Start Small but Dream Big

Debra Cook takes success one step at a time

Debra CookIf there’s one word to describe Debra Cook, it’s “tenacious.”

After first being hesitant about going back to school as a non-traditional student, she enrolled at Ivy Tech Community College. The initial draw was the option of earning certifications that would allow her to start her career more quickly than she could by committing to a degree. Once enrolled, however, she was encouraged to continue, and she earned an associate degree in computer information systems. At the time, she knew a high school diploma wasn’t enough to allow her to achieve her goals, and she credits Ivy Tech for making it possible for her to aim higher.

“It used to be you could graduate from high school and get a good job immediately,” Cook says. “We’re competing for jobs globally now. That requires skills and education. I chose Ivy Tech Community College because of the major factors of affordability and accessibility, but more than that, the flexibility they offered was crucial to my success as a non-traditional student.”

Debra QuoteCook says her experience at Ivy Tech exceeded her expectations, giving her skills that would translate to a variety of environments and professions. It also allowed her to make a name for herself in information technology—no small feat, given how rare it is for women to take a leadership role in the field.

“My degree in computer information systems provided a broad base of skills that continue to benefit me today,” recalls Cook. “Problem solving, data analysis, organizing information in spreadsheets, presenting data—
I learned all of these things at Ivy Tech.”

After completing her studies at Ivy Tech, Cook decided to continue on, earning a bachelor of science from Indiana Wesleyan University and eventually a master’s degree of public affairs in public management from Indiana University—all while working full-time for the City of Kokomo’s economic development office and raising three children. Now the CEO of the Housing Authority of the City of Kokomo, she was recently honored with Ivy Tech’s 2014 Alumni Achievement Award for Personal Achievement.

“I was very proud and humbled to receive the acknowledgment,” Cook says. “My family shared in that sense of pride because they know how hard I worked to get where I am today.”

Cook also serves as an adjunct faculty member at Indiana University Kokomo and sees her students struggling with the same balancing act of work, family, and other commitments that she did. Her advice to them is simple—and reflective of her belief in the power of tenacity.

“Start slow,” she states. “And build up your confidence. Make it a priority. There will be a million excuses why you think you can’t do it. Time will pass and things will progress. Why not use that time to earn a degree and improve your station in life?”

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