Transcript of Sarah Polk Podcast, Episode 1
Interview between Ben Liechty, Director of Alumni Relations at Indiana University Kokomo and alumna Sarah Polk.
Ben: Well, good evening. My name is Benjamin Liechty. I am the director of alumni relations at Indiana University Kokomo, and I also am the liaison to the IU Alumni Association Kokomo Region. We are so fortunate to have with us Sarah Polk, who is an alumnus of Indiana University Kokomo, twice over. And she serves as the people development lead at FCA in Tipton, Indiana. Is that correct, Sarah?
Sarah: Yes, that’s right.
Ben: Alright, well thank you so much, Sarah, for spending time with us today. We are so happy to have you with us.
Sarah: Thank you. It’s a joy. You know I love getting to communicate with you and of course, anytime we can talk about IU Kokomo, I’m all for it.
Ben: Thank you. So just to kind of dive in, we’ll kind of break this up into three parts. We’ll kind of talk about reflecting on your time while you were in school, and please feel free to use both your undergrad and your graduate degree times at IU Kokomo. Kind of discuss some questions relating to your current career, things you do, and then lastly, we’ll kind of wrap up discussing questions relating to your alumni experience.
Sarah: That sounds great.
Ben: So, the first question that I want to start off asking you is could you tell us maybe a little bit more about your student experience, and maybe some of the things, like your thoughts of campus and the extracurricular activities that you partook in while you were a student at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Sarah: Yeah, for sure. So, student activities was a huge role in my campus experience because I was able to get a position there freshmen year, and so I was really in the know about what student activities were going on, what clubs and things that we had to offer student body and things like that. So, I was encouraged by someone to just really dive into that and get connected as soon as possible outside of class to kind of really get that college experience and grow some friendships and just develop as a person. And so, I took that advice to heart and share it with everyone that I speak to as a freshman, even in graduate levels, just how much value and enrichment there is in the people that attend the campus, whether they’re a student or a faculty member going to work, staff. So, I was involved in student union board, I was involved in the newspaper at the time, you know the Correspondent, as the business manager there, Students in Free Enterprise, which is now called ENACTUS. I was actually, I think, a junior in college when that transition in, you know, names and marketing went on and just so many opportunities within those groups to help with event planning and with connecting to local businesses, and networking as well as getting to give back to the community for like let’s can hunger, working with Campbell’s, and you know, before the food pantry existed at IU Kokomo, we were able to help with the food insecurity in Kokomo, and gosh, I just can’t speak enough about it. Like, getting involved as a student and finding what that looks like, you know, I was fortunate that the clubs that I joined, you know, we hit it off and made great friendships and it was a good fit for me, but, you know, it’s just as important to learn what isn’t a good fit as what is sometimes, and so even if that first club that you sign up for isn’t quite for you, or you and the people don’t connect, switch to a different one and see what that’s like and it makes a really big difference in how you’re able to navigate through campus and what your, you know, day-to-day looks like.
Ben: Absolutely. So, what did you think of IU Kokomo, you know, after you graduated and then maybe the more and more that you continued to get away from when you graduated, and you can use both times that you graduated, how has your thoughts of IU Kokomo changed, evolved, what have you?
Sarah: I just have a real respect for the campus and the leadership on campus and just the real passion that they have for students. And I have seen it grow over the years under, you know, Sue Sciame-Giesecke and just all that she has done in her leadership, it’s awesome to have a female Chancellor and to see kind of how the way she runs the world and the big impacts that she makes in the ways she inspires all of us whether it’s alumni or students or faculty or staff to just kind of, you know, follow that leadership and that passion, so I would say as I graduated, I just had immense pride and respect for the campus and shared it with everyone, was super excited about my experience and wanted to stay involved in the campus, so I helped create a mentor program with Students in Free Enterprise when I was in college. Gabby VanAlstine actually was helping with that at the time and then as an alumni, they asked me to come back and to help with a student each semester and I got to, kind of, impart the wisdom that I had at that level to them, so having been out into the work field and helping freshmen, sophomores, and juniors just kind of figure out the next steps and what that looks like. I would say that respect and that passion for it has only continued to grow just because the campus has continued to grow and so what was impressive before has only continued to impress me and give me a lot of pride to share around the community.
