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Portrait of Isabel Nunez in an office

Education students make positive impact long before graduation

Overshadowed to some extent by last July’s historic rollout of two new colleges focused on liberal arts and science, respectively, were several other transformative changes to Purdue Fort Wayne’s academic organizational structure. One of the more intriguing examples saw the School of Education branch out on its own as a college-level, standalone unit.

Consisting of three departments—Counseling and Graduate Education, Human Services, and Teacher Education—the school is beginning to reap the rewards of greater visibility, both on and off campus, which has led to enhanced partnerships with the school districts and community organizations its students serve.

In addition to what they learn through required coursework, students in all programs benefit from a significant amount of experiential learning in real-world settings throughout the region. It might be these opportunities away from the classroom that prompt the greatest sense of pride from school leaders.

“From their very first courses, our students are out in the community collaborating with their future colleagues and building a professional identity,” said Isabel Nuñez, professor of educational studies and director of the School of Education. “By the time they graduate, each has spent hundreds of hours in the type of setting in which they’ll soon work; our programs as a whole contribute thousands of hours annually to area organizations. When our graduates step into their first professional role, they are ready.”

During the past year, students in the school’s Department of Human Services alone logged a total of 11,340 hours at clinical sites off campus and volunteered for 500 more. According to estimates based on information provided by Independent Sector, a national organization that helps track the value of volunteer time, these services saved area organizations at least $304,000. This figure rises significantly when factoring in similar work provided by every School of Education student across all departments. For all involved, these mutually beneficial experiences are invaluable.

“We help prepare students for professions that assist individuals and families in a variety of contexts, including community organizations, courts, and hospitals,” said Patricia Eber, associate professor and chair of the Department of Human Services. “Nonprofit human service programs are the second-leading employer in Allen County. Our students provide tremendous support to these essential agencies.”

Equally impactful student experiences are found in the Department of Counseling and Graduate Education, which houses programs that prepare special educators, school leaders, counselors, and teachers at the graduate level, and in the Department of Teacher Education, which offers undergraduate programs that prepare students to teach in early childhood, elementary, middle school, and high school classrooms.

Beginning this week, these and many other opportunities available through the School of Education are being shared using a refreshed and expanded website. This milestone in the university’s comprehensive overhaul of its digital presence follows the rollout of the new College of Visual and Performing Arts website last month.

“Emphasizing a consistent theme of service to others, our new website does a wonderful job of showcasing the variety of educational experiences and professional contexts students can be a part of in the School of Education,” added Nuñez. “We hope it will help individuals find their callings to serve, whether that’s in an office, classroom, clinic, or nonprofit agency. There are so many exciting possibilities.”

All three departments are continuing to strive to meet the needs of the region. During the current academic year, the school has created five new licensure programs to address the well-documented and years-long educator shortage in Indiana. Work is also being done to remedy a significant shortage of human services professionals.

“On any given day, Indeed posts on its job site between 500–625 open human services positions in our area,” added Eber.

Challenges in the education field are real, but so are the opportunities to make a lasting difference in the lives of others.

In the near future, excitement about a full return of in-person events and a more traditional commencement ceremony in May to celebrate recent graduates are two of the many things the School of Education is looking forward to as it approaches its second year as an independent unit at Purdue Fort Wayne.

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