Wednesday, February 1st, 2012 - 4:00 pm

Experiencing Academic Distinction

PUC students experience a wealth of learning opportunities in preparation for realizing their goals

(Sue Ellen Ross is a freelance journalist)

The best testament to the significance of higher education can be found in the visible lives of those who attend, graduate and, subsequently, apply in a beneficial manner the learning they gained from their college or university.

Many students attending Purdue University Calumet experience the academic distinction of a world respected Purdue education distinguished by applied, experiential learning opportunities in many diverse ways, shapes and forms.

Whether it is working on a special project, engaging in an internship, or implementing suggestions for new and better ways to achieve success, those who fill Purdue Calumet classrooms and laboratories in preparation, ultimately, to make significant societal contributions find benefits beyond their expectations.

Following are six stories about six Purdue Calumet students, each of whom has experienced academic distinction through the learning opportunities of which they have taken advantage.

Ligia Les

School of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences

Legia Les
International studies major Les has taken advantage of many learning opportunities.

Ligia Les is a native of Mebias, Romania, and is majoring in international studies.

The 25-year-old, multi-lingual student – she speaks Spanish, French and fluent English, as well as her native tongue – is a resident of Highland. “I love language; I’ve always liked to learn new ones,” she said. “This gives me an international social view of the world.”

Coming to America in 2006, she felt her chances of maximizing the many chances she would encounter outside her country would be her main focus.

“I knew there were more educational opportunities in the United States than in Romania,” Ligia said. “It was always my desire to come here and stay in America.”

She began to learn English while in second grade, and she took her love of learning to become, not only multi-lingual, but a distinguished student.

As she has built upon her motivation to make her career dreams come true in America, she has distinguished herself academically. For starters, there’s her 4.0 grade point average. Her list of achievements also includes presidency of Sigma Delta Pi (Hispanic Honor Society); receipt of an International Programs Office scholarship for study abroad; and selection as recipient of the Saul Lerner Award, which goes to the outstanding Purdue Calumet student in the School of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences.

Traveling to Spain last summer was an experience she said she will not soon forget.

While in Spain, she was immersed in the culture – observing bullfighting, talking with the locals about political views, etc. She also lived with a Spanish family and taught at a local Spanish college.

“I went into this experience with an open mind, which is very important when you are in a foreign country,” she said.

Ligia credits her Purdue Calumet professors with assisting her as she has worked toward her goals. “They have offered a lot of guidance, while taking time to help me pursue my field of study,” she said. “This help was more than what I expected, and I am very grateful.”

Ligia plans to pursue a master’s degree, followed by a doctorate in sociology.

“We find students like Ligia very rarely, and it is one of the most rewarding experiences in the world of education,” Professor and Head of Purdue Calumet’s Department of Foreign Languages & Literatures Marisa Garcia-Verdugo said. “Her data speaks for itself. She is very hardworking, dedicated and a most serious student. She is also a flexible learner, an open-minded person, and gifted to adapt to new cultures.”

Michael Ewing

School of Education

Michael Ewing
Former marketing director and day trader Ewing is excited and committed about redirecting his career into education.

One way Highland resident Michael Ewing has experienced academic distinction is by rising above and beyond the requirements of one his education courses, Literacy & the Young Child.

The elementary education major spent numerous hours last fall during an early field experience at Iddings Elementary School in Merrillville, where he applied methods he learned in course work to introduce projects that contributed to improving literacy among third grade students.

One writing workshop he conducted included a week of learning the ins and outs of book production. He led his students through the entire process – from planning and writing to publishing their completed book.

“This was a great project,” he said. “I worked with real kids, real projects, real results. One big thing that PUC does is get you into the future with the real world.”

His knowledge, attitude, beliefs and performance at Iddings School impressed Sandra Collins, the teacher he assisted throughout his project.

“Mr. Ewing’s enthusiasm and hard work were apparent in each creative lesson that he presented,” she said. “The lessons proved to be interesting and effective, whereby less capable readers benefited from the reading and writing strategies.”

Two of the third grade classrooms at the school celebrated their writing accomplishments with an author’s sharing event, in which pairs of young authors read aloud their work and answered questions about the pieces shared.

Ewing, 42, a former marketing director and day trader, felt it was time for a career change a few years ago. As he pondered his future, he realized that the teaching field is where he wanted to be.