Ben: That’s great. We appreciate your support. We’re going to take a break, but we’ll be right back after this brief message.
Ben: Follow the IUAA Kokomo Region social media pages on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to stay up to date on alumni programming and events. The IUAA Kokomo Region serves all IU Kokomo alumni as well as IU alumni residing in Howard and Tipton counties.
Ben: Welcome back! We’re so happy to have with us today, alumna Sarah Polk. Alright, so shifting to your career path. How do you feel IU Kokomo prepared you for your career?
Sarah: Oh, man. I feel like they did everything that they could as far as items that they offered to help make sure we had access. I think really if a student’s not going to be successful after campus it’s really because they didn’t take advantage of what’s available to them. So the fact that they offer career services, you know, office and have people there ready and willing to help you learn about internships and what is available and if we don’t have something that is suited to what you’re looking for, you know, going out and helping you find that, as well as, you know, resources within the library to help you with your writing skills and things, I mean, every year they had a job fair that we were able to attend and they had some specific to majors even at that time where you could be in there for nursing or business and what that looked like. They would be sure to have opportunities for networking events. We had an etiquette lunch where you could learn not just how to eat in front of people but how to carry on a conversation with a drink in your hand and a piece of food and how to navigate that. I think that the professors and the staff really take an interest in students and so they put this information out there and are genuine in saying, “hey, if you want some assistance, let me know.” I know that professors are willing to write letters of recommendation, but not for everybody. And so, if for some reason you went to somebody and asked for it, and they didn’t feel they were equipped to give it to you based on what they knew, they would give you pointers, like, “hey, you know what, why don’t we meet up again or here’s something that you could do and then, yeah, I would feel comfortable writing something for you,” so it wasn’t like they just handed everything to you, but there was every opportunity there. And that’s something that I appreciated as a student, just because, especially your freshman year and your sophomore year, you’re kind of floating through, like, you know what you’re doing, but you really don’t and so having people there to guide you was excellent.
Ben: Good. So, what is a typical day like for you in your position as people development lead at FCA?
Sarah: Sure. So, a typical day consists of regular meetings. So, each day of the week those look a little different, but we always have our morning meetings to kind of set the tone at Chrysler, we are looking to build transmissions, and so we do have some real goals to meet there. And in my role, it’s about training and development, and of course human resources, so we’re looking at making sure the people we have in the building are ready to go for the day and that they’re being able to work in a safe environment, and that they’re trained appropriately for their safety and the safety of the customer by ensuring quality parts. So, my day to day consists of being able to review the training plans for employees on the floor all the way up to the plant manager, so everyone has an individual development plan where we list out what the goals are for the year and then we check in with those, and so we have a lot of courses that we offer online and in person, and that’s changed a little bit with the COVID environment, but we’re making it work. And so, we’re able to do a lot of strategic planning and we try to stay connected with the pulse of the plant and what we have going on, so whatever the business objectives are, we are attuned to them and are planning for them. So, we’re not going to train in an area that isn’t necessary for our growth, and at the same time, we’re going to be remedial and if something just hasn’t seemed to click or it’s been awhile and we need to refresh then we review that as well. When it comes to managing our people, from a human resources perspective, I mean, yeah, there’s the hard work of the discipline and having to make sure people are coming in and attendance and things like that, but, you know, also there’s a lot of uncertainty during this time and how do we offer them a safe space and let them know we care about them as people and that even though things are uncertain they don’t have to be scary. And so, things fluctuate, I would say the day is very adaptable and flexible and it’s just it’s ever-evolving. I think that’s just the way most industries are right now, but in people development, you know, we are constantly dealing with humans and all that that entails, so if they make a mistake, we help them grow from that mistake and learn not to make it again and work with our counterparts in engineering and other facets to kind of prevent that and at the same token, if they have suggestions or ideas, we get to run with those, too. So, we have a program where recognizing them for their efforts and coming alongside them and creating new projects to support their efforts because, especially with our hourly workforce, you know, they’re in it on the day-to-day and they know what’s going to, you know, help us to be in here for the long haul because they want it for themselves and for the company and we do too, so we take their suggestions seriously. So, I think that was a messy, roundabout way of saying there’s a lot to it and it’s very good and it’s just ever-changing, but we have a focus of developing people and continuing that on in a lot of facets.
