Sometimes people know exactly what job they want from a young age. Others start out in one profession and serendipity leads them to another. Both happened in the life and career of Joy Colwell, assistant dean for graduate studies and associate professor of organizational leadership and supervision at Purdue University Calumet.
“In first grade I thought I would be a teacher because I had a wonderful teacher. I got there, but I didn’t take the straight path,” says Colwell, 52, of Munster.
A graduate of Indiana University Bloomington, the Columbus, Indiana, native earned an English degree and enrolled at the IU School of Law. After law school graduation, she relocated in 1984 to Northwest Indiana to join a law firm. Colwell also trained lawyers in civil mediation through the Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum. In 1992, the ICLEF asked Colwell to speak at an event attended by Carl Jenks, school of technology organizational leadership professor at Purdue University Calumet.
“Carl Jenks invited me to teach here as a guest lecturer,” says Colwell, now a tenured associate professor. “Soon teaching became what I do. I’ve been full-time here since 2000.”
Two years ago, Colwell was asked to help develop a new graduate program at PUC. That program – the Master of Science degree in Technology—is now in its second year with more than 100 students enrolled.
The 33-credit-hour graduate degree “is a broad umbrella degree. Students can focus on one of eight different areas in technology,” Colwell says. “Or they can do an interdisciplinary program. It’s a customizable degree that can be fitted to the participant’s needs.”
This program has become very popular “because there isn’t anything similar in the area. There was a pent-up demand,” she says. “We are preparing our students for leadership or managerial roles in technical fields.” Some of the students are working at full-time jobs and want to advance in their fields. Others want to enhance their supervisory skills.
“This program is designed to cater to working adults,” Colwell says. Two-thirds of those enrolled are part-time students. Classes are offered in the evenings Monday through Thursday and online. Most students take two classes each semester. “It makes it easier for working adults to work class into their schedules.”
As assistant dean in charge of this degree program, Colwell works in various aspects of the program. For example, she coordinates information for the admissions committee and reviews curriculum proposals for courses.
Part of the graduate program is an applied research project that all students must complete to receive their master’s degrees. “This is not a thesis program, although students do a general written report on their project,” Colwell says. Getting students started on this project allows Colwell to keep her hand in teaching.
PUC works closely with area industries to apply the work students do to the needs of those businesses. “It’s a good opportunity for local businesses to get help with problems or where they’d like to see improvements,” she says.
Once a self-professed couch potato, Colwell immersed herself in fitness and self-defense programs six years ago. Kick boxing and weight training were among the first areas she mastered during workouts at Fitness Pointe. Then she began to study Tae Kwon Do at the Modern Day Martial Arts studio in Munster and has earned a black belt in this martial art.
“I took up martial arts in my late 40s. It was a nice progress from cardio and kick boxing to the real thing,” Colwell says. She also gets to teach classes in fitness and kick boxing when she subs for instructors at Fitness Pointe because she holds a certification awarded by the American Council on Exercise.
Colwell says she gets the most satisfaction out of watching her PUC students “find out they can do things they never dreamed they could do.” As a first-generation college graduate, she says she is able to relate to students at the urban campus who are themselves the first in their families to attend college.
“College can be a big challenge. I get a lot of satisfaction from watching them succeed. These students are really working hard and have a lot to juggle in their lives with work, school, families. They have to make their education a priority.”
In addition, Colwell says, she’s found teaching to be a rewarding experience because of the variety of students she encounters.
“We have traditional college-aged students and those who are returning to school after many years,” she says. “It makes for good discussions.”