Self Made Women of IUS

March 21, 2016

Bending Over Backwards

Lavenia McDaniel assistant to advisors in the School of Natural Sciences.
Lavenia McDaniel assistant to advisors in the School of Natural Sciences.

Spending her time across campus in the School of Natural Sciences is Lavenia McDaniel. McDaniel has been working at IU Southeast for five years as an office assistant and now works as an assistant to advisors in the School of Natural Sciences.

McDaniel said it was a divine appointment that brought her to IU Southeast.

“I drove by IUS and walked to campus and I knew I wanted to work there before I even got the job,” McDaniel said.

A year later, McDaniel applied for a position in the School of Natural Sciences and worked as an office assistant. Later on she became assistant to the advisors.

McDaniel has been and continues to be a mentor in the IUS Center for Mentoring program, something that she said she has found fulfilling from the very beginning. One of her most recent mentees, Christian Colbert, is a student that McDaniel worked alongside following Colbert’s initial interest in human resources. McDaniel said that she is more than happy to see Colbert working in a professional HR role at GS4 Solutions in Columbus, OH.

“When she first came as a mentee I was like really?” McDaniel said. “But as I continued to watch her grow from the beginning of her trying to discover her passion to now, it fills my heart. I love seeing the growth. When she came in here initially compared to how she left, it just really fills my heart. She is extended family, she’s like a daughter to me.”

The connections that McDaniel has made aren’t limited to only one student. As of recent McDaniel has been branching out to more students, both in a formal and informal mentor capacity. Seeing students on campus and reaching out to them whenever they are seeking guidance is something that McDaniel describes as being a big part of experiences had at IU Southeast.

“Students I come into contact with here at IUS, they make a difference,” she said. “That’s what really counts. IUS has that feeling of community and that’s in my spirit. That’s how I’m guided.”

When McDaniel isn’t helping guide students and offering her insights via her mentor relationships, she spends her time teaching a Gentle Yoga Motion class on campus, which is also sponsored by Healthy IU.

“[Yoga] is my passion,” she said. “It’s all about aligning the body, mind and spirit.”

Starting May 10, McDaniel will be teaching a yoga class in the Ogle Center in Room 069 from 12:15 – 1:00 p.m. She explained that the opportunity to be teaching her yoga class in a space that is actually fit for it is something that she has been hoping for since the classes first began.

“I kept hearing that it wouldn’t happen and I am so grateful to finally have a room in the Ogle Center,” said McDaniel.

Adult Learning

Kimberly Pelle IU Southeast Admissions Counselor
Kimberly Pelle IU Southeast coordinator of non-traditional programs

One afternoon, Kimberly Pelle was attempting to fix an issue with the plumbing in her home when something happened that changed her life forever.

Wanting to save money on a professional plumber, she decided to try and fix the problem herself; with the turn of a pipe wrench, filthy water poured from a ruptured pipe and spewed directly into her mouth. In reflex, she shot upwards and in the process hit her head on a low hanging piece of copper piping – it was this series of events that caused Pelle to reevaluate her situation.

“I remember thinking, ‘this is terrible and I never want to have to worry about money again,” Pelle said. “I realized that the only way that I was going to that do was by furthering my education.”

Shortly after her experience with some faulty plumbing, Pelle reached out to IU Southeast and after nine years of academics, she graduated with a degree in journalism and political science. Degrees in hand, Pelle left IU Southeast, but shortly after her departure she was hired by the very university that she had once graduated from and earned a position as an admissions counselor.

“I worked as a counselor for ten years until I was offered the position [as coordinator of non-traditional student programs], which I have been doing for ten years,” she said. “So I have been on this campus as both a student and an employee for 29 years.”

Pelle explained that the non-traditional student programs are very important institutions on campus because of the large draw of non-traditional students that attend IU Southeast. She said the the programs at IU Southeast do not prescribe to the national definition of what a non-traditional student actually is, something that she is proud of.

“There is a national definition of a non-traditional student and that is someone who is 25 and older,” she said. “But we have a broader definition on this campus because I believe that you can be 20-years-old and have a child, and still be a non-traditional student.”

