I Define Success: Brenda Stellema

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Brenda Stellema has received multiple certificates and degrees from Ivy Tech Community College Michigan City, including associate degrees in human services and in health science. Brenda, who is an honors graduate and member of the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society, was nominated to receive the Distinguished Alumni Award by her former professor, Daniel Mallon.  “From the first week of having Ms. Stellema in one of my classes, I knew she was going to make an impact on the world,” said Mallon, “Her drive and ambition is unparalleled.”

After graduating from Ivy Tech, Brenda joined Family Advocates, an agency working with children who have been abused and neglected. During that time, she developed the Court Appointed Youth Advocate (CAYA) Program to assist youth struggling with delinquency and behaviors impacting their academic and personal progress. As a court-ordered intervention being used by the local Juvenile court, CAYA matches appointed teens with advocates, mentors and role models. Over the past five years, CAYA has helped over 90 teens; a number Brenda hopes to increase as she works towards state funding for a statewide launch. Brenda even brought the first CAYA graduate to Ivy Tech to enroll in classes.

“For me to bring her to the campus where I started my journey was surreal,” said Brenda, “That’s how much I believe in Ivy Tech. It can be a launching pad and to help you get where you want to go.”

Brenda’s time at Ivy Tech pushed her to step out of her comfort zone and become a servant leader. Her experience helped her understand the importance of helping others and in her community. Brenda continues to be grateful to the Ivy Tech faculty that “mentored, coached and guided” her toward reaching her goals.

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“The reason why I am here is because people invested in me and it gave me a reason to give back,” she said, “I came to Ivy Tech as a nontraditional student at 48 years old and I was provided with the tools and the resources to change my life and create a career that I love.”

As an alumna, Brenda has pursued her bachelor’s in social work and has remained connected to Ivy Tech as a member of the Circle of Ivy. Circle of Ivy is Ivy Tech’s women’s giving circle, which is open to all women who wish to become members of a powerful network of philanthropists who collectively give back to local Ivy Tech campuses and students.


Ivy Tech Community College is proud to celebrate Brenda’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.

I Define Success: Frank Scott

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In celebration of his professional success, community involvement, and continued support of the College, Frank has been honored as an Ivy Tech Distinguished Alumni.

Frank Scott decided to enroll at Ivy Tech Community College Muncie after the plant where he worked closed. The company offered the option to attend Ivy Tech for free and Frank seized the opportunity to make a career change. Ready to try something different, Frank decided to study human services.

“I had been in manufacturing for 28 years and really wanted a change. I enjoyed learning about the community. It changed my life.”

Frank graduated with an associate degree in human services and is currently serving as the president of Whitley Community Council, a neighborhood organization that has won two national awards. Under his leadership, the neighborhood association has opened a food pantry which has served hundreds of local community members. Frank also serves as the precinct committeeman for the district. He believes his time at Ivy Tech gave him the motivation he needed.

“I saw the community and things that needed to be done, but Ivy Tech helped me see how I can contribute to making a difference in improving issues in society,” he said.

In addition to his work in the community, Frank stays connected with Ivy Tech through the Whitley Community Council, local fundraising committees, and by encouraging others in the community to enroll. Most notably, he encouraged his own son to enroll at Ivy Tech at 33 years old.


Ivy Tech Community College is proud to celebrate Frank’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.

I Define Success: Joel Troxel

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Joel Troxel accepts Distinguished Alumni Award from Dr. Sue Ellspermann, Ivy Tech president, and John M. Murphy, Ivy Tech Foundation president at the Distinguished Alumni Awards Celebration in Indianapolis, December 2018.

Joel Troxel was only 16 years old when he first enrolled at Ivy Tech Community College Valparaiso. His journey at Ivy Tech began his sophomore year of high school when he decided to pursue dual credit at Ivy Tech. Joel is now a Certified Public Accountant, runs a successful consulting business, and is an Ivy Tech Distinguished Alumni.

“I was able to complete my associate degree concurrently with my high school diploma,” he said. “Ivy Tech was convenient, affordable, and a solid stepping stone.”

