Immersive learning pioneer to retire at year’s end
A fixture of Ball State since 1968, and the pioneer of immersive learning at the university will retire at the end of the semester.
Joe Trimmer, director of the Virginia B. Ball Center for Creative Inquiry, started the organization in 2000 with “creative inquiries,” which are now known as immersive learning and have been called the hallmark of a Ball State education by President Jo Ann Gora.
Fourteen years ago, Trimmer was preparing to finish out his career as a writer when former President John Worthen approached him about creating a proposal for the center to present to Virginia Ball.
“I thought about all the creative ideas that were operating in undergraduate education,” Trimmer said. “I put them all together in the center proposal, and I sent it to [Worthen], thinking it was the end and I could go back to my solitary lifestyle.”
Ball, however, said she would fund the center as long as Trimmer agreed to run it.
“My life changed, and I’ve been running it ever since,” he said.
Since 2000, more than 700 students have participated in program offerings through the Virginia Ball Center, which hosts four immersive learning projects each year with about 15 students each.
Stefan Anderson, former chairman of the Ball State University Foundation, said Trimmer led the way for immersive learning.
“Joe was instrumental in bringing quality learning to these team-based programs,” Anderson said. “Virginia Ball had a strong belief that this kind of teaching and learning would work, but it was Joe Trimmer who made it work with strong support from the provost and faculty.”
Warren Vander Hill was provost of Ball State when the center was started. He said the Virginia Ball Center has grown to something much more than they anticipated 14 years ago.
“Joe is an academic, a scholar with a great deal of intellectual breadth, vision,” Vander Hill said. “When the center began to move in a more all-campus direction, Joe was certainly the right person [to direct the center].”
In his 46 years at the university, Trimmer has seen Ball State transition from an open-admission university to a more selective one.
Without greater selectivity, Trimmer said, immersive learning could not have taken off.
“[There are] better students, better classes and better moral among faculty,” he said.
Trimmer calls himself a “drum beater” for Ball State students and a “talent scout” for the center.
His time is spent recruiting professors to run projects and engaging with students at the center.
“People ask me why I haven’t retired earlier,” Trimmer said. “It’s too much fun. It keeps you engaged intellectually and emotionally. I get excited about every time I learn something new or engage with people in conversation. It makes my day.”
Rai Peterson, an associate professor of English, has worked with Trimmer for 33 years as both a student and colleague.
She said she never starts an immersive learning project without his guidance.
“I think he solves problems in his sleep,” she said. “You can meet with him in the evening and say, ‘I have a great idea, but there is an insurmountable problem.’ And he’ll call you at 6 a.m. and say he has the answer. He always adds something to the initial idea.”
Trimmer said he plans to write and do consulting work for educational organizations, but it is most important to him to remain a part of the Muncie community.
“I don’t understand people who at the end of a long period of time in one town, where they know everybody, decide to move [far away],” he said. “In retirement, I’m not someone who plays golf all day. I need interaction with people and running projects.”