For Pelle, education is an important milestone in every person’s life, which is why she explains that she is so grateful to be contributing in the official capacity that she is.

“Education and higher education are important to me,” she said. “But helping students obtain their higher education is very important to me.”

As coordinator of non-traditional student programs, Pelle works alongside adult students hoping to further their education and said that the experiences that she has had have been rewarding to her since she first accepted the position ten years ago.

“I’m on many on campus committees and like many other faculty members, I wear a lot of hats,” said Pelle. “I have played a really big role in the graduation ceremonies and I helped the speaker announcing the students’ names as they walk across the stage to graduate. So I was able to see come students coming in and going out, with their degrees. That gave me the biggest thrill of all.”

The thrill that Pelle mentions having felt when working alongside those involved in campus graduation ceremonies is still something that she experiences on a day-to-day basis thanks to the relevance of her role coordinator of non-traditional student programs.

“When I moved into this role I was no longer recruiting the students as I was before,” she said. “But I still play a big role in orientation and I see [the students] when they come in; they’re nervous adults and I love helping them. It’s so great that I get to see the moment that they walk right across that stage at graduation and I always feel so proud for them. I’m just so happy that they are able to reach such a difficult goal, especially when having multiple responsibilities like many non-traditional students do.”

A Developed Viewpoint

Vice Chancellor for advancement at IU Southeast, Betty Russo
Vice Chancellor for advancement at IU Southeast, Betty Russo

Working not in a specific school, but in the heart of campus is Vice Chancellor for advancement at IU Southeast, Betty Russo.

The history of Russo’s professional career is not one that began with academia immediately upon graduation, instead Russo began working professionally in an unrelated field.

Russo began her professional career working in international sales amidst the corporate world, a working environment that she explained was often times riddled with downsizing. After being one of many victims of the downsizing of corporate America, Russo sought after a more stable career in development. 16 years later, she explained that she is more than happy with her decision to make a change.

“I found out that I loved [development] because it is the kind of work where you get to meet a lot of people and hear a lot of interesting stories,” she said. “You have to listen to what people say.”

Working in the corporate world in international sales, Russo had to interact with people from across the world. The ability to efficiently communicate with people was something that she picked up working in sales and is a skill that she believes has played an important role in her position as vice chancellor for advancement.

“I think that learning that kind of diversity and being aware of different cultures helps not just in your career and job perspective, but also helps you grow as an individual as well,” said Russo. “It helps you appreciate the differences that other people bring to the table.”

The experiences that Russo was part of prior to her career change remain just as valid as they previously did, something that she attributes to the importance of having a better understanding of the world as a whole.

“Understanding how to interact with people from different countries has been a very important to for me in my current position,” she explained. “It has absolutely provided a unique advantage.”

Russo has earned insight in regards to the ins and outs of her career in development throughout the years. She explained that nearly all positions in development require some dynamic of efficient group communication. While she has earned this experience from her past positions in sales, Russo explained that some her ability communicate and do it so well simply comes from being a woman.

“Development is a warm and fuzzy kind of work,” Russo said. “From my perspective, I have seen more women working in development than men. It just seems to be more in the nature of women to be able to talk to people and relate more to them on a personal basis.”

Being a woman in the development field has been a largely positive experience for Russo and she explained that pleasantry in the professional field is all that she has experienced since making the career change that she did.

Russo said that she has never been one to use her gender as a tool when it comes to understanding the opportunities that she did not get; instead, she reflects on the chances that people have made on her and acknowledges that each and every opportunity was a product of hard work.

“Very seldom do I think about, ‘well this happened to me because I am a woman,’” Russo explained. “I don’t let that enter my thinking.

Russo stated she is aware that gender can play a role in a professional setting, especially when it comes to professional opportunities being offered; however, she has never found much use in dwelling on such ideas.

“Sometimes when it is big and bold and in your face, you have to recognize it, but it’s never something that I generally think about,” she said. “ I don’t think about [my career] in terms of being inhibited in any way because I am a woman.”

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