By LESLEA M. HARMON
For Ivy Tech Chancellor Dr. Rita Hudson Shourds, “Education is a passion.”
That passion has helped Shourds’ and her staff — funded by a $20 million capital campaign — grow Ivy Tech more than 200 percent since its last major expansion two decades ago.
Vision in a community college? A holistic college experience from a technical school? Shourds has put Southern Indiana’s educational landscape on the map, blazing the trail for innovation among the other fourteen regions of the state’s largest college system. And the coming year spells more work, as the campus prepares to expand.
Among her innovations in office, Shourds has created a full-time student retention office, the first of its kind in the Ivy Tech system. Keeping people in college and helping them achieve their goal, Shourds is highly invested in giving Ivy Tech students a holistic college experience, and through her vision, the office of student success was born.
“It’s a lot of people’s dream or idea, not just mine,” says Shourds, the campus’ first female chancellor and one of only three statewide. “It’s about finishing what you start. We want people to come in, but we also want them to stay and walk across that stage. The best day of the year is graduation day, because you’ve aided that person in completing something. A lot of these students are just hoping to make it through the first semester, but then you seem them gain confidence, so they begin to get excited about graduation day, because they know they will be successful.”
With so much to do at Ivy Tech, how does Shourds balance her personal and professional life? A wife and mother of two, Shourds says “I think I’m really good at turning the faucet on and off. When I’m home it’s really about my two girls, being a mom, and providing for their needs — we go to dance class, do homework. It’s important to me for them to see a mom who can juggle a lot of balls and do it successfully. We’ve heard it said that we can’t have it all as a woman, and I disagree — I think I do have it all. I hope that my daughters would be proud of me.”
Shourds’ husband Gary agrees.
“It’s inspiring to see her work, to be able to be such a good wife and mother and yet still be able to handle all of these different obligations and things she has to do with her work. I’ve always known, since we taught together back at Sullivan [College] — I knew she had the capability of doing whatever she wants to accomplish, professionally and personally, because she’s very determined and driven — yet at the same time she has a good, healthy handle on her priorities.”
Originally from French Lick and now a resident of Floyds Knobs, Shourds describes her career as coming full circle.
“I always wanted to be in administration, and I’m a very goal-driven person, so it seemed like something I could do. It gives me the opportunity to balance family and work. A lot of positions at this level, you can’t do that. For me, there are some 16-hour days, but that is not the norm — that is out of the ordinary. I feel like if I’m spending time away from my family, I’m helping another family.”
Coming from a long line of educators, Shourds believes “a lot of society’s ills could be helped by educated people. Education is something that’s always of value.”
In an economic climate putting so many educated people out of work and back into the job-hunting fray, what is education worth?
“Education is a continuing process. If you look at it as a stopping point, that’s a mistake. So, you graduated with a bachelor’s in political science and you can’t get a job — that means that maybe you need to go back to school. If people perceive a degree as a final destination as opposed to a means to an end, they’ll be dissatisfied.
“You have to look, also, at the transferable skills your degree gives you. Never underestimate the fact that the college experience is more than book knowledge. The true college experience means getting along with people who aren’t like you, who don’t look like you — and it’s the ability to meet deadlines. It’s a total experience, not just book knowledge.”
While the economy overall has been topsy-turvy, Shourds’ Sellersburg campus has been a shining light of growth. “Since our last capital project in 1989, we’ve grown 200 percentage,” says Shourds.
Michael Dalby, president of One Southern Indiana, comments on Shourds’ “remarkable transformation” of the Ivy Tech campus.
“She has managed to brand the campus as ‘leading edge’ with a spirit of possibility and with a shine that sets it apart. She knows what it takes for the institution to be viewed as first-rate, and she’s worked hard to communicate its value — a value that has always been there but maybe not always appreciated — to the community.”
Shourds is quick to share the credit of Ivy Tech’s success with others. “We are extremely student-centered on this campus. We really approach it as a service, and we’ve created a very student-friendly environment here. We often get the comment that our faculty and staff are so friendly, or so helpful.”
Vice Chancellor Terry Nolot said, “The last time we expanded the campus was 1989. Dr. Shourds was able to get the appropriation for the expansion in a year. That is a tremendous success, one we’ve been needing for 20 years. Local legislatures were so supportive, the community as a whole was behind this project, and is behind this project. It’s truly a project that the community has just embraced.”
And how has Ivy Tech grown so quickly from its low-key Sellersburg location, to the point where it’s ready to build a new brick and mortar quad? “Graduates get the word out for us,” says Shourds, “and the quality of graduates helps us tremendously. We have spent the last three years trying to be out in the community through social activities, through non-profit volunteering — but I think for most people now, Ivy Tech’s not a secret anymore. As soon as they see the project go up behind us, there’s no doubt in my mind they’ll see that we have arrived.”