During his time at Ivy Tech, Joel was Student Body President, a peer tutor and member of Phi Theta Kappa. After receiving his associate’s degree in accounting, Joel transitioned to Valparaiso University, where he continued to volunteer, was the President of the Accounting Society and served as an assistant to the Dean. Joel received his bachelor’s degree in accounting in 2006 and graduated Summa Cum Laude.

Joel founded a consulting firm, JET Consulting Services, LLC, which provides business consulting, financial services, and technology planning to clients throughout the United States. He is also active in his community where he is a member of the Indiana CPA Society Innovation Task Force, an active member of his church, Treasurer for the LaCrosse Volunteer Fire Department, and a member of the Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce. He remains connected to Ivy Tech through his assistance with fundraising for events like his local campus’ capital campaign and his continued support of the Ivy Tech Foundation.

Joel TroxelJoel says his current career is a fulfillment of the dream of serving small business owners that he had when he began at Ivy Tech. He hopes future students pursue an education at Ivy Tech and utilize it as a pathway to fulfilling and dynamic careers.

“I have advised and urged many young people that the value you receive at Ivy Tech is incredible,” he said. “Focus on developing yourself to serve in the calling you’ve been given, and opportunities will open up.”

He believes Ivy Tech was able to give him a unique education, where he was able to interact with other students of all ages. This environment allowed him to become “a more questioning and engaged learner.”

Joel credits his pathway to success to his “effective and efficient education at Ivy Tech.” Overall, Joel is deeply grateful for his time at Ivy Tech and is a fantastic example of how Ivy Tech can help students achieve their educational dreams.

“It was a valuable education and opened the door to a host of opportunities,” he said. “I was 16 when I enrolled in Ivy Tech. Two years later, I graduated with a good education, a growth perspective, and experience that has helped me reach my goals.”


Ivy Tech Community College is proud to celebrate Joel’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.

I Define Success: Donna Riley

donna rileyDonna Riley graduated from Ivy Tech Community College Sellersburg in 2008 at the age of 55, with an associate degree in Office Administration. Donna is passionate about sharing her Ivy Tech story and letting people know that “I got the college degree that I always wanted. Ivy Tech made that possible!”

After working in the insurance field for 30 years, Donna transitioned to a second career in the non-profit sector, as the Executive Director for Leadership Southern Indiana (LSI) where she served her local community until 2012.

“The office of the nonprofit I was working for was on an Ivy Tech campus. Getting to know the people at Ivy Tech inspired me to transfer,” she said. “There was a major difference that I saw with the care, the faculty, the cost, all of it.”

Throughout her career, Donna has received recognition for her leadership and service in the community.  Highlights for her include receiving the Servant Leader Award from LSI in 2014, attaining the Distinguished Toastmaster Award from Toastmasters International in 2011, and serving on the Women’s Foundation of Southern Indiana (WFSI) board. While serving as President of the WFSI, she helped implement the International Impact 100 program in Clark, Floyd, and Harrison counties. This program awarded a $50,000 grant in 2017 and a $100,000 grant in 2018 to non-profit organizations that serve women and children in the community. The WFSI board also provides scholarships to local colleges, including one to Ivy Tech Sellersburg.

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Donna Riley accepts Distinguished Alumni Award from Dr. Sue Ellspermann, Ivy Tech president, and John M. Murphy, Ivy Tech Foundation president at the Distinguished Alumni Awards Celebration in Indianapolis, December 2018.

Now retired, Donna remains active in her community and continues to be an advocate of Ivy Tech. She is a proud recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award and plans to continue spreading the word about Ivy Tech as the Sellersburg campus’ self-proclaimed biggest cheerleader.


Ivy Tech Community College is proud to celebrate Donna’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.

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.

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“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.

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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.

I Define Success: Blake Hartman

Blake Hartman credits his career in welding to his experience at Ivy Tech Community College Terre Haute. The 1973 alumnus and co-owner/founder of Big Inch Fabricators and Construction, Blake was offered his first welding inspection job for a pipeline company before graduation. He worked at that job for 25 years, becoming the Manager of Construction over five states.

