From cashiering to coding: One student’s journey to a career in Computer Science

Alex Riester came to Ivy Tech in 2019 to study Computer Science, not realizing the impact the College was going to have on his life and career.

“When I first enrolled as a student, I was working as a cashier and had no coding or programming experience at all,” he explained. “I did not know the difference between Java and JavaScript.”

Two years later, Alex is finishing his Associate of Science – scheduled to graduate this May. In addition to his studies, Alex is participating in two internships; one with the CCEC’s Launch Lab in the North Meridian Center and the other as a CRM intern with the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. Before his internships, Alex was a student ambassador, which is how he first learned about the Launch Lab opportunity.

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From dropping out to SGA president

As she stood in front of an audience at the Indy Achieves Ribbon Cutting and Grand Opening Celebration, Tapiwa Mzumara took a moment to reflect on everything leading up to that moment. The second-year Biotechnology student and President of the Student Government Association returned to finish what she started eight years ago through the Indy Achieves Completion Grant and has made a significant impact on her fellow students and Ivy Tech community since returning.

“In 2013, I was a bright-eyed freshman, ready to learn and ready to achieve. But I had obstacles.”

Tapiwa Mzumara

In her first semester at Ivy Tech, her mother was chronically ill, causing her to be in and out of the hospital. Additionally, Tapiwa was an undocumented immigrant, anticipating becoming a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient. Being in mixed-status family (for immigration) and her mother’s illness caused her to leave school midway through her freshman year.

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Ivy Tech Alumni finds passion and success in health care field

Jessica Day was a mother of 4 and was 44 years old when she took the leap of returning to college.

“I was nervous,” She said. “But the staff at orientation attracted me to Ivy Tech. They all were encouraging and had something to say towards all ages.”

Jessica graduated from Ivy Tech with a certified nursing assistant (CNA) certification and healthcare specialist and pre-nursing credentials. She is currently utilizing her degrees in her field of study as a patient care technician (PCT) and Unit Rep at the St. Vincent Women’s hospital neonatal intensive care unit (NICU.)

Building a career around your education is no easy feat. Fortunately for Jessica, she found incredible support and many resources at Ivy Tech Community College.

“Ivy Tech gave me great tools for good communication, and confidence.” Jessica said. “Each professor, advisor, and tutor I’ve had so far has given me encouragement and wisdom and has taught me with dedication and discipline.”

While studying at Ivy Tech, Jessica utilized the TRIO Student Support services program. TRIO Student Support services is a federally funded program by the U.S. Department of Education that provides additional support services to first-generation, low-income, and/or students with a disability during their time enrolled in college. For more information about TRIO services, visit

“I love TRIO!” Jessica said, “They are always welcoming. Everyone in this program is so thoughtful and comforting through trials I and others have faced. TRIO is a family really, all working together to encourage one another towards meetings goals and accomplishing them.”

Students in the Healthcare Specialist program at Ivy Tech as are able to study a wide variety of certification options including Dementia Care, Phlebotomy, Pharmacy Technician, Certified Nursing Aide, and more. Students receive clinical hands-on practice in actual healthcare settings, with a mix of classroom and time in the lab.

For Jessica, the Healthcare Specialist program is just the beginning of her education aspirations. Jessica plans to apply to the Ivy Tech Nursing Program for the spring of 2022 and later transfer to IUPUI to get a BSN and one day complete nurse practitioner (NP) credentials.

“I desire to stay in NICU and be an NNP.” Jessica said, “But plans change sometimes, so I am willing to go another direction if I end up liking another type of care better once I am working towards a Masters.”

Jessica encourages other aspiring health care workers to take the same leap she did and choose to study at Ivy Tech Community College. “You make be asking yourself, ‘Should I go to this school?’ I say absolutely.” Jessica said, “Not only will you save money, but you will have help every step of the way. If you ask, they will help you…They will always work on leading you in the right direction. Take that direction and you will flourish.”

