The new leader of Ivy Tech Community College — Columbus/Southeast believes in the power of convening.
Chris Lowery, who most recently served as director of public policy and engagement for Batesville-based Hillenbrand Inc., plans to harness the power of people working together when he becomes chancellor of the Columbus campus and southeast region Aug. 18.
He said Ivy Tech can help rebuild Indiana’s middle class by convening with other leaders in business, education, health care and nonprofit organizations.
The opportunity education provides — from employment to a larger perspective of community — is unparalleled, he said.
He knows firsthand, as the first college graduate in his family.
“We can all do better to create a culture, a society of educational attainment,” he said. “I want to be part of that.”
Business, education intersection
Although he has spent the past 20 years working in the private sector, Lowery is no stranger to education.
He served as Batesville Community School Board president for many years before stepping down to accept the position with Ivy Tech. He founded the Batesville Community Education Foundation, which funds student activities and supports the school district.
Under his leadership, the Batesville district jumped to the top 10 in the state among public schools for ISTEP+, Advanced Placement and SAT scores, and received an “A” grade from the state Department of Education in A-F Accountability.
He also encouraged a partnership with the city of Batesville, private businesses, philanthropic organizations and individuals to fund and establish a full-scale Ivy Tech campus in Batesville, which opened in January 2013.
“He is passionate about education,” said Jim Roberts, Batesville schools superintendent. “He understands education, and he believes strongly in it.”
He also understands business. At Batesville Casket Co., a subsidiary of Hillenbrand, he worked in sales development, human resources, product leadership, marketing and strategic planning.
He said he understands that a skills gap exists, that there are positions left unfilled because employers and educators are failing to connect.
“The evidence to me is really, really clear,” he said. “We need to be working with employers.”
That is where the power of convening comes in, he said.
“When you convene, when you focus on debate, civil discourse, discussion, forward-thinking thoughts, ideas happen,” he said. “I want voices heard.”
At the table
Good things happen when you’re in the room and at the table.
That is a mantra Lowery said he has adopted and will use at Ivy Tech, a strategy he said has paid off in Batesville.
Lowery founded the Batesville Roundtable three years ago, which brings representatives from business, education and the nonprofit sector to the table. Several ideas were hatched at that table, including a global exchange program in the Batesville schools.
A speaker from China joined the discussion about a year ago. Over the summer, seven teachers from Batesville High School traveled to China for cultural immersion training, and last week more than a dozen Chinese students visited Batesville. The school, which has about 750 students, will offer a Mandarin Chinese class in the fall.
“Our kids need to understand what’s going on in the world,” Roberts said. “We need to understand the impact — socially, economically, politically — that we all have on each other from various countries.”
He said Lowery helped to foster that exchange.
Jill Helcher, a projects and communications specialist at Hillenbrand, worked for Lowery for more than two years and also saw his leadership bring ideas to fruition.
“He really takes an idea and lets you run with it,” she said. “He doesn’t hold you back, he encourages you.”
Lowery brought innovation, big ideas and creativity to the Batesville Roundtable and the school board, Roberts said.
“He believes in not standing still and there are always opportunities out there to provide enriched situations for our students,” he said. “I think picking him was a no-brainer. Whenever he put his name in the hat, if I was in charge, I would have stopped all interviews and made the hire because he is that good.”
Lowery has created a plan for his first few months on the job.
Number one on the list: “Immerse myself in all things Ivy Tech,” he said.
That means poring over the mission statement — “Changing lives, making Indiana great” — and spending time at each of the four Ivy Tech campuses — Columbus, Batesville, Lawrenceburg and Madison — in the newly consolidated region.
It also means getting to know — not know about — the community partners, staff, faculty and students.
He said he will make sure the college operates in a “student-centric” manner, and he plans to stop students in the hallways and ask them: “How has it been going for you? Tell me what your impressions are.”
He will do his homework and dig into finances, marketing and curriculum strategies.
“I want to learn about the nuances of different campuses, from the outside look to the internal thought processes,” Lowery said.
He said he wants to learn more about the good things already happening — including the Associate Accelerated Program, which allows students to earn their associate degree in just a year, block scheduling and the school-to-work program — and build on them.
What if the accelerated degree program was brought into high schools?
“Think of the impact of that,” Lowery said. “You can virtually shave off one year of debt and leave high school with an associate degree.”
Those types of innovations will help the college tackle the major challenges in its path, he said.
He pointed out that Indiana is ranked in the bottom 10 for both educational attainment and per capita income. Ivy Tech is in the position to change that, he said.
“It’s a challenge, but it’s incredibly exciting,” Lowery said.