Liberal arts or hands-on learning?

Both — faculty and staff provide the right mix of push and mentoring to Sycamores, who are ready to take flight upon graduation.

Amanda (Melberg) Layson, ’08, remembers the painstaking hours she spent working on her lab notebook for one of her Indiana State chemistry classes.

At the time, Layson and her fellow chemistry students grumbled to each other whenever their professor sent back their notebooks for revisions, requiring perfection for every entry.

But now, working full time as an analytical chemist, Layson is extremely grateful for the tough love she received as a Sycamore.

“When I got hired at one of my first jobs, we had to take a training in good documentation practice,” said Layson, who works for MPD Inc., a company that makes military and aerospace products. “I was finding it really easy, whereas some of my newly hired colleagues were struggling with it. I really give all the credit to the chemistry program for being so particular about everything we did.”

Sycamores are landing competitive jobs — and thriving in them — because of the challenges and opportunities provided to them during their time in Terre Haute. Career readiness skills are baked into Indiana State’s curriculum, thanks to a renewed focus on preparing students for life after graduation in the university’s newest strategic plan.

Provost Mike Licari

“It has become clear that students and their parents expect that earning a college degree should move them into successful jobs,” said Mike Licari, vice president of academic affairs and provost. “Higher education in general has the need to make sure we’re living up to those expectations. More than ever, parents are expecting a return on investment.”

As Indiana State hones in on the practical outcomes of earning a degree, the university remains fully committed to its mission of providing Sycamores with a high-quality liberal arts education that teaches them to think critically about complex issues.

Indiana State’s goal is to seamlessly incorporate more career-readiness learning objectives into existing courses and degree programs — without changing its core focus.

“It’s not an either-or situation,” Licari said. “You can still provide a liberal arts education that graduates students who are educated and effective citizens, but in addition, will also have a good understanding of what it means to be a successful employee.”

Research experience

Like Layson, many chemistry majors at Indiana State find jobs in industry after graduation; others pursue advanced degrees in chemistry or attend medical school.

One way the department of chemistry and physics sets up undergraduates for success — no matter which path they choose — is by encouraging them to work with faculty members on research projects, said Jennifer Inlow, associate professor of chemistry.

Many students participate in a program called the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience, a 10-week program that includes a scholarship. Others earn elective credits for conducting research during the academic year.

Participating in research helps students reach their post-graduation goals. Those who are interested in medical school, for example, might work with a faculty member whose research skews toward biology or biochemistry, Inlow said.

It can also help undecided Sycamores narrow down whether they want to pursue a research-intensive path after graduation.

“It takes the right kind of person to enjoy research because you’re trying to solve an open-ended problem, and some people just don’t have the personality that enjoys that,” Inlow said. “If they participate, then they find out whether or not research is for them. And if it turns out that they do like research, they can also figure out what area of research interests them, or which branch of chemistry.”

The department also regularly hosts professional chemists working in academia or industry, which gives students valuable insight into an array of chemistry careers.

Many chemistry majors also serve as teaching assistants and lab assistants, which gives them valuable management experience and strengthens their existing knowledge of the course material.

Unique program

Since it first launched in the 1970s, Indiana State’s automotive engineering technology program has earned a reputation among employers for producing top-notch graduates; graduates often get job offers from well-known companies such as General Motors, Honda, Toyota, Cummins and Caterpillar.

In fact, Sycamores are in such high demand that many have multiple offers to choose from, said Randy Peters, chair of the applied engineering and technology management department.

“There are several companies that know of us and have had our graduates work for them — they like them and they keep coming back for more,” Peters said. “There’s demand for our students that exists beyond the traditional, ‘Oh, just send out your resume.’”

Indiana State’s program is unique: It’s the only four-year automotive program in Indiana and one of three automotive programs in the country to be accredited by the American Board for Engineering and Technology.

Unlike many two-year programs, which tend to prepare students to become mechanics or automotive technicians, Indiana State’s program produces engineers who understand the systems used to design and manufacture vehicles.

“We don’t teach them how to fix one car at a time,” Peters said. “We teach them how to fix thousands.”

Because the program is small, faculty advisors can develop strong relationships with the 20 to 30 students in each cohort, Peters said. Depending on a student’s career goals, advisers might suggest a specific minor to complement their automotive engineering major or encourage them participate in student groups and competitive teams.

The department also incorporates soft skills such as listening, teamwork and public speaking into its courses. “There’s a little bit more than just teaching about automotives that goes into the curriculum,” Peters said.

Collaborative culture

Another program that is helping students successfully navigate the job market is Indiana State’s school psychology program. For the past seven years, the program has had a 100 percent employment rate for students at the time of graduation.

Students in the two graduate degree programs frequently accept jobs as licensed school psychologists. Others work in hospitals or community mental health organizations, or they launch careers in private practice.

Aside from helping students meet state licensure requirements, the program also provides students with hands-on learning experiences. As early as their first semester on campus, students get to work with clients in the Porter School Psychology Center, an on-site training clinic. They also spend time working with professional school psychologists in local schools and community organizations.

“We train our students to be generalists. We make sure they leave us with a wide range of skills, so they have a foundation that will allow them to be successful in any setting,” said Chavez Phelps, assistant professor of school psychology.

The program has also cultivated a collaborative, interdisciplinary culture that mimics the environment many students will be working in once they graduate.

“Students learn to be good colleagues to one another and supportive of one another,” said Carrie Ball, associate professor and director of training for the school psychology program. “That has really positively impacted not only the culture of our program, but also the preparedness of our students to enter into a school setting and work to establish those positive working relationships with teachers and administrators.”

Beyond that, faculty members also advise students to experiment and explore multiple potential career paths during their time at Indiana State so that they truly understand what they want to do after they finish the program.

Although they push students to take risks, professors also offer one-on-one mentoring and encouragement.

“I felt like I was supported and cared about, but also encouraged to find what most interested me,” said Alyce Hopple, ’16, who works as the school psychologist for Greencastle Community School Corporation. “That made me feel really secure in being independent and engaging in a path I really enjoyed, but also if something was confusing or didn’t go the way I expected, I had those faculty there to help and support me if I needed.”

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