Ben: Uh huh. Well and it also sounds like, too, based on what you’ve been saying, is that, in a way, you are kind of, you’re almost in charge of mentoring these people you are working with and further developing, you know, your staff to make sure that you can get them to not only be productive on the floor and things like that, but just so they feel comfortable doing what they’ve been hired to do and you take an interest in them so they can appropriately evolve, move forward, and be a part of the overall mission, vision of the organization.
Sarah: Exactly. And it is, you know, something that we have to be mindful of. Because even with all of our best efforts, when you hire as many people that we do in the Kokomo area, it can be hard for them to not feel like a number, to feel like, ‘hey when is this change going to happen,’ because change can take time, but yeah, people development is that kind of face of human resources where, you know, we do provide avenues for them to come to us, and you know, find those facets that they need to really have that positive work environment or at least, you know, have some trust that things are going to improve based on their suggestions and, yeah, I mean, whether that’s they need to go to this class to learn this new skill or whether it’s, ‘hey, you know, we would like to give back to the community and I work second shift, you know, I don’t get to attend the things that you guys are offering in the evenings, is there something we can offer for us during the day that we could participate in?’ And so, working with our community partners at the United Way and figuring out volunteer opportunities that, you know, fit all the shifts that we have.
Ben: Great. One of the things, I’ve been kind of noticing some themes as we’ve been talking, and I always have appreciated this about you as we’ve worked together with the alumni association, but you are one of the most positive people I think I have ever met in my entire life, and I think I have shared that with you before. But, how important do you think it is in one’s career, and it doesn’t matter what career that is, but just generally speaking, maybe even insofar as to say in one’s personal life, to have that kind of positive attitude?
Sarah: Yeah. I think it’s unfair for me to speak about this because it’s just something wrong with me as a person that makes me this extroverted and joyful, but, I see value in it because I definitely have a lot of friends who are way more meh and just monotone about things, like we get along well and we have a great time, but there’s just differences in the way that we approach things. I think there’s value in being a realist, right? Like I would say I’m an optimistic realist, but, you know, some of my friends are just really real, and, I think you want to not lose hope. So, positivity’s great and I think in my field, it’s important for me to have a good vibe that I get off of being, you know, happy and joyful and like providing that happiness to others when they’re having a bad day, you know, I try to make an effort to do that. But I think it has more to do with just like your overall outlook and your view of life. So, you might not be a positive, bubbly person, but you still have hope in the future, you still have an understanding that what you do matters in some capacity and it’s going to bring about good things. So I would say I’m very upbeat and positive, almost to an annoying capacity, depending on how your personality is, but I think behind that the deeper piece of it that I think is more important for everyone is just that kind of just trust and hope that things, even in adverse times, or even when things aren’t great, is like there is good that will come of this and I’m going to learn something from it, and, I’m going to have a good time doing it if not, we’re going to figure it out. So I appreciate your kind words; it’s nice to be seen as a positive person, but I think it’s just this overall hope that I have in life, that just helps me exude that a little easier, but I definitely know friends that are not as buzzy and positive that still have this great work ethic and knowledge and trust of like, they’re doing the right thing and that’s going to bring about more good to the world and so I think if you’re trying to take that next right step, and you’re always moving forward in some capacity, that’s what’s going to get you moving forward more so than that, you know, bubbly, you know, kind of like customer service charm.
