KOKOMO, Ind. — Indiana University Kokomo’s Class of 2015 includes 633 graduates. Each has his or her own story of success and struggle, triumph over obstacles, inspiration to continue, and future plans.
Here are just a few of their stories:
Shannon Kochensparger earned her first IU Kokomo degree right after graduating from high school. She completed an associate degree in education, but put plans for a bachelor’s degree on hold, to focus on her young family.
When her children, Andrea and Andrew, were in high school, she decided it was time to complete her degree.
“Going back to school was a life-changing event,” she said. “After my divorce, I needed something to help me move forward, and my kids were older, so I could focus on school. Being at IU Kokomo gave me a sense of community, with people who have similar goals. I feel like I’ve grown, not just intellectually, but into a better person.”
Along with her new beginning in school, she began a new life, marrying Jason Kochensparger, and blending her family with his three young children, Wesley, Jersey, and Perry, in 2014.
The new family moved from Greentown to Swayzee, starting their lives together in a new home. She’s enjoying mothering middle and elementary school aged children again.
“I feel like they get the advantage of my earlier experiences with my older kids,” Kochensparger, 38, said. “I’m a lot more relaxed with them.”
They can also learn from her example, she said, adding that she was happy they were at Commencement.
“I feel like I’m setting a good example for them, showing them it’s never to late to change your life,” she said. “They deserved to have the day to be here and celebrate with me. They put up with me while I was in math class, which was not pretty.”
Kochensparger recently began a new job with Carmel Applied Behavior Center, and begins her master’s degree in applied behavior analysis in the fall.
Deidre L. McDaniel knew when she was ready to earn her Bachelor of Science in Nursing that IU Kokomo was her first choice.
She previously completed her Associate of Science in Nursing on campus, and knew it was time to move forward.
“A lot of hospitals are going to mandate bachelor’s degrees now,” she said. “In order to be in management or supervision, you have to have a bachelor’s.”
She appreciates IU Kokomo’s R.N. to B.S.N. program, with classes once a week.
“They made it really convenient, with the pod program,” said McDaniel, 53. “They brought the classes to us, in Indianapolis. There were 35 of us taking classes at IU Health North. It was a Godsend to have this available. I would have driven to Kokomo, because I knew from previous experience that it was worth it, but for a lot of people, that distance would deter them.”
She recently accepted a job as a clinical supervisor at St. Vincent Hospital, Indianapolis.
“My experience here has been wonderful,” she said. “It’s small, so it’s not overwhelming. The teachers know our name, you aren’t just a number.”
Sofia Stout, 23, spent the last 30 days of her IU Kokomo career checking off items on an IU Kokomo bucket list.
She created the list when she realized she had never been to the Seiberling Mansion.
“That just seemed wrong, that I had been here this long and never been there, and that’s where IU Kokomo started,” said Stout, who is from Lafayette.
During her 30 days, she checked off items such as eating ice cream at Scoops, visiting Old Ben and the Sycamore Stump while walking a full lap of Highland Park, touring Kokomo Opalescent Glass, and, her personal favorite, taking a selfie with the Kokomantis.
“That was awesome,” she said. “All these people were staring at me, while I was taking the picture.”
Stout checked off one more item immediately after Commencement, taking one last selfie with Kingston Cougar — or at least a cut out of him.
“I wish I would have made this list at the beginning of my senior year, and not tried to do it all in 30 days,” she said.
Stout earned a Bachelor of Science in communication arts, and would like to find a job near her family’s home in Charlotte, N.C.
Graduating with a bachelor’s degree was the highlight of Troy Brooks’ life.
“This, by far, is my biggest accomplishment,” said Brooks, 26, from Frankfort. “While I was a student, I lost both my father and my brother, and went through many hardships. I wasn’t sure I would make it to this day, so it’s a great feeling to be here.”
He noted that he couldn’t have accomplished this goal without his classmates, cohort, and IU Kokomo’s faculty, supporting him throughout it all.
“Joann Kaiser has been an incredible influence on my education and on my leadership skills and development,” he said. “She’s been a great mentor, educator, and I am now happy to call her a friend.”
Brooks graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Education, focusing on elementary education and theatre performance. He looks forward to beginning his career as a kindergarten teacher at the Camden Early Childhood Center, but will miss all of the opportunities he was afforded as a student.
“It’s so important to be involved in something,” he said. “There is so much to do as a student, so enjoy it. Enjoy the small campus and make friends.”
He performed in four plays with the theatre department, was treasurer of the Drama Club, vice president of the IU Kokomo Crescendos, a member of the Diminuendos a capella group, and was a member of EdSAC.
As Brooks ends this chapter and begins a new one, he said he knows he made the right choice to attend IU Kokomo.
