Student Spotlight: Sam McCollum
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Sam McCollum first attended Ivy Tech in 2011. At the time he didn’t have a stable home so he was couch surfing. As a result of his chaotic life, in addition to undiagnosed attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and the fact that he was still coming to grips with his identity, he flunked out. Over the next several years he was on a journey of self-discovery, but it wasn’t until he landed a job at a women’s and children’s recovery center (a program for mothers in recovery) that he realized his calling.
“That was a life-changing experience because I started to learn more about addiction and childhood trauma,” says McCollum. “Once I began learning about the technical aspects of trauma, addiction and other psychological conditions, and how environment impacts those so much, the world busted open for me. I realized that there was nothing wrong with me.”
His manager at the recovery center encouraged McCollum to go back to school to get his degree in counseling.
“There are people out there who need you,” she told him.
After writing an appeal letter, Ivy Tech readmitted him in 2020.
McCollum, a human services major who graduated from Ivy Tech this spring, not only went from a straight-F to a straight-A student, but he’s also the first of his generation to attend a four-year college, as he’ll start attending Ball State University in the fall.
McCollum, who once battled depression and suicidal ideation, reached out to the Trevor Project, a nonprofit organization focused on suicide prevention efforts among LGBTQ+ youths. After receiving help, he always knew that he wanted to help others. He now works as a crisis specialist for the 988 lifeline to aid those who are feeling suicidal.
Three years ago McCollum came out as trans, married his partner, Beth, and for the first time in his life felt comfortable in his own skin.
“Once I was comfortable being who I am, that gave me the confidence to go back to school,” says McCollum, who not only dove into his studies, but also became student government president at Ivy Tech. “I wanted to show people that it doesn’t matter where you come from. If you have support in the right environment, you can flourish.”
That’s what Ivy Tech did for McCollum.
“Ivy Tech is such a welcoming environment,” says McCollum, who is 30. “You have all walks of life there. You have people in their 70s and people straight out of high school, and everyone in between.”
This spring McCollum was nominated through the School of Public Affairs and Social Services as a 2023 Outstanding Student. The professor who nominated him called McCollum “a blessing to the human services field.”
McCollum credits his wife, Beth, and son, Liam, for helping him stay motivated to complete his academic journey.
“They are amazing,” he says. “I’m very lucky.”
Attending Ivy Tech showed McCollum that he could not only survive, but thrive.
“It dismissed those thoughts that I wasn’t capable,” he says. “I just knew there was something inside of me that really could change the world.”