Ben: Well, and I do think it goes without say, that you know, I mean in this day and age, there’s a lot of negativity that’s in the world and I think if we as individuals and people, regardless if a person identifies as a positive or, as you said, kind of a ‘meh’ type of person, you know, I do think that can help a person’s outlook on the work that they are doing, how they’re achieving and accomplishing tasks, and, you know, we all do things in our positions where we may not necessarily care much for them or we may not like them, but even being able to kind of check those things off one’s list, that’s gratifying. So, to me, I’m like that’s a win, that’s a positive, and that, like, is kind of like food for my soul, so to speak.
Sarah: Uh huh, no, I agree with you, and I think that is one of the most sage pieces of advice I received in my career. About a year and a half ago, I was talking with someone at Chrysler who’s been there for like 20-plus years working in like accounting, you know, riveting things, and she was like discussing work and, I think we all go through lulls where we’re just like, ‘am I making a difference, is this really right for me, like, how are things going, this project was, you know, upsetting.’ I think I was just having one of those weeks where I was just kind of evaluating and not feeling like I was, you know, contributing as much or getting as much or whatever that looks like, and she was just like, hey, she was like, a job is a job at the end of the day, she was like, you’re not always going to love your job, there’s going to be assets and facets of it that are just going to wear on you at times, and she said it’s important to know what your core values are and try to incorporate those into your work life. And, you know, like you said, there’s always going to be those tasks you just want to check off the list and at least I got it done and that feels good, but, you know, if you have a passion for something, you need to bring your whole self to work and figure out what that looks like, and Chrysler has been a place where I feel like that’s encouraged, like, not everybody’s things are the same, like we’re not always going to agree or vibe in the same capacity, what excites you may not excite me, but you know, there are going to be other people that can get on board with what you bring, and so that’s really nice about working in people development human resources that we’re very encouraged and part of our goals are to have that community involvement so things that excite me and encourage me, like mentoring, I get to easily incorporate. But even as an accountant, you know, if your passion is, you know, bridge, you know, start something up, make it happen, and you know, just having that built in to your lunch hour can you know really bring a difference, so always find something that you truly enjoy and try to incorporate that in the work environment and you’ll be good for longer than you would if you didn’t.
Ben: Absolutely, I totally agree with that. Um, we’ll do one last question in the career section and then we’ll move into the alumni section.
Ben: What skills would you be looking for in a recent graduate if you were hiring?
Sarah: I would say the skill set I would be looking for in a recent graduate if I were hiring, is to be a self-starter, to show the ability to not just be able to learn and do the tasks, but to take initiative. I think sometimes some of our graduates come into the work force and they’re very task-oriented, but they’re so nervous about doing the wrong thing, or wanting to impress that they’re scared to take that to the next level, and so they don’t incorporate their whole selves into that project, like they give it the best that they have, but they don’t put their spin on it or that extra level that they can bring to the table. And so I would want to see our graduates doing that, being, not able to be sure they can be coached and taught, but that they will take that extra initiative to go that extra mile and I would say a good characteristic or a good skill set to have would be to be able to communicate well with others in a variety of settings and that’s something I feel like I was fortunate to get at IU Kokomo was, like I said, that smaller class feel, you’re more involved with the staff and the faculty and so you get that mentorship relationship from them early on to be able to communicate with somebody that has been in their profession for many years now and to glean that knowledge from them but to be able to have regular conversation, and not just, ‘hi sir, hi ma’am, my name is Sarah,’ you know. I think that for our graduates coming into the workforce, it’s important that they know how to kick it with an employee on the floor that’s been doing the job for 30 years and the plant manager, like they’re not going to be afraid to shake his hand and introduce themselves, but they’re also not going to ask to see him once a week in his office. You gotta have that drive and that desire without over stepping, you know, the process.
Ben: Right. And I think boundaries are healthy in professional relationships and personal relationships. You know, I mean I think that people need, in the professional world, I think that a lot of individuals don’t fully understand the lines that are there, the invisible lines that are there that you should not cross. And, because I think so many people, from all generations and age groups, have maybe towed that line or crossed it, and it’s come back in a very negative way, in one way, shape, form or another.
