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Back Talk: Leslie Townsend

Education: Bachelor’s degree in history and sociology and master’s degree in liberal studies from the University of Southern Indiana

Resume: Admissions counselor, University of Southern Indiana, 1990-1992; coordinator of admissions, Ivy Tech Community College, 1992-1994; assistant director of admissions, University of Southern Indiana, 1994-1997; program coordinator, Historic Southern Indiana, 1997-2005; assistant director, Historic Southern Indiana, 2005-2008; director, Historic Southern Indiana, 2008-2015; director, Community Engagement, University of Southern Indiana, 2015-2019; interim director of Historic New Harmony, 2017-2019; director of USI’s Community Engagement and Historic New Harmony, 2019-present

Hometown: Evansville, Indiana

Family: Husband, Jon; sons, Ethan (25) and Christian (21)

With more than 30 years at the University of Southern Indiana — as a student and employee, Leslie Townsend has spent her entire adult life in higher education. As USI’s Director of Community Engagement and Historic New Harmony, Townsend combines her passion for historic preservation and community outreach in her dual role for the university.

“I think a lot of times people don’t always realize what’s in your own backyard, but New Harmony is renowned over the world and is studied by a lot of different people, from scholars of history to architecture, art, and religion,” she says.

Who are your mentors?

I would have to say Ed Jones, who is the vice provost emeritus for Outreach and Engagement, and Connie Weinzapfel, director emeritus for Historic New Harmony. Ed was over Outreach and Engagement when I began with Historic Southern Indiana and was a great leader. Connie and I worked together for years while I was with Historic Southern Indiana and she was with Historic New Harmony. As she was getting ready to retire and I was named interim director for Historic New Harmony, she really helped me by introducing me to the community.

Tell us about community partnerships. What is your favorite part about working with partnerships? 

Much of the work I do is outward facing with the public, organizations, and community partners. Whether it’s the Southern Indiana region with our Historic Southern Indiana program or the town of New Harmony with Historic New Harmony or the Gallery of Contemporary Art, we’re telling the story about what makes places special. I would say my favorite part is collaborating with these community partnerships to encourage people to visit, interact, and maybe learn something new in the process.  

What was your favorite campus spot as a student, and what is your favorite spot now?

This sounds really nerdy, but I loved being in the library as a student. My favorite spot was at a table by a window overlooking the boulevard.  Weirdly enough, when the old library was renovated into University Center East, Outreach and Engagement moved our offices there, and my office was in the same place I sat so many times as a student.

On campus, I love the view from the Griffin Center overlooking Reflection Lake.  In New Harmony, my favorite spot is Church Park with the beautiful Don Gummer sculpture and Door of Promise replica.

What accomplishment or program at Historic New Harmony are you most proud of?   

New Harmony is such a special place. It’s full of so many dedicated people who are passionate about the community, and it’s an honor to be part of that in my role with Historic New Harmony.  Everything we do with Historic New Harmony is very much a team effort, so the thing I am most proud of goes back to the work of our staff to bring Water/Ways, a Smithsonian exhibit, to New Harmony in the fall of 2021. Being able to share with the public an exhibit of this caliber on the history and impact of water in the beautiful Atheneum Visitors Center while looking out on the Wabash River was a truly wonderful experience.

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