I Define Success: Jennifer Defrees

Jennifer Defrees is no stranger to overcoming adversity. The Ivy Tech Community College Elkhart alumna and Distinguished Alumni Award recipient overcame many hardships before even beginning her journey in higher education. In her speech at the Ivy Impact Gala, she shared her Ivy Tech story.

Jennifer Defrees

“When I was 12 years old my father left me and my disabled mother,” she said. “By the age of 14, my mother and I were living in a homeless shelter in Goshen.”

After a few months in the shelter, she says they “bounced around from trailers and apartments for four years,” until Jennifer’s mother was placed in a nursing home. “After graduating [high school] in 2004, I enrolled at a local four-year college, but the need to simply survive became a top priority, so my dream of pursuing higher education was put on hold.”

Jennifer says those around her doubted that she would return to college, but deep down she knew they were wrong. After jumping from job to job, Jennifer found one she cared about at a nursing home. As she grew within the company, she felt it was time to go back to finally get the education she desired.

“In 2008, I enrolled at Ivy Tech in Elkhart County. It was a perfect fit for me as I needed to work full-time while taking evening classes toward my degree.”

By 2012 Jennifer completed her associate degree in accounting and four years later completed her bachelor’s degree at Indiana Tech. She currently works for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Elkhart County, the same place where she interned while studying at Ivy Tech.

“My teacher at Ivy Tech encouraged me to contact the Boys and Girls Clubs of Elkhart County. Fast forward six years later and I am STILL working at the Boys and Girls Club!”

Today, Jennifer remains connected to Ivy Tech through her membership in Circle of Ivy, the Ivy Tech Foundation’s women’s philanthropy circle that raises funds to support Ivy Tech students. Jennifer’s success story and her dedication to serving youth in her community have earned her recognition as an Ivy Tech Distinguished Alumna.


Her advice for those considering enrolling at Ivy Tech is simple:

“Just do it. It’s a great way to get a career with an associate degree and then to go on to get your bachelor’s. You’re not going to be able to find anywhere as affordable and accommodating as Ivy Tech.”

Ivy Tech Community College is proud to celebrate Jennifer’s success and achievements with the Distinguished Alumni Award. This annual award honors alumni for their commitment to the College and to their communities. The awardees are leaders in their professions who make significant contributions benefiting their community, state, or college.

The alumni recognized with this award represent the very best of what an Ivy Tech education makes possible. Alumni, faculty, staff, and friends are all encouraged to submit nominations online.


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