Earn a degree at work. She did.

Published: March 16, 2021

Komo Pic2

Komo Yawa Ouattara, pictured here, heard the benefits at Notre Dame were excellent, which is one of the reasons she applied and came to work here in 2015.

In May, Ouattara, who works as a custodian at the Morris Inn, will graduate from Ivy Tech Community College through Notre Dame’s Learning at Work Academy

Ouattara earned an associate degree in applied science in business administration, at no cost.

“I didn’t know I could do it, but I did,” said Ouattara. 

The Learning at Work Academy, launched in 2007, encourages the professional growth and career advancement of staff members, regardless of the person’s role or work schedule.

The program includes computer skills training, high school equivalency (GED), English as a New Language (ENL) and workplace literacy, and allows employees to attend classes on Notre Dame’s campus while working.

“The University provides the time to take the courses and at no cost to staff. It is beyond anything I’ve seen in my career,” said Chris Hatfield, senior director for building services.

That’s why he is such an advocate for the program. “Learning at Work is a great benefit to staff who want to improve their professional and life skills. It’s very gratifying to watch team members attain educational goals they have set for themselves and see them actually apply their new skills on the job.” 

Ouattara is an example of someone who strived to achieve her educational goals and succeeded. She had a dream to pursue a college degree, but she knew she would need to improve her English in order to make that happen. She was born in Côte d’Ivoire (the Ivory Coast), a French-speaking country on the south coast of West Africa.

Participating in the ENL and high school equivalency programs gave Ouattara confidence and allowed her to become familiar with education in the U.S. It was colleagues in the program that inspired her to go for it.

More than 130 individuals have earned a college degree through the Ivy Tech program and many have continued on to achieve bachelor and master degrees. Classes are offered on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. The program is flexible, allowing individuals to choose whether to take one or up to four courses at a time. The University covers the cost for all tuition fees and books. Coursework is accelerated, with two eight-week terms per semester. 

“The classes are challenging,” Ouattara said, acknowledging that at times it was difficult to balance work, family and homework. 

“But easy is not rewarding,” she said. 

When asked about her favorite class, Ouattara said, “Microeconomics was very useful. When I see the news about the economy (faltering) or the (possibility of the) minimum wage being raised, I remember what I learned from that class. I might not have known about these things if I had not taken the class. I loved it.”

Another thing she loved was watching her daughter Hadja Ouattara graduate from the Ivy Tech program in 2019. Hadja also works as a custodian at Notre Dame. 

“I came to this country for my two children and I am so happy for my daughter,” Komo said.

If you would like to learn more about the Ivy Tech Learning at Work program, join an information session via Zoom Thursday, March 25, from 2 to 3 p.m. Register here.

Originally published by Susan Hurley and Emily Naff, Office of Human Resources at ndworks.nd.edu on March 16, 2021.