Purdue leaders embrace future

July 2nd, 2018

By Ron Shawgo | The Journal Gazette

Change has been subtle and mostly behind the scenes at the emerging Purdue Fort Wayne, but its future is coming into focus.

Chancellor Ronald Elsenbaumer, who began at IPFW in November, said he has made only one leadership change, naming an interim vice chancellor for communications and chief marketing officer.

“I'm extremely pleased with our leadership here,” he said. “I know that doesn't happen often when a new person steps into a new organization.” 

Elsenbaumer said he spent much of his first 100 days out of the office talking with the community. He met with a cross section, he said, including legislators and more than 300 business leaders.

That has led to an understanding of the type of workers regional employers need. But Elsenbaumer dispels any notion that Purdue Fort Wayne will downplay liberal arts in favor of business sciences.

“What's important here, and what I think is an important message for our community, is that Purdue Fort Wayne is that flagship public institution in northeast Indiana and will remain a comprehensive academic institution providing both undergraduate and graduate degrees at the master's level,” he said. “I see that as being our mission for the foreseeable future.”

IPFW splits into Purdue Fort Wayne and Indiana University Fort Wayne today.

New bachelor of science degrees in psychology, early childhood education and business and new schools of polytechnic, education and music are part of an effort to add programs relevant to employers. There likely will be others.

Purdue Fort Wayne wants to be a greater resource for the civic and nonprofit communities, Elsenbaumer said. “Everybody needs highly skilled employees, and they should be looking to us.”

The university will continue to expand programs most relevant to the economy, said Carl Drummond, vice chancellor for academic affairs. Among them: technology and polytechnic degrees; engineering and computer science degrees; actuarial science; applied statistics, data analysis.

“The interface between business statistics and advanced manufacturing are critical places for us,” he said. So is developing an entrepreneurial spirit, which large companies need as much as small ones, he added.

Last year, IPFW had 7,708 degree-seeking students and 2,249 not seeking a degree.

What PFW won't have is the 500-student nursing school, which transitions to Indiana University Fort Wayne. After general studies, nursing was IPFW's largest program. Filling that gap will have to be done in bits and pieces, Drummond said. Programs exploring popular music, which PFW will operate out of Sweetwater Sound beginning next month, have potential to fill a large part of the gap and offer significant growth, but there are no guarantees, he said.

Sweetwater will be home to PFW's music technology program. Other music programs will continue to operate on campus.

Sweetwater is a major online retailer of musical instruments and audio gear, serving musicians, recording studios, broadcast, education and houses of worship. It's converting an 8,000-square-foot building south of the company's main offices into state-of-the-art studios, classrooms and other teaching space for PFW students.

“We're doing an entirely new area of study with regard to popular music,” said John O'Connell, dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts. “So, popular composing, popular singing combined with a degree in music industry. A lot of those programs will be housed at the Sweetwater music center. That's not happening anywhere in the nation.”

The Visual and Performing Arts College has embraced the realignment but was ahead of the curve, O'Connell said. Transition of the department of art and design – combining departments of fine arts and visual communication and design – began two years ago.

PFW's new music school will offer the only music degree in the Purdue system. That means Purdue will have to behave more as a system and tell a student interested in music to go to Fort Wayne, O'Connell said.

He also echoed others who praise the Purdue brand.

“This entire year, being able to hang Purdue Fort Wayne signs on our recruiting booths and our high school fairs has been an advantage for us,” O'Connell said.

There will be changes in student recruitment consistent with the school's new branding: education with a purpose, Elsenbaumer said. The school's career services center will be integral in helping students find that purpose to meet their career aspirations, he said. 

“I think what the community can look forward to is our being a very visible presence,” Drummond said. “For any number of reasons we've pulled back over the last decade in terms of our public presence. I think you're going to see Purdue Fort Wayne marketed in a different and more aggressive way. I think you're going to see us recruiting students younger” and expanding geographically.

“The clarity of the name, the power of the Purdue brand,” Drummond said, “can't be understated.”