Over the years, he had coached the Hobart youth swim club and enjoyed helping students realize their potential. “I liked the whole process of helping children develop into much more than they thought they could,” he said. “And at that time, as I was leaning as much as the kids were, I never had any formal training to be a coach.”

He cited the feeling of accomplishment – both for himself and the swimming students – of taking children who did not know how to swim to a high caliber of success, ready for state competition. Now he wants to take that attitude of wanting to make a difference in children’s lives to a new level.

“His ambition to dig deep and ask meaningful questions relevant to course content — to go the extra mile – distinguish him academically and professionally,” Assistant Professor of Elementary Literacy Education Kathleen Paciga said. “Mike’s challenged my thinking — as a professor, specifically related to course requirements for field placement. His experience teaching Writers Workshop in his field placement was a wonderful experience, not only for the third grade students with whom he worked, but also for the host teacher and for himself.”

Andrew Jackura

School of Engineering, Mathematics and Science

Andrew Jackura
First an engineering degree, now pursuing one in physics, Jackura wants to teach at the university level.

Although Andrew Jackura began his studies at Purdue Calumet in engineering and earned a baccalaureate degree in mechanical engineering last spring, he is continuing his education at the Hammond campus in pursuit of a physics degree. He also is teaching two physics labs.

“While working on my engineering degree, I was getting into the physics part of it,” he said. “There are similar concepts of how the universe works and their interaction.”

As an engineering student, Highland resident Jackura, 23, participated in a senior design project with several other students. Jackura and peers researched the design of a solar thermal hot water heating system for the Purdue Calumet Fitness Center. Specifically, the students considered how to save expense dollars by streamlining the process of heating water.

Combining his team’s research and his previous academic experience, Jackura said he learned various new concepts. Those concepts, when applied to the fitness center project, proved technically and economically feasible, impressing university officials relative to an ongoing priority to improve energy efficiency on campus.

The experience, according to Jackura, left him with a sense of accomplishment, both individually and as a team member. “I’ve always been interested in energy systems, and this was right up my alley,” he said. “Our team worked really well together.”

Personally, Jackura’s future plans include earning master’s and doctoral degrees in physics. In support of those goals, he has tutored for 2½ years at the Purdue Calumet Academic Resource Center and also has conducted outside research on special projects. He also is pursuing a research laboratory internship with the U.S. Department of Energy.

“Eventually, what I want to do is teach at the university level,” he said. “I’m interested in gaining the many skills that will take me to that level.”

According to Professor of Physics and Director of Purdue Calumet’s Energy Efficiency and Reliability Center Robert Kramer, “Andrew has demonstrated an excellent ability to learn and to apply his knowledge to real life applications. He has performed at a very high level in both class and on research projects.”

Miroslava Cova

School of Nursing

Miroslava Cova
Cova wants to follow in the nursing footsteps of her European mother and aunts.

Miroslava Cova, 22, relocated from Bardejov, Slovakia to Hammond when she was 13. Nine years later, she has found herself at Purdue Calumet eager to earn a nursing degree.

Last spring, as a requirement for her Nursing 39400 Health Promotion and Education course, she and classmate Monica Garza partnered to present an evidence-based nursing health program at the Hammond Area Career Center—where Cova had honed her English speaking skills.

The topic of their program was a sensitive one about genital herpes. Their presentation would include explanations of types, complications and treatments. Though not sure what to expect, the students were pleasantly surprised.

“We were very nervous; there were about 100 people there,” Cova, now a Highland resident, said. “We thought this would be just a passing subject, something people would be too embarrassed to talk about, but the response was amazing. People kept asking question after question.”

The experience proved to be a shot in the arm for Cova’s English public speaking skills, as well as her hope for making a difference in her community.

In addition to being an honor student on campus, Cova learns valuable lessons off campus while working in the Intensive Care Unit at St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago. Her job, she says, enables her to see, apply and experience beyond her textbook knowledge.

“There have been instances where I can add to a class discussion, because it is something I have just experienced at the hospital,” she said. “In class, we are reading textbooks. At work, I am actually seeing these things happening.”

In her European homeland, several of her family members served in the healthcare profession. In fact, nursing was the career focus of her mother and two aunts.

“My mother was a GI nurse working in a private practice,” she said. “I would go in and help her, rolling bandages and doing other things.”