“This institution was the entire package for me,” he said. “It was close to home, affordable, and has a great academic program for education. I couldn’t have chosen a better place.”
Tonia Ray, 47, has now earned her third degree from IU Kokomo, but has finally earned the degree she has always wanted, a Bachelor of Science in Education.
“I often had to make the choice to stop going to school and work full time in order to do what was best for my family,” said Ray, who had taken classes for nine years. “I was jumping from one secretarial or administrative assistant position to another, and realized I couldn’t do it anymore. I belonged in the classroom.”
After earning an associate and bachelor’s degree in general studies, Ray put her foot down, enrolled into the education program full time, and had her family’s support every step of the way.
“I have four children, one grandson, a husband, and a household to run,” she said. “They all helped me, supported me, and were completely understanding in me fulfilling my dreams to teach. My husband held us all together, so I could finish my degree and graduate.”
Ray will miss being in the classroom as a student, with her friends and professors, but is excited to begin facilitating student learning as an elementary teacher.
“I love helping students work through problems and figure things out,” said Ray, who is from Peru. “It’s simply incredible to watch their minds work and see how proud they are when it finally clicks.”
She said she wouldn’t have made it to graduation without her cohort, and encourages everyone to follow their dreams.
“It’s been a long, emotional road, and there were so many times I didn’t think I would make it to this day,” she said. “It’s so important not to quit, no matter how long it takes and how difficult it is. It will be worth it in the end.”
Mark Thompson learned that art is not just drawing; art is open for interpretation and discussion.
“Professor Gregory Steel was an incredible influence in me truly understanding what art is and how I can apply it to my new media degree,” said Thompson, 23. “I am so thankful to have learned from such amazing faculty at IU Kokomo.”
He plans to use everything he’s learned to impact and educate future students.
“I am currently looking to pursue a graduate degree and eventually teach in the new media and fine arts fields,” said Thompson, who quickly realized his calling was to become an educator “I am excited to gain some professional experience in the field and explore my options before continuing my studies.”
He said his college experience was enhanced by campus involvement.
“Collaborating and making friends is what college is all about,” said Thompson, from Peru. “My favorite event was creating a large-scale print using a steam roller. In that moment, I saw how much the campus cared about the art community.”
Thompson was recently awarded the Outstanding Student Award in new media communications at this year’s Honor’s Convocation, and he won Best Poster at the 2015 Student Research Symposium for his research on printmaking. He is moving to Tennessee in August after he gets married.
Kris Eiler finally achieved her goal of earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing that she started 13 years ago.
“I started out at another university right out of high school, but I faced many challenges at that point in my life,” said Eiler, 30. “I am so thankful that I was able to get my life back on track and come back to school.”
She believes that her life would not be the same if she hadn’t made these decisions, and IU Kokomo greatly impacted her life and career as a nurse.
“I have made so many incredible friends and strong bonds in college, all in which I will miss very much, but none of that would have happened if I didn’t decide to go back to school,” she said.
Eiler participated in student activities, acting as the president of a few student organizations and as a leader in her nursing cohort.
“The nursing program at IU Kokomo is very difficult, but I still was able to have the role as student body vice president within the Student Government Association during my last semester,” said Eiler, from North Carolina, about her busy schedule. “Graduating with my B.S.N. is a surreal feeling and is so hard to fully grasp.”
Eiler plans to continue working as a nurse, but knows IU Kokomo is not the end of her educational journey.
“I plan on working hard and saving money for a few years before heading back to school for my masters degree,” she said. “I know this is not the end for me but just the beginning.”
Aseel Attar traveled across the world to earn a Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.), focusing in finance, from IU Kokomo.
“I am so glad that I have had the opportunity to attend a college that has an amazing environment like IU Kokomo,” said Attar, 29. “The people are so friendly and the campus is the perfect size; it really has been a wonderful experience.”
Attar, from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, said he was glad to have the opportunity to go back to school.
“I did not take my undergraduate work very seriously, but I have earned almost a perfect GPA in the M.B.A. program,” he said. “This is my biggest accomplishment.”
Attar would recommend the campus to any college student who wants a high quality education at an affordable price.
“The instructors are available for you to ask questions and to consult them about any concerns or problems you may have with the courses,” Attar said. “I will definitely miss the entire faculty in the M.B.A. program and the professional relationships I formed with them.”
Although he moved to a different continent, Attar had a lot of support and encouragement from his family and his new classmates. He is very grateful for the positive experiences he has had here.
“My parents traveled over 16 hours to come watch me graduate,” Attar said with a huge smile. “I am so happy that they are here to celebrate with me and are able to see me graduate with my master’s degree.”