Sarah: Yeah. You gotta be able to read the room some, for sure, and I think for a recent graduate that can kind of be hard, depending on what their experience has been, so if they haven’t been involved in student activities, if they haven’t taken that initiative to get to a networking function, you know, they will be a little bit at a loss or a steeper learning curve, but yeah, boundaries are very important professionally and personally. And, it’s good to just be able to have that open communication to kind of figure out what those boundaries are for others, right? So, if you’re coming into the workforce, you know, and you haven’t practiced reading the room yet, maybe just prepare yourself with a couple of one-liners to like get you into that working relationship with people to know, you know, what it looks like, you know. It’s like some people see an empty spot on the calendar and they just fill it up with a meeting with less than 24 hours ahead of time. Well, technically, I didn’t have another meeting, but I might have had something scheduled for myself during that time, so for you to anticipate that I would be free in less than 24 hours may not be right. And so, to learn that for co-workers is important and so just trying to not to be a bull in a China shop when you’re working on your relationships as you enter the workforce is important. And not just what you’re comfortable with. I think that’s the thing too is that, especially I think for extroverts sometimes, we’re comfortable with so much that other people aren’t that we just go at it and ‘hey how are you, and I’m going to do this, this and that and I think this would be good’ and we kind of encroach on people’s territories without being mindful of ‘oh, just because my boundary line is here doesn’t mean that theirs isn’t there’ and I should probably ask before I move forward.
Ben: Right, absolutely. We’re going to take a quick break, but we’ll be right back after this brief message.
Ben: The next issue of the Legacy alumni magazine will be arriving to your mailbox in November. You won’t want to miss this special edition.
Music fades out
Ben: Thanks for joining us. We’re here today with alumna Sarah Polk. Alright so we’re going to discuss your alumni experience and kind of end things of that nature just to kind of finish out our interview tonight. So, my first question relating to your alumni experience is how has your alumni experience been so far?
Sarah: So, so good. I would say it’s hard to say it’s as good as it was on campus as a student because, you know, those are nostalgia days and moments and memories that I’ll hold forever. But I think it’s excellent to have an opportunity to come back to the campus where I’ve learned and grown so much and have people that I love and, you know, I think being connected with alumni, they do a good job because we do, because I’m now a part of it, like the board, bringing people to events on campus and outside of campus where you have equal exposure to what we’re doing in the community and kind of our partnerships that we’ve built and also just getting to come back to campus and go ‘wow, this has changed’ and, you know, really get to kind of see the value and the work that, you know, our efforts are being put towards and our dollars are being put towards, you know, I think the alumni experience has been just really nice because we have a great group of people that attend our campus and I think that those that choose to stay around and invest in themselves after the fact, you know, it’s just that much more rich. And it’s presented opportunities for, you know, partnerships inside and outside of work, you know, getting to connect with others and be like, ‘oh, hey, we’re doing that United Way project, too, what are your thoughts on this because we haven’t done it this way before ‘ or, you know, getting to just experience life outside of school with others that have had similar experiences, but more so those with different experiences because we all do different things outside of college, like, we’re continuously growing and evolving and so I might run into somebody that I went to IU Kokomo with that I haven’t seen in three years and I meet them at an alumni event and I’m like, ‘wow, what’s changed?’ and getting to see, you know, how they’ve grown and its really neat.
Ben: That’s awesome. I completely concur and agree. But I’m a little biased being the alumni director. Why do you feel it is important to remain connected to your alma mater after graduation?
