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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Building a Legacy

When it first opened to students in September 1965, Indiana State University Evansville was cramped inside the old Centennial Elementary School building, constructed in 1876 on Evansville’s West Side. A total of 412 students enrolled that year in an experiment to see if the idea of a public institution of higher education could succeed in Evansville.

It did. Today, the University of Southern Indiana campus sprawls over more than 1,400 acres and has a student enrollment of approximately 9,500. It has grown by leaps and bounds, breaking free of its attachment to Indiana State University in 1985 and never slowing down.

“When I talk about USI, I talk about it being a very contemporary vibrant place,” says USI President Linda Bennett. “We are really not held back by tradition. We are young and we are wide open. Our vibe is young, contemporary, and on the move.”

Bennett came to USI in 2003 as provost and vice president for academic affairs, and became the university’s president in 2009. The physical changes to the campus over that time have been dramatic, with a new library, teaching theater, a new university center, and much more.

“Physical place still matters,” says Bennett. “How a space looks and the quality of your experience in that space makes a difference.”

Bennett says while the 50th anniversary is a chance to celebrate its academic and athletic success, it also is a chance to say thank you to those who made that success possible.

“We get, in a very organized way, to say thank you, to this community and this region for all of their support for the last 50 years,” says Bennett. “I think you can never overestimate the power of thanking people who brought you into existence and who support your growth and development.”

A new website usi.edu/50 will direct visitors to a listing of all the 50th anniversary events. There also will be a visible timeline on display in the Wright Administration building, showing the progress USI has made through the years.

“People will be able to see a visual history of USI,” says Bennett. “I think that will be a tremendous resource. I love the idea of keeping our history in front of everyone in the community.”

There was a time when the school was not as highly regarded for its academics and given some derisive nicknames, something Bennett is aware of (“I will smack you right here!” she laughs), but those days are now long in the past. Bennett says the Tri-State simply would not be the same place without the graduates produced by USI.

“We have a nursing program in the top five percent in the nation; we have an accounting program whose students regularly excel in national competitions, we have a communications club that just won a national award again; our student newspaper wins awards,” she says. “The quality of our academic programs is unassailable. We are working very hard to see that our students not only have that strong academic experience, but also work experience.”

For more information about USI’s 50th anniversary, visit usi.edu/50. People are invited to submit historic photos of USI at that website.

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