“Eventually I started a pipeline construction company, Big Inch Fabricators and Construction. I worked with my education from Ivy Tech every day for 45 Years, until I retired in March 2018.”

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Blake Hartman accepts Distinguished Alumni Award from Dr. Sue Ellspermann, Ivy Tech president, and John M. Murphy, Ivy Tech Foundation president at the Distinguished Alumni Awards Celebration in Indianapolis, December 2018.

His professional success, commitment to his community, and his dedication to Ivy Tech have earned him the Ivy Tech Distinguished Alumni Award, which he accepted in December 2018.

Blake remains involved with Ivy Tech through his endowment with the Parke County Community Foundation, which will fund three welding scholarships for Parke County graduates. He also supports and funds the Ivy Tech Rockville location through his board seat at the Rockville Parke County Learning Center. He believes that Ivy Tech provides students with a “top-quality education” and gives them the tools to pinpoint which direction they want to go with their careers.

“It’s a good place to go, work hard, and get good grades. That’s what helped me get the job in the field I was going to school for. Pick a profession that you want to go into and steadily go in that direction.”


Ivy Tech Community College is proud to celebrate Blake’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.

I Define Success: Desiree Polk-Bland

Desiree Polk-Bland

Desiree Polk-Bland had already received a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees before earning her associate’s in general studies from Ivy Tech Community College Richmond while working there as a full-time employee.

“Ivy Tech is a place where you can create a supportive community to help you to achieve your goals. That was my experience,” she said. “I took classes to round myself out in areas that I did not have a background in, such as culinary arts, physics, and Spanish.”

Currently, the Executive Dean of Student Affairs at Columbus State Community College in Ohio, Desiree’s time at Ivy Tech gave her perspective on her career goals and enhanced her professional abilities in the field of higher education. Working on courses also gave her an opportunity to spend time with the students she was serving while working as a dedicated Ivy Tech employee. Desiree continues to support the College and its students through her recent endowment scholarship, the Polk-Bland Endowed Emergency Fund.

“It was important to me to give back to Ivy Tech for everything that they gave me. I want the scholarship to be there when people need it. I want it to be used to help others have access to education, overcome nonacademic barriers, such as food and housing insecurity, and to successfully achieve their educational goals.”

Desiree’s advice to those interested in enrolling at Ivy Tech is simple: “Just start and understand that assistance is available. As you have questions, get the assistance that you need. There is nothing holding you back from education, you just have to open the door and start.”


Ivy Tech Community College is proud to celebrate Desiree’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.

I Define Success: Grace Gilbert

Student loan debt has become a nationwide epidemic, with graduates in the legal field being among those hardest hit. Many Ivy Tech students, however, are completing degrees without any debt—including December Paralegal Studies graduate Grace Gilbert.

Grace, who will earn an associate degree this month, worked hard to pay her tuition while still in college. However, she says Ivy Tech helped make it possible—and she encourages other prospective college students to make the same decision.

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I Define Success: Berdina Gamble

If you ever think it’s too late to pursue your dreams, or you ever feel like you can’t go on, Berdina Gamble’s story will likely change your mind.

When she first enrolled at Ivy Tech Community College, Berdina was a lot like many of her classmates. But Berdina had one advantage: she was fortunate to have enough free time to make college a priority. As a result, she excelled, earning induction into the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.

Soon, however, things changed dramatically. As Berdina says, “it came in like a flood.” Continue reading

I Define Success: Aaron Thomas

Robotics professionals are known for their technical knowledge, but every now and then, you’re reminded that they are also decidedly human.

Take Aaron Thomas, for example. The Ivy Tech Community College student has very practical reasons for entering his chosen field. He’s looking to move up in his career, and he sees a “vast need in Indiana for skilled workers.”

But when you ask him why he’s been successful in Ivy Tech’s Advanced Automation and Robotics Technology (AART) program, he credits something—or someone, more appropriately—closer to his heart. Continue reading