When we think about Student Life at colleges and universities, the images that come to mind might include gatherings in a lounge or quad, athletics (watching or participating) and, of course, residence halls. Except for living on campus, those other features of campus life are very much part of the IU Northwest academic and co-curricular experience. But, especially at a regional, nonresidential campus like ours, we encounter another dimension of Student “Life” each day: students’ lives.
I regularly meet IU Northwest alumni, some who attended decades ago, who talk about not having been able to finish a degree in four years because of other commitments (employment features prominently in these stories). So it is nothing new at IU Northwest to find that students’ lives beyond the campus affect the time and attention that they can devote to class attendance, study and campus activities.
I came to IU Northwest from the Twin Cities of Minnesota. With a population of diverse, mostly adult students, we used to say Metropolitan State University was “where life and learning meet”. That idea applies at IU Northwest as well. IU Northwest students balance their attendance with a variety of other commitments. There are high levels of financial need among our students, they often have family obligations and nearly all of them work. On top of all of this, they are working hard to be successful college students. Ask almost any of our students and you will find that there is a lot going on in their lives, in addition to their student lives, which complicates their efforts to persist to the completion of their Indiana University degrees.
So it is not at all surprising that employment competes heavily for the time and attention of our students, especially since numbers of hourly jobs in the Region have grown in the last several years. And recently, in this space and the local media, I called on local employers to encourage the college students who work for them to stay enrolled and complete their degrees. But it is a testament to the diligence and work ethic of so many IU Northwest students that, with all of their other responsibilities, they stay focused on their educational goals, manage their time skillfully and take advantage of the experiences that our campus offers.
An attractive feature for our students, of course, is that IU Northwest is close to home. Indeed, more than 95% of our students come from the seven Northwest Indiana counties. But students who take advantage of the opportunities and resources at close-to-home IU Northwest quickly discover that they are not missing out on anything at all. A quick profile of one of our students helps to illustrate two salient things about both student life and the lives of students at IU Northwest: they are very busy people and they can accomplish a great deal.
The President of the IU Northwest Student Government Association this year is Gabriela Jaimes, from Cedar Lake. Gabriela’s parents immigrated to Northwest Indiana from Mexico and she is the oldest of their five children. Education is highly valued in Gabriela’s family and she was the first in the family to graduate from middle school and, then, high school. When she completes her Indiana University degree in May 2018, she will be her family’s first college graduate. She chose to attend IU Northwest because it is close to home and very strong in the sciences and pre-professional preparation for those interested, for example, in attending medical school. She majors in Chemistry, with a minor in Spanish. Along with a challenging program of study, Gabriela is an active co-curricular leader, in the Student Ambassadors, the Student Activities Board and the Student Government Association.
But her academic life outside the classroom is every bit as busy and engaged. She has been a peer teaching assistant for Anatomy & Physiology, tutored in Student Support Services, is assisting Dr. Eva Mendieta with language research and, last summer, took advantage of the Study Abroad program (and scholarship support) to study in Spain. This list of involvements would be a superb example of a fully-engaged undergraduate student life, but there is something else that connects her experience to that of her fellow IU Northwest students. Along with her father, she has founded a trucking business, Volcanes Carriers. So, in addition to all of the time and energy that Gabriela devotes to being a successful student, she also has a job in the family business. And, by the way, she has been accepted to medical school in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Gabriela is a fine example of what individual IU Northwest students bring to the challenges and opportunities of pursing a Bachelor’s degree. She espouses the Cesar Chavez motto Si se puede (Yes, it is possible) and did not overlook campus resources that can be very helpful. She acknowledges her faculty members and James Wallace and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs for their support. But the credit for what she has accomplished belongs entirely to Gabriela and she will make us all very proud at Commencement 2018.
IU Northwest students live busy, complex lives that can make student life a challenge. But Gabriela Jaimes shows not only what is possible, but how it is possible.