After two-and-a-half weeks in Malawi, elementary education and art major Catherine Ingram, ’11, returned having discovered her life’s mission.

“Malawi is one of those experiences that changes you forever,” says Ingram, who hopes to teach art. “I learned so much from the trip and the people I shared it with, but the best thing I learned was how important love and support are in life—not only in your private life—but your professional life as well.”

While there, Ingram and the other 15 elementary education majors donated supplies, taught staff professional development, and worked with kids on reading and comprehension.

“I had never been to a Third World country before. I could only have imagined what it was like, and seeing it in person was a huge difference,” Ingram says.

The Westfield, Indiana, native says that despite the poverty she witnessed in Malawi, the people she encountered there were some of the most caring and accepting individuals she ever met. “They gave us hugs upon meeting us for the first time. It is as if their poverty is a minor problem that they don’t notice.”

Ingram’s teachers say they noticed the profound impact of the trip on her. “Catherine never stopped trying to learn more, to learn it better,” says art professor Mary Carter. “But when she came back from Malawi, it was like she had seen, in one place, in that one experience, the whole reason for her teaching vocation.”

Anthony Kline, instructor of elementary education, said traveling to Africa opened doors for Ingram and her long-term aspirations. In the Malawi orphanage, Ingram befriended Kingsley, an artist with no formal training in teaching. “Catherine worked intensely with Kingsley and remains in contact with the orphanage. She was creating different art education units from scratch to send over, as well as training materials so he could grow as an artist himself.” Ingram says she also would like to return to the orphanage and build a brick kiln for students to make ceramic art from Malawi’s clay quarries.

Ingram’s take-charge approach to her African immersive learning experience is indicative of how she approached much of her career as a double major—studying both art and elementary education.

"Ball State made it possible for me to have two education degrees,” Ingram says. “It was hard work, but I have come away with experiences with children that solidify my dream of becoming a teacher and wanting to work with kids in a classroom."

In addition to pursuing two majors, Ingram demonstrated other areas of dedication to Ball State in her four years here. She was a student in the Honors College, vice president of the art education club, and 2010-2011 captain of the women’s swim team. As a collegiate athlete, she earned an annual swimming scholarship and was named the 2010 Academic All-MAC (Mid-American Conference) in swimming.

Ingram's involvement has certainly paid off. Nominated as Outstanding Junior and Senior, she also was granted annual art scholarships. Additionally, Ingram received the Presidential Scholarship and proved her artistic ability when her work was accepted into the Student Art Symposium.

“I have been fortunate in my life to find what I am meant to do and have a passion for,” she says, “so it is pretty easy to give it my all when I love doing it.”