Does Jessica’s academic journey sound like something you want for yourself? Ivy Tech has classes in all programs stating in March. You can apply for free today at For more information about the wide array of healthcare opportunities at Ivy Tech, visit

Ivy Tech allows engineering student to go “all in”

When Blaine Wilken commits to something, he really commits.

That was true of his service in the United States Coast Guard and it’s true in his work as a controls engineer at Bastian Solutions, a systems integrator and engineering firm in Carmel. And it was certainly true of how he approached academics as an Ivy Tech Community College student.

After two active duty tours with the Coast Guard, Wilken decided to return home to Indiana. It had been 14 years since he’d taken a college class, but he decided to move forward–quickly. He took advantage of grants, including the Post 9/11 GI bill and Indiana Frank O’Bannon Grant,
while earning 19 credits in his first semester–significantly more than the 12-15 earned by most
full-time Ivy Tech students.

Blaine Wilken

“I had my doubts,” Wilken says, “but starting strong gave me the reassurance to confidently
move forward.”

Wilken took some time to consider different career paths, drawing on his prior experience as an
electrician, in maintenance, and as a Chief Petty Officer and Senior Enlisted Reserve Advisor.

He soon found a great option, however, in Ivy Tech’s School of Advanced Manufacturing,
Engineering and Applied Science.

“I had no idea what degree I wanted to pursue,” Wilken explains, “but within my first semester,
research and guidance led me to pursue the electrical engineering technology program.”

The Wilken family, clockwise from upper left: Cora Leigh, Blaine, Tara, and Liam

Wilken was drawn to the program due to its career relevance and the fact it embedded a Technical Certificate in Electronics and Computer Technology. Most importantly, the associate degree program allowed Wilken to transfer his credits and continue on toward a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering technology, which he earned at IUPUI. For Wilken, the transfer
option was the ideal match to his needs.

“Ivy Tech was a great reintroduction to college with small class sizes and a very professional
and approachable staff,” he says. “This was very important to my preparation to move to IUPUI,
as well as help to build a solid foundation of study skills and routines to my success as a college

While Wilken acknowledges the efforts of many Ivy Tech staff and faculty members, he
especially appreciated Mark Atkins, program chair of electrical engineering technology at the
Indianapolis campus.

“Mark’s professional guidance was a key factor in assuring me I made the right choice to move
forward with the program,” Wilken says, “Mark is a great professor, and always gave his time to
help me grasp concepts I struggled with–which happened often.”

Now that Wilken has achieved his goal of earning a position in engineering, he encourages
others to consider starting at Ivy Tech–and then, as he did, going all in.

“I can honestly say that without beginning at Ivy Tech,” he says, “I am not sure it would have
been able to stay on this path so seamlessly.”

Ivy Tech Alumni receives portion of $25K prize through Techpoint’s “S.O.S. Challenge”

Ivy Tech alumni, Merouane Baoch, was a part of the winning Transportation App team in Techpoint’s Summer Opportunities for Students (S.O.S.) Challenge. As a reward, Baoch will receive a portion of the $25,000 prize.

Techpoint’s S.O.S. Challenge was a replacement activity for the Summer Xtern program that Techpoint sponsors every summer. Students were grouped into teams supported by local businesses, and for 4 weeks worked on elaborate projects that aimed to provide solutions to this years themed obstacle: COVID-19.

The various teams created innovative solutions for Indiana businesses, nonprofit, tourism, sports, transportation and health organizations. Baoch’s team tackled a transportation issue, limiting the risk of viral spread while travelers navigate the security process at airports.

Their solution? NoQ, “An optimized time-scheduling application to prebook TSA slots to enable airlines and airports deliver travelers a no-hassle, COVID-safe, flying experience.”

The teams with the highest evaluation point totals – including Baoch’s transportation team – presented their proposed solutions to Governor Eric J. Holcomb via Zoom on July 31. The projects, he said, “reinforce Indiana’s place in the world where Indiana stands for Indiana but also innovation.”

For more information about Techpoint’s S.O.S. challenge and an overview of all of the amazing projects, visit To check out the NoQ App, click here.