Sarah: Two things. First thing, I don’t know how people can walk away with an experience like I had and not want to give back and not still be a part, like, it’s really fun to be on this side of it and to see like how much I grew as a person because of what others invested in me, like a lot of times we look at our personal growth and we think, “oh gosh, I did a good job, look at all the things I did.’ But, I wouldn’t have had an etiquette dinner to go to if people weren’t planning it, you know, if people didn’t cook the food, if people didn’t, you know, prepare the lesson on it, like other people put so much of themselves into opportunities that I was able to take a part of for free, right, like or with a small, you know, fee, student activities covers a whole lot, like, so I don’t know how you can gain so much and not want to contribute. And, like, just secondly, it’s selfish. Like, I love the connection and to, you know, have that community of people to be able to connect with, like, I think especially as an adult, as you grow, like friendships change and evolve and you have people that you’ve had since elementary school and then you’ve got people that you just met in college, and you know, some people are better at not having been in touch for years and coming back to it, but like, when you have something like your experience at IU that you can just, you know, you don’t even have to have been the same major and you can find commonality in that and it’s just a great feeling to have support in that way and have a community of people to connect with and so it’s really fun to be involved with it just on a personal level because you miss the good old days where you were less concerned about the world in the same capacity that you are now and you’re getting to enjoy planning the student union board and what magician you’re having come to, you know, perform in the common area and I think that you can still find some of those aspects of college life as an alumni being able to connect with those that are still on campus. I like it a lot for those reasons.
Ben: Awesome. Next question is kind of related to your second point of the previous question I asked you. But, what has been your opinion of the power behind the IU alumni network?
Sarah: You know, honestly, I feel like I’ve not even untapped it fully because there’s so much more than just even our local IU Kokomo and what we offer and it keeps me busy enough as is, so like knowing that there’s such a larger network, like, getting to go to Cream and Crimson with you this last year, like, was really eye-opening to see, like, just how involved and how impactful all of our alumni are, and like we make huge differences in the world as a whole, like, not even just here in the U.S. where our colleges are based out of, but like they’re going off into other countries and making huge differences in just whether it’s the film industry or agriculture, or like, whatever they get their hands into, like, it’s just amazing to see how they take their passions and run with them. So, I would say it’s been impactful to me and I’ve barely brushed the surface in some capacity so.
Ben: That’s great. We love to hear those types of things.
Ben: Last question. What’s your advice to graduating college students, and recent alumni, about the IU Alumni Association?
Sarah: My advice is to get connected and just see what level of involvement works for you, because we have opportunities for people that are very busy and have limited amounts of time and we have opportunities for people who have a lot of free time and really want to get deeply involved, and so I would say no one would regret getting involved, especially not in contact with you because you’re so great and so fun, like you will have something for them and if it doesn’t quite fit what they’re looking for, you’re going to find that next opportunity for them because that’s just, you know, the quality of the caliber that you offer and it’s because IU Kokomo sought you out and knew that you would fit that same agenda of like, ‘hey, we want to help and give you guys something to enrich your lives,’ so my advice is to pick up that phone and text or email, like, and get in connection with you and also, you know, read up on the campus and see what’s going on and, you know, there may not be a formal article written on, like, how to get involved with something that’s new, but we’ll find a way to get you connected, so I just think, you know, waiting for, you know, we do a good job of outreach, but, you know, we’re not going to touch every person, and so just waiting for us to communicate to you this one thing that you want to get involved in may or may not happen, but if you come to us and say, ‘this is something I feel passionate about, I think we could do this,’ we’re going to be right there with you trying to get that figured out as well, and I think that’s the strength of the alumni network is just what we can do together and if you’re not personally putting your hat in the ring, and giving us your thoughts, like, we won’t be able to do as much, so get connected, that’s my advice.
Ben: That’s awesome. Well, thank you so much to alumna Sarah Polk, who is a two-time graduate of Indiana University Kokomo. We sincerely appreciate you taking the time out of your evening just to kind of chat with us about your college experience as an undergrad and a grad student, your career trajectory and your career experience, and then obviously your alumni experience. Thank you so much for spending time with us this evening, Sarah.
Sarah: It was a pleasure. Thanks so much, Ben. I’ll catch up with you soon.
Ben: Alright, great! Thank you! Thank you for listening to this installment of the Alumni Angle podcast. We hope you found this episode informative and enjoyable. I’m your host, Ben Liechty, Director of Alumni Relations at Indiana University Kokomo.