Eric Otto says goodbye after 15 years

Ariana Beedie

After 15 years of increasing student enrollment strategies and succeeding in recruitment, Eric Otto says goodbye to the university and heads to Chicago to spend quality time with family, especially his 10-year-old grandson.

“Both my son and daughters live in the Chicago area,” he said.

Otto and his wife bought a house in Yorkville, a town about an hour outside of Chicago, to be closer to family events and to strengthen relationships.

“I have literally loved every minute that I’ve been here,” Otto said. “This is the best job I’ve ever had.”

Otto began his first day at the university on Nov. 2, 1998 and hit the ground running, which has helped build the university’s reputation.

“I tweaked a few things when I got here. We tried to strengthen the staff,” Otto said. “We wanted to build a staff that was competitive, articulate and committed to the university.”

The Admissions Office took off with innovations to the community, such as new ways to handle recruitment while also retaining students’ to enhance the campus life.

“We got our enrollment up to 11,000, and we were able to sustain that rapid growth, but I think we were doing it with (a) better prepared academic student body,” Otto said. “We’ve raised our admission standards in the last few years and my whole staff really supports that decision.”

Making the decision to leave was a hard one for Otto, but his wife’s recent retirement from elementary education helped him think more about his own retirement.

“I enjoy working here so much, I was convinced they would have to carry me out in a body bag,” Otto said. “My wife retired in June and I thought, maybe it’s time I started talking to Human Resources about retirement.”

Administration have been strong supporters of the Admissions Office. President Linda Bennett and former President Ray Hoops also helped make Otto’s decision to leave a little easier.

“President Bennett, after she became president, she made a decision to have the Admissions Office report to her, and I have really appreciated that over the years,” Otto said. “She’s so good at what she does, and there’s a lot of mutual respect there.”

The Jasper native had heard of then-new Indiana State University Evansville, or ISUE, before heading off to pursue higher education at William Penn University in Iowa.

“Once in a while, I’d see basketball scores from this new school. It really didn’t interest me a whole lot at the time,” Otto said. “I got an athletic scholarship to a small private school in Iowa, and I played four years of basketball.”

After his college experience, Otto was hired in the Admissions Department at William Penn and remained there for 27 years.

At the time, Otto came to visit the southern Indiana area for family and friends. After reading the Chronicle of Higher Education that recognized the local college, now called USI, Otto became interested.

“I saw this ad that a school by the name of the University of Southern Indiana was advertising for a Director of Admissions,” Otto said. “It interested me. What really got my attention was the number of students and fairly rapid growth rate.”

After reviewing the ad and considering the possibilities, Otto submitted a resume for the position.

“I got a phone call from Dr. John Bird, vice president of student affairs at the time, and he invited me to come out for an interview in August,” Otto said. “The stars were aligned because my mother’s side of the family had a reunion planned for August in Owensboro.”

Because the reunion was located close to USI, Otto and his wife drove to the university after the reunion to interview for the position.

“It was a lengthy interview. It went from 7 a.m. to 5 o’clock at night,” Otto said. “I had a really good feeling about this university because it says something to me when there’s a lot of local students that attend.”

The university was serious about having Otto, so administrators held an educating interview for his wife in the local school system.

The campus made Otto feel right at home, giving him the freedoms to expand on the university’s strategies on recruiting students.

“Another thing I liked about the university, when I got here, was the fact that you didn’t get in trouble if you tried something that didn’t work,” Otto said. “It’s a good feeling. You’re never discouraged from trying new things.”

One last wish for the university, from Otto, is tickets to the opening show in the upcoming Teaching Theatre.

“When I announced my retirement to theatre people, I told them that even though we’ll be retired living in the Chicago area, once the Teaching Theatre is finished, I want two free tickets to the first event,” Otto said. “By golly, my wife and I will drive down and be in the first row.”