Sue Ellspermann is wasting no time immersing herself into her new job as president of Indiana’s Ivy Tech Community College system.

Though her first official day isn’t until July 1, Indiana’s former lieutenant governor, hired to her new post May 16, is spending the next few weeks visiting as many of the system’s 32 campuses throughout the state as possible.

After visiting the Columbus campus on Monday, she came to Madison’s campus Tuesday.

“The intent is to get to meet faculty and staff, to really understand what happens” on Ivy Tech campuses, Ellspermann said. “I’ve spent four years looking from the outside in. We’ve got tremendous, committed faculty and staff here in Madison, and we saw the same thing in Columbus.”

The tour, she said, is meant to help put everyone “at ease, knowing they’re getting a lieutenant governor who came out of this political world,” and helping them connect to her previous work with higher education and workforce development. “It’s been a fabulous opportunity.”

Ellspermann holds a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and a Ph.D, in industrial engineering. A Republican, she served one term in the Indiana House of Representatives before becoming Gov. Mike Pence’s running mate in 2012. Prior to that, the Ferdinand native was a business consultant and was founding director of the University of Southern Indiana’s Center for Applied Research.

“There are two focuses of Ivy Tech,” she said. “One is to ensure student success, what we’re doing in the early enrollment programs and making sure (students) have the ability to finish on their expected timeline.”

The other is to align to the needs of the workforce at each campus location to ensure “we’re graduating their future employees to do the jobs that will help our communities grow and help that individual prosper.”

Both “are critical for us,” she said.

Ellspermann commended Madison campus President Katie Mote for her work with Madison Consolidated Schools to institute the dual-credit program, during which high school students can earn credits toward graduation as well as college credits for the future.

In it’s second year, the program enabled 52 Madison High School seniors to complete their first year of college while earning their diplomas.

She also commended Mote for initiating a program for women at the Madison Correctional Facility to help them earn workforce certification or begin their work toward an associate’s degree to prepare them for release.

“Think about the change in trajectory you can have in the life of someone who is coming out of the prison population” and to help them become contributing members of the community,” Ellspermann said. “There are tremendous opportunities at this campus, and I give Katie great credit for really figuring out, how do we help those high school students who will come into a traditional college environment and workforce, as well as individuals who have more challenging starting points.”

Chris Lowery, chancellor of the Southeast Region, which includes Madison, Batesville and Lawrenceburg, accompanied Ellspermann on her tour.

Lowery stressed the importance of meeting workforce demands and getting local employers engaged in internship and externship programs that provide experience in the workplace and teach “soft skills,” such as the importance of showing up to work on time, doing the work assigned, taking direction and being part of a team.

The work “is not just in the classroom, not just at home, but getting the employer engaged in giving somebody the hands-on experience to learn what it’s like to work and integrate a skill,” he said.

Both Lowery and Ellspermann commended Mote for the upcoming manufacturing and health-care summer camps at the Madison campus, as well, that are aimed at eighth-graders who will be freshmen in the fall.

The camps help “rising ninth graders to understand manufacturing today – not the manufacturing of their parents’ or grandparents’ day, but what that looks like now. There are great jobs and great careers out there,” Ellspermann said.

Additionally, Ellspermann anticipates establishing statewide initiatives that will help each region meet the needs of employers.

“I want to look across the state and have that level of excitement, engagement and commitment to do, for (each) region, what must be done,” she said. “We’ve got a big challenge. We’ve set a goal in our state of 60 percent of our workforce having post-secondary degrees or credentials by 2025.”

Today, that number is in the 40-percent range, and Ellspermann said Ivy Tech will have to issue one million degrees or workforce credentials in the next eight years to meet that goal. “It’s a big task, but it’s an exciting one, because as we do that, we strengthen Indiana, we strengthen our employers, we provide great jobs for our Hoosiers – that raises incomes and allows us to grow.”

Lowery said the Ivy Tech system also is working to help students graduate at a faster rate, if that’s what the student needs. Recent reports indicate 24 percent of students in the community college system take as long as six years to complete a two-year degree.

“We understand they’re not all traditional students, and they don’t all come in here to graduate in two years,” he said. “We have to be careful that we measure our students on their expected timeline, so if they want to be done in two years then, absolutely, that’s our job to help them get done in two years. But if they really want to be part-time students while they’re working or while they’re having a family, whatever their situation is, we have to figure out what that means.

“That said, we want to encourage as many students through as quickly as they can, and we can, because they’re here not just to get that degree or certificate. They’re here to get a better job, to move on in their careers. And the longer we keep them here without it, that pushes their career out further,” he said.

To that end, he credited Mote with an initiative to have academic counselors be more aggressive with helping students succeed by reaching out to motivate them to complete their degrees, “rather than waiting for them to come talk to their counselors.”

This past year, that initiative resulted in a 6 percent increase in the number of students who continued to take classes from fall to spring, Lowery said. “It doesn’t sound like much, but I’ll take it.”

By boosting the workforce by helping more people in the community earn welding or other certification and earn two-year degrees, Ellspermann said she believes Ivy Tech, in turn, will help spur economic development in Madison and Jefferson County.

Mote said her goal for the campus is to “make sure the students, as early in life as possible, have what they need to get a well-paying job – whether that requires additional education (transferring to a four-year college), or whether they get that credential at Ivy Tech. The sooner we can get to them and get them out and get them working, the better off they’ll be.”

“Success breeds success. We will attract in more employers,” Ellspermann said, adding that the Indiana Economic Development Corporation “has a tremendous pipeline of companies interested in expanding and growing into Indiana. ... Their biggest challenge is providing the workforce these companies need. So as we create that strong workforce in Madison, employers will come because they know this is a great place.”