Purdue Calumet Associate Professor of Nursing Dolores Huffman believes Cova’s story serves as an inspiration for all.  
“She is highly motivated, intelligent and, most of all, reflects the humanistic values needed in professional nurses,” Huffman said. “Her sense of social justice and giving back to others is a wonderful example of what it is to be ‘human’ and is so important in nursing. With experience, she has the potential to make significant contributions to the nursing discipline.
“Overcoming some of the challenges of coming to a new life in a new country and achieving academic distinction in a rigorous program only demonstrates her commitment to excellence while employing a strong work ethic.”

Joe Kelley

School of Management

Joe Kelley
Kelley is combining experience in restaurant management with interest in computing.

His background includes seven years of restaurant management, and although he enjoyed this part of his life, Hobart resident Joe Kelley, 30, came to a career realization four years ago.

“I knew I wouldn’t be able to advance in my job, or in any field, without a college education,” he said. “It took me seven years to realize I needed to get my degree, so I decided to enroll at Purdue Calumet to ensure my future.”

Building on his management experience and his interest in computing, he is majoring in computer information systems. He said he became interested in computing while learning technology basics as a teen at Munster High School. Commenting on the introduction of technology in schools, be believes students should learn such at a young age.

“Implementing technology in the schools isn’t just important, it’s essential!” he said. “Students need to be exposed to it at an early grade.”

Everything has a methodology, he believes, and while managing a restaurant is different from his career choice of information systems, he said he is able to apply past skills to current projects.

“I’ve learned not to get stuck in a specific train of thought,” Kelley, a senior, said. “Eventually, it does all relate; although wording may be different, it’s all just planning and execution.”

Beyond his studies, Kelley has experienced academic distinction by serving as president of the Information System Student Association on campus. He also is engaged in undergraduate research under the supervision of Professor and Information Systems Department Head Kuan-Chou Chen.

Kelley also took an experiential learning project management course under Chen’s direction. Kelley indicated that the opportunity to partake in a real world project through hands-on application builds confidence and a sense of creativity.

“His seven-year working experiences have trained him as mature and energetic,” Chen said. “As a result of his dedicated efforts, Joe has compiled an outstanding record in emerging his real world experience into class participation and discussion…”

Chen added that he believes Kelley’s attitude will serve him well. “He feels that a solid educational background is the key to survival under current economic difficulties,” Chenn said. “This makes him more mature and influential than other undergraduate students. He has distinguished himself by his quality of research and analytical ability.”

Steve Gombos

School of Technology

Steve Gombos width=
His IT studies serve Gombos well as a member of Purdue Calumet’s Disaster Management Communication System Development Team.

In addition to anticipating graduation in computer information technology later this year, Crown Point resident Steve Gombos is a member of Purdue Calumet’s Disaster Management Communication System (DMCS) Development Team. His enrollment and research in the ITS 36000 Distributed Application Architecture and Design course last spring piqued his interest in managing and allocating disaster-related resources.

Last fall, he participated in developing the mobile unit module of the application system advanced in the computer information technology experiential learning senior capstone course.

His enrollment in the technology graduate course, TECH 58100–Database Warehouse and Business Intelligence, afforded him the opportunity to help develop a data warehouse for answering questions of managing and allocating resources in a disaster situation.

Gombos, 21, first became interested in computer information technology while attending Lake Central High School. “I was introduced to programming and computer application (there),” he said. “It was an elective course, and it really caught my interest.”

Working summers and part-time at a wine & spirits distributing company has provided him a firsthand opportunity to apply his technological knowledge, including in response to company problems and concerns.

For example, to streamline operations in specific areas, he recently developed an inventory software program for his employer.

Reflecting on all he has experienced academically, he said, “I’ve gained a lot of experience in the last four years, and I want to continue to learn; this (IT) field is far-expanding.”

Associate Professor of Computer Information Technology Barbara Nicolai believes Gombos has set the bar high in his courses. “He is technically excellent and stays involved,” she said. “(In the future) I see him very easily going into a high-tech company and developing database application systems.”


In addition to acknowledging satisfaction with the education they are receiving, all six students cite other appealing considerations about attending Purdue Calumet. Extra-curricular offerings, such as clubs, organizations and other amenities, they say, offer the Purdue Calumet student population every opportunity – and them some — to experience academic distinction.

As Gombos said, “There’s no difference between our campus and the larger universities. In fact, there’s one advantage we have that they don’t: with a smaller environment, there’s more of a one-one-one opportunity from our instructors and professors. This, in turn, gives students more of an opportunity to expand or excel in projects and/or their classes.”

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