Degree yields rewarding career with court
December 6, 2012 3:10PM
Updated: January 8, 2013 6:14AM
When Chip Cotman earned his degree in May, he was among the first Purdue University North Central students to earn a bachelor’s degree in social work, and it marked the culmination of a journey that began several years before.
Today, Cotman puts his degree to work in his position as director of Juvenile Court Services with LaPorte County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Alevizos.
“I could write a book on how my education helped me in my career,” Cotman said. “It gave me the foundation I needed to be successful. It gave me skills and techniques to help move people forward and to fight against social injustice.
“It gave me the opportunity to network with people from different backgrounds, ages, cultures and experiences.”
Cotman was employed as program coordinator for the Michigan City Area Schools’ “Hours for Ours” school-based mentoring program when he decided the time was right for him to pursue his bachelor’s degree.
“I couldn’t tell the kids the importance of an education when I hadn’t finished my own,” Cotman reasoned.
And so, his journey began.
Cotman attended classes at night and worked full time during the day. Initially, he thought his age would be an issue in class — he was a few years older than most students — but found that age wasn’t an issue on campus.
Cotman settled in and learned to manage work, school and outside activities. It wasn’t always easy — he sometimes had to pass on an invitation — but his friends understood.
Cotman was president of the PNC Social Work Club, a founding member of the Indiana Mentoring Partnership through the Indiana Youth Institute, and served on the Michigan City Human Rights Commission.
He also worked with the Salvation Army, LaPorte County Youth Serving Agencies, United Way of LaPorte County, volunteered with local nursing homes, and “made it a priority to help in my own neighborhood.”
After taking four semesters of American Sign Language classes, Cotman can communicate with any deaf person, and his or her family, coming into contact with the court system.
Much of who he is today can be traced to his mother.
“I was raised by a wonderful single mom,” Cotman said. “She taught me that your character is the most important part of you as a human being.”
He singled out two faculty members for their support — Roy Fowels, associate professor of social work, and Lori Radtke, continuing lecturer of social work.
“Their gifts of knowledge and professionalism will take me far,” Cotman said. “They not only built my knowledge base, but helped build my character. Without them, I could not have done this.”
Cotman retains his ties to PNC. He’s made service learning opportunities with the LaPorte County Circuit Court available to students. He advises students to get involved with the campus and community.
“That is the only way change will come, and that your voice will be heard,” he said. “Give it a try.”
Cotman had mentored a young “Hours for Ours” student who periodically accompanied him to PNC. Today, that young man is a university student on the East Coast.
“I’d like to think I had a little something to do with that,” he said. “I am so proud of him. There are not enough words to come close to describing the fulfillment you get from mentoring. It is one of the best ways to give back to your community and to build character for young people who need that little extra support and for yourself.”
Now that he has some time for himself, Cotman plans to take piano lessons — something he’s always wanted to do. He also wants to get back into photography.
Eventually, he will pursue a master’s degree in social work or public administration.