Associate professor of business David Clifton remarks, “Dr. Shourds has a unique ability to communicate across both the academic community and the Southern Indiana business community. That ability has been unequaled at our campus, and can sometimes be difficult to accomplish. The ability to speak to both groups, as well as her leadership, has led the campus to record enrollments, funding for campus expansions, innovative academic and student affairs programming, and an increased presence in the community.”
With an additional 80,000 square feet for classroom space, computer labs, office, auditorium, and community center, Shourds and her faculty and staff are bringing a real college environment to their property off I-65. “We’re using traditional building materials, brick, stone, green space — they’ll be opportunities for students to go outside in a quad that will protect them from the highway clutter and noise.”
Shourds cites value beyond classroom space, in the new addition. “Function was where the value was for Ivy Tech for many years. It’s not just about the students; it’s about the employees, too. They’ve spent a number of years in cramped spaces — four people in an office built for one, in some cases. This project will give them something they deserve.”
While overseeing the expansion at work, Shourds’ life was rocked when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, 14 months after her mother died of the disease.
“I’d been diligent about my check-ups, and it came as a surprise, to say the least. I’m a firm believer that through all adversity you can take something positive from it. I think the positive, for me, was that I had faculty and staff that stepped up to the plate to do whatever needed to be done. I had a very supportive president and senior staff at Indianapolis, and I had family that was extremely supportive. I had basically every leg on the stool supporting me as a foundation for what I was going through. A lot of people don’t have that.”
“My prognosis is great, it was early detection,” says Shourds, and she wants her neighbors in Southern Indiana to take heed. “If you haven’t had a mammogram, get out there and have it, and have it annually. Don’t be afraid of what you’re going to hear from the doctor. Fear of the unknown is only fear — you can face things when you know what you’re dealing with.”
In typical Shourds esprit, “I chose to go ahead and have a double mastectomy and had preventive chemo because I do have two daughters, and I do have my job, and I want to be here in 20 years leading the campus.”
Today Shourds is healthy and lively. “The chemo was the hardest thing I ever had to go through emotionally and physically. It was really work, and it was hard coming in [to campus] when I looked like I looked, because of my pride, but I did it. Maybe it wasn’t at 100 percent, but my routine was important to me at the time, and I was very fortunate that I did well with the chemo, and missed less than 10 days. I cannot tell you how supportive the faculty and staff was. It was unbelievable — they went through a budget process, and did it almost totally themselves, the capital project continued, meetings went on.”
Speaking just weeks after her last chemo treatment, Shourds said, “I guess my personal goals for this year wouldn’t be physical in nature, they’d be more about taking time for my girls and my family, my husband. Appreciating the small things that they do. I won’t take for granted that they set the table every night, or that they draw me a picture that I’ve already had 25 pictures drawn like that for me before. I’ll probably keep every one of those now.”
Shourds, who has just finished a term as president of Leadership Southern Indiana, as well as board chair at the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana, and stints on the boards of One Southern Indiana and the Carnegie Foundation, has certainly earned the right to focus on herself and the family in the coming year.
“We love it here, we like the area, and I want my girls to see Mom out helping other people who can’t help themselves, because it’s important to give back.”
DR. RITA HUDSON SHOURDS
• CAREER: Chancellor of Ivy Tech Southern Indiana since February 2006.
• EDUCATION: Holds a bachelor of arts degree in consumer studies from Indiana University, a master’s of science in human resource management from the University of Louisville, and a doctorate in leadership education from Spalding University.
• SERVICE: Immediate past chair and current board member of the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana and also serves on the boards of Jeffersonville Carnegie Library Foundation and the YMCA of Southern Indiana.
— Recently finished a term as secretary on the board of One Southern Indiana. She is past chair of the Leadership Southern Indiana board and former Floyd County campaign chairperson of Metro United Way.
— Helped establish the G.I.R.L.S. (Giving In Real Life Situations) group, which is a giving circle created in 2005 as a grassroots effort to provide support for women and girls in need in Southern Indiana.
— Past board service includes the Bob Hedge Park Renovation Steering Committee, Rotary Interact sponsor, Junior Achievement volunteer, Focus Louisville alumni group, IUS Mentoring Program volunteer and Youth Count Partner Network member.
• FAMILY: Mother of two young daughters, Reagan and Kendall. She, her husband Gary, and their daughters, reside in Floyds Knobs.
Ivy Tech Community College Southern Indiana
A growing community college serving Southern Indiana and metropolitan Louisville. The Sellersburg campus set enrollment records each of the past three years. The campus surpassed the 5,000-student mark for the first time at the end of the Spring 2009 semester. Ivy Tech Southern Indiana is part of a statewide community college system with 24 campuses. Ivy Tech Community College is the largest college system in Indiana with more than 130,000 students.
• Ivy Tech students as of Sept. 29: 4,615
• Floyd County students: 869 (19%)