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

I Define Success: Laura Ernst-Davies

It’s often said that our biggest setbacks can lead to our greatest opportunities—if we work through them. That’s certainly been the case for Laura Ernst-Davies, who graduated this month with a Nursing degree from Ivy Tech Community College.

In 2014, Laura’s world was shaken by the death of her husband. A stay-at-home mom with five children, she knew her life would never be the same. And while she had previously earned a bachelor’s degree, she chose to pursue a career path that would provide for her family in the long run: nursing. Continue reading

I Define Success: Rebecca Winkle

If you ask Rebecca Winkle what it takes to succeed as a college student, she’ll tell you it’s simultaneously very simple and very challenging.

The simple part? “You get what you put in,” she says. In other words, you have a lot of control over your own destiny.

The challenging part? Well, consider this: Rebecca starts her day at 1 a.m. so she can complete some homework before heading to her full-time job.

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I Define Success: Michael Flores Rodriguez

As he entered his freshman year in high school, Michael Flores Rodriguez was unsure of what to study in college. He had recently moved to Fishers, Indiana from Puerto Rico, which also presented the challenge of learning a new language, a challenge he was eager to accept. By the end of his senior year, not only did he have an English vocabulary, but a college program chosen and 13 college credits under his belt.

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I Define Success: Linda Paden

Linda Paden.pngThe Pilates Author – Ivy Tech alumna pens Idiot’s Guide manual

Linda Paden, a 2004 and 2005 graduate of Ivy Tech Community College Northeast, has a clinical doctorate degree and now a book under her belt. Idiot’s Guide: Pilates came out late last year, and her Ivy Tech Northeast associate degrees helped her get to the point she needed to be considered an expert in the field. Continue reading

I Define Success: Idriss Bah

ivy-tech-idress-mr-ivy.jpgExcited to pursue a career in informatics, Ivy Tech graduate Idriss Bah earned his associate degree in May 2018. After graduating, he wanted to continue his education and transferred to Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana.

“I really enjoyed the diversity and the amount of people,” said Idriss. “It was cool to have because in the real world, you work with different sets of people.” Continue reading

I Define Success: Mira Cassidy

When Mira Cassidy decided to gomira-cassidy.jpg to college, she was a single mom looking for the opportunity to improve herself and to provide a better quality of life for her child. She wanted a school that was cost-friendly and convenient.

Mira became interested in Ivy Tech after visiting the campus and hearing the wonderful things said about the school.

“The one thing that attracted me the most was the reputation. When giving advice, others would suggest to me, ‘Try Ivy Tech,’ and I’m glad I did,” she said. Continue reading