A certain amount of change to any institution is to be expected over a long period of time, but the cultural and physical changes to IPFW, when taken under consideration as a whole, are still impressive.
From the transition from commuter campus to the creation of student housing, the full participation in Division I athletics, and even physical changes and improvements to its facilities and the look and feel of the campus itself, IPFW, at 2101 Coliseum Blvd. E., has taken great pains to ensure students have the experience of attending a university.
Chancellor Michael A. Wartell, whose nearly two-decade tenure is nearing an end as the university is expected to have his successor in place around July 1, has been a central figure in the transformation of IPFW over the years. To him, there were specific milestones that have cemented IPFW's standing in the community, with more to come even after his departure.
“The advent of housing has brought students together to create a unified experience,” Wartell said. “Our campus was deserted on the weekends. Our campus was deserted for certain times of the day.
“No longer. We now have 1,200 students living here 24/7. There is activity here,” he said.
Where those students are living is the Waterfield Campus, 4110 Crescent Ave., which opened in 2004. That came a few years after the university gained full membership into Division I athletics. The most successful program the Mastodons have is the its volleyball program – which had been playing in Division I for years – while the other sports programs continue to experience the growing pains that come with playing against increased competition.
“While we're not where we want to be as a fan base, we continue to see growth there,” Wartell said. “It is important that we took that step, however. It's part of the process of improving the overall culture of the university.”
There has also been a renewed dedication to connecting to Fort Wayne and the surrounding region, Wartell said.
“Our interactions with the community have been a part of this. Before I got here, we were not really a part of the community. We have gone about this growth in an intentional way,” Wartell said. The university now has about 14,000 students with a full-time equivalency of roughly 10,000, with more than 1,800 members faculty and staff members.
“ It took six or seven years before the community realized we were serious. The more we work with the community, the more the community supported us,” Wartell said.
Wartell said that the university also wanted to improve the feel of the campus, its “physical nature,” as he termed it. The benefits to investing in infrastructure were mandatory at one point, he said, but the benefit has been passed to those who frequent the campus.
“We just didn't have the facilities that we needed before. The way a campus looks is so important to the community, the college experience,” Wartell said.
With that, Wartell mentioned a few other infrastructure projects he would like to see the university tackle, including a four-way stoplight out of Canterbury Apartments to improve traffic flow, the establishment of a retail facility at the corner of Hobson and Crescent avenues that would house a CVS pharmacy, and a medical clinic – Wartell said that could begin in as few as six months, and “would provide a set of services that our students really need.”
Wartell also pointed out the symbolism of the two large bridges that the university has constructed, the most noticeable one that links the Waterfield Campus to the university, over Crescent Avenue.
“They are important symbols, important icons, to what IPFW has done. The community has adopted those, as well. It's hard not to respond to something like that, as distinctive as that,” Wartell said, adding that the university would definitely like to have a third, linking to Ivy Tech, and could eventually have five such spans.
“Universities are wonderful places. They are places that should be symbols of progress,” Wartell said. “I do think we've made amazing progress.”