Sue Ellspermann is Leading by Example
Writer / Kara Reibel
We teach what we’ve been taught. We help others in the manner that we have experienced. Sue Ellspermann shares her mentors and those who have impacted her life along with her plans for leadership of Indiana’s largest public postsecondary institution and the largest singly-accredited statewide community college system in the entire country.
The new President of Ivy Tech Community College, Sue Ellspermann hails from the beautiful town of Ferdinand where she’s lived since the age of 2. One of six children, Sue and her two sisters worked in their father’s small jewelry store after school and on weekends through high school.
While studying industrial engineering at Purdue, Sue’s keen interest in unstructured problem-solving and strategic planning began. While working for Frito Lay in Dallas, she met Dr. Min Basadur, a thought leader in the applied creativity realm of corporate innovation.
“Dr. Basadur became not only a mentor, but after leaving Frito Lay, I joined him as a consultant on a colleague level,” shares Sue. Basadur was the founder of the process she used, and it was his research that provided the foundation Sue expanded upon through her own consultation experience.
While Sue was building her consultancy business, another key mentor was Kathy Kleindorfer. “Kathy was an excellent leader,” says Sue. “She emphasized the importance of under-promising and over-delivering.”
Sue’s first big client was Kimball International. Jim Thyen, CEO of Kimball International, had a leadership style that Sue admired. “He always did the right thing, even if that meant lowering profits in lieu of laying off workers,” states Sue of Thyen. “He took care of people and was not overly focused on the profit motive.” Later, Thyen would serve as a friend and trusted advisor while Sue was making the decision to run for State Representative.
After 20 years of consulting and strategic planning, Sue founded and served as Director of the Center for Applied Research and Economic Development at the University of Southern Indiana. Shortly after leaving this position, Sue received a call from then-Congressman Pence to be his Lt. Governor.
“My spiritual director is Sister Kathy Huber (member of the Huber Winery family) and a Prioress with St. Benedict’s Monastery in Ferdinand,” shares Sue, who confided only in Sister Kathy, aside from her husband, Jim, about the upcoming Lt. Governor run for office. The St. Benedict rules consist of community, prayer, hospitality and work. “Sister Kathy helps me to remain grounded.”
While serving as Lt. Governor, Sue became involved with the Indiana Conference for Women. Now as a member of their Advisory Committee, Sue continues to promote the conference across the state.
Conference co-founder Billie Dragoo served on an Indiana Bicentennial committee with Sue for “Big Ideas,” which not only celebrates Indiana, but it provides a strong vision looking forward to our next 100 years of statehood. The full reveal of this plan will be announced in September.
“I am beyond excited that one of my initiatives for women was considered,” says Dragoo, who recently attended The Global Entrepreneurship Summit with President Obama and other international business leaders.
“Billie is an amazing leader and role model,” says Sue of Dragoo, who also serves as CEO of RepuCare. “I feel very strongly that the Indiana Conference for Women is an excellent opportunity for women to network and get inspired to do more.”
Speaking of doing more, as President of Ivy Tech, Sue brings with her a powerful agenda designed to facilitate success for their students. As Lt. Governor, she served as Vice Chair of the Indiana Career Council, which focuses on aligning education with workforce needs. The committee set the goal of 60 percent of our Hoosier workforce having postsecondary credentials/degrees by 2025. This means an additional one million Hoosiers need to skill up, and the bulk of those degrees will come from community colleges, such as Ivy Tech. Currently, there are 20,000 graduates with certificates and/or associate degrees from Ivy Tech Community College each year. That number needs to more than double to meet the goal.
Sue intimately understands the needed flexibility with earning degrees. It took her eight years of commuting to Louisville from Evansville to complete her doctorate in industrial engineering. A high level of patience and persistence, along with family support, carried her through.
The importance of increasing flexibility for degree completion, accompanied with courses that assist with skilling up our workforce such as Ivy Tech’s partnership with Eleven Fifty Academy, are a few ways Ivy Tech is working to elevate the graduation rate for their students.
“There will be one million tech jobs in 2020,” says Eleven Fifty Academy President John Qualls. “The number is staggering, and the opportunity is there for students to enroll in coding classes. The partnership with Ivy Tech opens the door for students to reach their potential and bridge this gap.”
At various growth stages of Sue’s life, she has had the pleasure of being around inspiring mentors. She believes strongly in giving back and in being a mentor to others. Before leaving office as Lt. Governor, Sue left a legacy by being a part of many amazing programs. She is walking into leadership with Ivy Tech Community College with the skill set to create, perhaps, her most meaningful impact.