As the coordinator of nontraditional student and family programs at Indiana University Southeast, Kim Pelle knows better than anyone what adult students need to be successful in their pursuit of a college degree.
"I was a student here -- I was actually a nontraditional student," Pelle said. "I was 28 and had three small children and decided that I needed to go back to school."
Pelle, who had moved to the area from New Orleans, applied to IU Southeast on the recommendation of a friend. The campus provided the resources and support she needed, including a childcare center.
"I think I heard about it in the summer, and in the fall, I was a student," she recalled about her first experience on campus. "My children were here in the center when they weren't in school, and I began to slowly work on my degree. I did work on-campus at the time. I actually had three jobs on campus, and I got my degree in political science and journalism."
Pelle went out into the workforce after graduation, only to return to the campus she loved a couple of years later to take a position as an admissions counselor, helping people like herself take that leap toward pursuing their career and life goals. She also continued her own education, completing a master's degree in education.
Nine years later, Pelle was secure in a position and work environment she found joyous and fulfilling. The campus decided to invest in a facility designed to offer more support and resources to the nontraditional student, and it needed someone to manage it.
"When this position came up, I was not going to apply for it," Pelle said. "But the director at the time -- she was actually the interim director in campus life -- had some really big plans and a great vision for the Adult Student Center. She approached me and said, 'We just think that you'd be perfect for the job. Why don't you throw your hat into the ring?'"
Pelle did her research and saw the potential in the newly renovated Adult Student Center as well as the opportunity to make the position her own. The center's renovation took a small room for about 12 people and created a larger facility able to accommodate more than 50 people.
As manager of the center, Pelle provides programming and resources designed for adult students to get the most out of their college experience.
"It makes coming to college feel like more of a community affair," she said. "Students who use the Adult Student Center can meet other students who are just like them. In fact, I have students tell me that this is their only social life, so I try to keep the very busy adult student in mind as I plan my semester's or year's programs.
"I keep their families in mind as well, because I believe, from my own experience, that without support from significant others and when times get tough, adult students might drop out. School is typically not their first priority -- they have jobs, they have families. So we need a specific way to retain these students. I believe programming is vital to keeping them here on campus by connecting them with the campus community and the other students."
The Adult Student Center offers a place for nontraditional students to meet, study and socialize. The facility is open 24/7 and is staffed during regular business hours. Pelle takes her role as coordinator to heart, working with students from the time they enroll all the way through graduation.
"When they first come on campus, most adult students feel a little shaky, like a fish out of water," Pelle said. "They hear about the Adult Student Center, and they hear about me. They come up to the center, and they're like, 'Wow. I'm going to love it up here. This is my spot. I've finally found my place.'"
After 23 years, Pelle still loves working for her alma mater and helping adult students find balance between classwork and social time to get the most out of their college experiences. She admits that people have asked her why she hasn't moved on to the "real world," but she says she always wanted to work somewhere that made her happy and where she would make a difference in people's lives, and right now that place is IU Southeast.
"I really think that the university cares about the community, the students, the employees and the faculty," she said. "Who doesn't want to work at a place where they know their employer cares about them?"