University of Southern Indiana

From the Desk of Andrea (Seib) Gentry '05

My childhood could easily be lyrics to a John Mellencamp song. I grew up in a small farming community with a population just over 1,000. The summer days were filled with playing basketball with the boys down the road until the sun went down. I walked to my grade school when the weather was nice and knew who lived in each house along the route. My family’s farm was about a mile from the high school where I spent countless hours playing sports.  

College, for me, was a way to have more options in my life and when a small private institution spoke to me about playing basketball for them, it seemed like an easy transition, since it would not be much different from my high school setting. My identity was always tied to athletics, but a part of me wanted to shed it. At 17, the thought of reinventing myself was both exhilarating and terrifying, and something told me to look for a greater challenge.  

I struggled with being comfortable in who I was, never truly feeling as if I belonged. So, I played it safe and never wanted to venture out, until I looked at USI. Its size and population meant meeting someone new every day and immersing myself in a collegiate environment where academics were my focus and not athletics. For the first time in my life I jumped—diving into the deep end of unfamiliarity and uncertainty—with no idea if I had what it took to be successful in this new chapter.  

Trying to discover who I wanted to be made me doubt my abilities, until I met Dr. Tamara Wandel, a public relations professor whom I idolized. She was intelligent, funny and her personality was magnetic. Dr. Wandel noticed me when I felt uncomfortable being noticed. When she asked questions in her classroom, I wanted to answer but hesitated to speak up. She sensed my reluctance and began calling on me. She placed me in leadership roles in class, and I gradually came to enjoy the opportunity to guide and share my interpretations of the course material with my peers. It gave me my footing and I slowly gained confidence. I became comfortable opening new doors and, luckily, one of the doors led to Dr. Michael Dixon. He was worldly and treated me as an equal. He asked his students for their opinions, and he truly wanted to hear them. He taught me how to express my views in a professional manner, but more than anything he taught me how to listen. Because of Dr. Dixon, I saw myself for the first time as a citizen of the world. He embraced diversity and showed others how to as well. I didn’t realize how much there was to see until I became willing to look through a different lens. 

USI not only transformed me, it became my home. The day after graduation I began full-time employment in the Development Office, which supports efforts for the USI Foundation. When I invite alumni and friends to support the University with their charitable gifts my invitation is genuine. I know there is a student, just like me, who needs the USI experience more than they know. 

Throughout the journey I never lost who I was, but because of USI I found who I could and wanted to be. USI took a chance on me as much as I took a chance on it. In the end, it was the best decision I ever made. 


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