraduate student must complete two such courses. For example…

Seniors enrolled in the nursing capstone course are completing their coursework by taking on challenging projects proposed by area hospitals.

In recent semesters, capstone course students have improved patient safety by implementing a coded wristband system that indicates the nature of a patient’s condition. Students also have created a class designed to help disadvantaged mothers understand their babies’ brain development and how to ready their child for learning. Additionally, nursing students have conducted research that contributed to the introduction of a smoke free campus policy at Purdue Calumet.

Civil engineering students have worked on a project to help Northwest Indiana avoid a repeat of the flooding devastation of 2008. The students developed a hydrological watershed rainfall runoff model to prompt better understanding of the behavior of the Little Calumet River system. The model was to be used in monitoring water flow of Hart Ditch into the Little Calumet River during rainfall events, as well as in planning flood management and mitigation activities.

Using virtual reality and 3-dimensional technologies of the campus’ Center for Innovation through Visualization and Simulation, engineering students assist engineers at Northwest Indiana steel plants, BP, NIPSCO and other industries in troubleshooting problems and improving productivity efficiency.

Papers, conferences and more

“Purdue Calumet professors always seemed to have their radar tuned into opportunities for their students,” says Continuing Lecturer Dr. Eunice Madison, who earned baccalaureate and master’s degrees at Purdue Calumet in 1989 and 1992, respectively. “They never neglected to encourage us to submit papers to conferences or tell us of opportunities that might fit our interests and skills.”

Thanks to a professor who urged her to compete for an undergraduate fellowship, Madison found herself at Northern Arizona University for three weeks learning about national security issues.

Sitting among peers from Ivy League schools, Madison came to appreciate the quality of education she was receiving at Purdue Calumet.

“As the weeks went on, I learned that my educational experience at my busy, little commuter campus was in no way inferior to theirs,” she says.

The right fit

Nathan Barnes (right) with Mark LaCien
Nathan Barnes (right) with Mark LaCien (Associate Vice Chancellor for Marketing)

When Nathan Barnes graduated from high school, he went directly to Purdue’s West Lafayette campus to continue his education and admits he got “lost in the crowd” of the enormous, residential campus.

The 2009 English Writing graduate says he changed majors several times until he finally transferred to Purdue Calumet. There, he settled on writing as a career choice after taking advantage of opportunities to develop his writing skills, including an internship in the Office of University Relations.

“I found that the smaller class sizes here really translate into more personal attention from the faculty and an atmosphere that is more conducive to higher learning,” he said. “Having experienced some big lectures of hundreds of students at (West Lafayette), for me I can say that Purdue Calumet was a much better fit.”

Whether fit or professors, relationships or research, championing a proposal or being championed, growing up or learning experientially, guidance received or success achieved, Purdue Calumet experiences abound and thrive for a lifetime.

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