‘Teaching others is my number one passion’

Andrew Koch got off to an indecisive start when he first started college. The 24-year-old from Valparaiso first pursued business management and then switched gears in hopes of transitioning into a nursing program. Just when it appeared he’d settled on his career path, he took a psychology course at Indiana University Northwest and that changed everything.

“Psychology grabbed ahold of me and did not let go,” he said.

Koch had been taking classes at the time to become a certified nursing aide (CNA), something he discovered meshed well with his newfound love of psychology. He began applying psychology principles to what he was learning in his CNA courses. At the same time, he found himself drawn to research on dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and the study of emotion.

Now firmly rooted in his discipline, and involved in student organizations, Koch is immersed in several research projects with IU Northwest faculty mentors. His involvement in the Student Alumni Association led him to a volunteer opportunity with the Alzheimer’s Association which he says has become “an extremely important part of my life.”

“I studied the disease daily until I understood enough to be able to speak at volunteer educational programs in the community,” he explained. “This led me to pursuing research on the topic. . . . As an undergrad I began research with the guidance and supervision of my mentor Dr. Ceyhun Sunsay. We are currently preforming a joint study entitled, ‘Emotion, Ethnicity, and Anthropomorphism.’ ”

Koch serves as a client care instructor for Comfort Keepers, an in-home senior care organization. In this role, he designs and facilitates courses for caregivers. Drawing from three years of experience as a CNA, he is now teaching others and speaking in front of thousands, something he never dreamed he’d be doing.

“Drawing on my hands-on experience and motivation of having loved ones fall victim to this disease, I pour all my energy into our caregivers,” he said. “Additionally, I have the opportunity to speak at various forums, whether they are churches, nursing homes, elementary schools or even college campuses.”

Reflecting on his life-changing journey at IU Northwest, Koch can’t help but chuckle when he thinks about how he came to choose IU Northwest. In the fifth grade, Koch’s teacher was an avid IU fan with his classroom decorated wall-to-wall with IU flags, pencil holders, basketball banners, and more.

“You could say that by spending a year in Crimson and Cream, my fate was set on IU,” laughed Koch. “IU Northwest was the closest to home so that’s why I’m here now.”

It’s a silly story, he admits, but Koch’s appreciation for IU Northwest couldn’t be more serious.

Koch said the small class sizes at IU Northwest have enabled him to thrive and find his unique niche.

“In the classroom nothing can compare with the intimacy of discussions when classes range from 15 to 35 people. Everyone can voice their opinion and together we can learn in a supportive environment,” he said.

Koch’s future plans include pursuing a doctorate in gerontology. He is currently studying for the Graduate Record Examination and searching for a graduate school that is the best match for his interests. He hopes to spend his career teaching caregivers and the general public about dementia, care techniques and reducing caregiver stress.

As Koch anticipates a December 2014 graduation, he shares some helpful advice that he has learned during his educational journey. It consists of opening your mind and challenging yourself to try new things, getting involved and making friends and learning by teaching others what you know. Finally, he advocates finding what you’re passionate about, researching it and sharing it with academic professionals.

“My path in life is absolutely grounded on my education at IU Northwest,” Koch said. “Through challenges in diversity, philosophy, and science I have grown as an individual. I have developed empathy to those who suffer, understood the basis for scientific research, and have been guided to succeed in my life’s aspirations.”

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