More than 50 years years ago it was just a vision of what was possible – Indiana State University at Evansville. A small satellite school of the Terre Haute campus. It took determination, patience and perseverance to sustain itself.
The University of Southern Indiana gaining independence in the mid-1980s is still a work in progress.
USI President Dr. Ron Rochon and USI Athletics Direct Jon Mark Hall are talking about the Screaming Eagles Arena, the growth of the university and the vision for the future.
Brad Byrd: Welcome to in-depth. More than fifty years ago it was just a vision of what was possible – Indiana State University at Evansville. A small satellite school of the Terre Haute campus. It took determination, patience and perseverance to sustain itself. Would students enroll? Today my have times changed. The University of Southern Indiana gaining independence in the mid-1980s is still a work in progress. And the latest milestone…it is getting everyone’s attention.
I’m joined tonight by USI president Doctor Ron Rochon and USI Athletics Director Jon Mark Hall. We’re talking about that new crown jewel called Screaming Eagles’ Arena…and USI’s growth and vision for the future.
Dr. Rochon, first congratulations on your inauguration and Jon Mark Hall congratulations on all the things surrounding USI sports, especially considering what’s been going on in the last year. I’m going to ask both of you, when you came to USI – Jon you came in 1995 and Dr. Rochon 2010 – did you have any inkling that you would be sitting in a venue like that in the future USI?
Ron Rochon: I’ll tell you what I thought, I never imagined we would have this kind of facility, it’s just absolutely amazing. I mentioned earlier to people in the community that it gave me goosebumps when I walked into the facility for the first time. It’s a facility that’s going to enhance our ability to serve students, but also the community as well. It’s state-of-the-art.
Brad Byrd: And Jon I know you have to be excited about this.
Jon Mark Hall: Oh we’re thrilled, I think maybe 10 years ago, you think about the current facility we’re in and make some tweaks to make it better, but we never dreamed of having a place like what we have today. And we hope people get out to visit really soon. It’s a fantastic facility.
Brad Byrd: And speaking of where you have been, the old PAC, I hate to use the word old because it was built in 1980 but a lot of history. I remember covering Governor Robert Orr signing the independence papers for ISUE becoming USI. What’s going to become of the PAC?
Jon Mark Hall: After graduation at the end of April, we’ll start Phase II of the PAC, we’ll start gutting some of the insides, we have additions coming with new classrooms, new offices, and a new weight room for student athletes – it’s just going to be an absolutely beautiful facility, we’ll take the bleachers out and we’ll use that for multi-purpose space for intermural, classes, athletes practices.
Brad Byrd: And this is more than a basketball arena – the new Screaming Eagles Arena, Dr. Rochon, what were your feelings last week when you were on that stage sitting next to the Former Secretary of State Colin Powell in this new facility?
Ron Rochon: I gotta tell you, I was extremely nervous. Very, very nervous, but he calmed me down immediately. I extended my hand to General Powell, let him know that it was an honor to have him on our campus, in our community, and he said Mr. President how about a hug? He was an embracing human being – brilliant man – all kinds of experiences he provided us with. It was more than exciting for us, it was very, very strong historical moment for this campus and our community.
Brad Byrd: And Jon Mark, I know this is a difficult question, but I know it’s a question you have been asked and asked and asked. I know it’s very complicated, but people are asking it, especially with this new arena and what USI did in this championship tournament this year, packing people in the Ford Center. Division One – what do you think?
Jon Mark Hall: It’s a fair question and we understand why we get that question. What I tell people all the time, and I’ll let Dr. Rochon follow up on that too, is that the balance that we have between the success and our student athletes in the classroom right now, which is 3.2GPA – a hike in graduation rate – and that success that we’re having on the athletic field now, with national championships, and baseball and softball and coming close in men’s basketball and cross country – all these programs flourishing at this level, we’re really in a good place, we’re happy where we are. We understand the question, but when you have something like this, it’s just like Dr. Rochon says for us, it’s a sweet spot for us – we’re in a great spot.
Brad Byrd: And we’re seeing video here is Coach Watson and basically packing the Ford Center. The attendance went well passed the lower bowl, they had to open up the top. You had quite an audience there – what went through your heart and mind when you saw that crowd at the Ford Center for USI?
Dr. Rochon – I was stunned. I was so proud. The thing that I wanted to stress, though, is that the community came out to support this student body. The students were so euphoric. They were so extremely excited to support this men’s basketball team. These young men, they gave their hearts. I will tell you this right here, Mr. Byrd, when they lost that last game, these young men, they sobbed. They were worried about letting us down. I said, oh my goodness, on the contrary. You’ve given us life memories. We are so proud of your effort, so proud of who you are. These are great ambassadors of our university.
Brad – Dr. Rochon, let’s talk about the university as a whole. And Jon Mark, you can weigh in on this, too. The university’s growth continues but in this day and age of the internet, online courses, the challenges that univsersities around the country are experiencing… This week, Western Kentucky University said a committee has recommended that is drop more than 100 of its academic programs, and that woukd be about one fourth of the curriculum. Where does USI fit in on the grand scheme of things?
Dr. Rochon – I would like to adress it this way. We’re just very fortunate to be here in Indiana. The state legislative body, elected officials, they beleive in higher education. So, if you look at Indiana, look at Illinois, look at Kentucky, Ohio, you know, they’re bordering states that are struggling in regard to this relationship. We are so fortunate where we are. You know, the investment continues, and I’m very fortunate for that. The other piece that I will speak to is that on my mind, all the time, enrollment, enrollment, enrollment. Things are changing. Expectations from students are changing. So we as an institution need to be ever evolving, ever flowing towards the needs and responsivness to the students. I think we’re gonna be fine.
Brad – And a big challenge is retention. This is true throughout the country.
Dr. Rochon – Yes. I’ll tell you right now, Jon Mark will tell you, everyone on our campus, begining with the president, we are each recruitment and retention officers. When we administer to the University of Southern Indiana, we are really in fact developing a contract. That contract entails our partnership with families, with gardians, to make sure they’re successful academically. That is non negotiable. We are wedded to that mantra.
Brad – And Jon Mark, what a transition going from Ford Center to this new Screaming Eagles arena. And when the players are introduced I imagine the lights will go down low but you’ll be able to see them on that big screen.
Jon Mark – Absolutely. It’s going to be incredibly different from us going from what we were in to what we’re about to go in, and some of that excitement we were able to fill at the Ford Center, we’ll be able to fill that in our new arena. I think now as Dr. Rochon said, we can see the potential. Our students, they were proud, they were fun, the sense of community those two nights…it was an incredible feeling. I’m really happy about where we are right now.
Brad – Thank you so much for being with us.
(This story was originally published on April 10, 2019)