President’s Medal recipient Savannah Staples recounts her time at USI


Savannah Staples, senior English teaching major, is the recipient of the President’s Medal for the Class of 2023. (Photo courtesy of Savannah Staples)

Tegan Ruhl, Assisstant Lifestyle Editor

Savannah Staples, senior English teaching major, is the recipient of the President’s Medal for the class of 2023. According to USI’s website, the President’s Medal is the highest honor awarded each year to a graduating senior “who has demonstrated a commitment to academic excellence as well as service to the University of Southern Indiana and the community.”

Over the past four years, Staples has dedicated her time to her education as well as volunteering in the community and making memories on campus.

Staples came to USI with the intention of building a community away from her hometown in Sesser, Illinois. She did not know what she wanted to major in before coming to college. Staples did know she wanted to come to a four-year university that had a lot of different options for classes and clubs so she could explore her different passions.

“I decided to go somewhere that was a little farther away from home where there are options to explore different passions and areas of my life,” Staples said. “So I chose USI, and it’s worked out really well.”

Staples said she loves USI and is grateful for the opportunities she has had and the friends she has gained over the past four years.

“If I could do these four years over again, I would,” she said. “Everything that I’ve gotten involved with has turned out so well. I’ve met so many people that are now still my friends today, even if I met them four years ago. I’ve done things that I didn’t think I would enjoy that were out of my comfort zone. But it’s been really rewarding, and I can’t imagine not having the connections that I do now and the relationships that I do at USI.”

Staples has been involved with the Honors Program since she was a freshman and became an Honors mentor her sophomore year. She said getting to talk to freshmen going through the process of coming to college was a cool experience. Staples currently serves as the Honors co-service chair and helps plan service events for students in the Honors Program.

Savannah Staples stands with other honors students as they volunteer for After School @ USI, a program for junior high students from the Dream Center. (Photo courtesy of Savannah Staples)

One of Staples’ favorite places to serve is the Dream Center, an after-school program for underprivileged students in the Jacobsville area in Evansville. She started volunteering at the center when she took a course on writing in secondary schools with David O’Neil, assistant professor of English.

“We went and tutored three nights a week,” Staples said. “After that, I just kept going back.”

Staples is also a recipient of the Sherrianne Standley Service Award and the Indiana Association of Colleges for Teacher Education Outstanding Future Educator Award.

“I’ve always been interested in volunteering, but I didn’t realize what volunteering was until I saw the people from the nonprofit organizations and their faces light up when we would work with them,” she said. “Them just expressing their gratitude to us, it just makes me feel warm inside. It makes me feel good, what I’m doing. Being in different schools for my observations and tutoring has helped me realize how much kids need help in school, after school, getting meals, getting clothes washed, anything like that.”

“Our communities really really need volunteers,” Staples said. “Getting to give back and help them in some way has been huge.”

At the end of her junior year, Staples studied abroad for five weeks in Dublin, Ireland. While she was there, she took a course in child psychology and conducted a global engagement research project looking at diversity and representation trends in children’s literature.

“Probably my favorite experience at USI has been studying abroad,” Staples said. “It opened so many doors and taught me so much stuff that I wouldn’t have learned in the classroom.”

Savannah Staples as she studies abroad in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo courtesy of Savannah Staples)

Staples said Dublin is a cultural hub, so she was able to experience both Irish and other diverse cultures while studying there. She also visited England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Staples made many friends from different U.S. universities while she studied abroad, and she still talks to them and plans trips to visit them over the summer.

“If you want to bond with a group of people really quickly, studying abroad is the best way to do it,” Staples said. “It’s the number one thing I’d recommend doing.”

Staples now works as a study abroad ambassador for USI.

Her research in diversity and inclusion has influenced her mission to combat systemic discrimination within schools and equip herself and other teachers with the resources they need to make an equitable learning environment for all students.

“My area is education, so that’s why I research this,” Staples said. “But I think nurses could research this. I think accountants could research this. I think any career path needs to start looking at their trends in equity and how to make their companies more acceptive, inclusive and diverse.”

Staples said she felt honored and humbled when President Ronald Rochon said she received the President’s Medal.

“I almost didn’t turn in my application because I didn’t think that I was ‘President’s Medal’ material,” she said. “I didn’t think I’d have any chance of getting it because I am not involved in every single club on campus. But the few that I am involved in, I’m super passionate about and put my all into. I was extremely shocked that I even got an interview for it and then got it. I feel really grateful for it.”

“I feel like teachers aren’t normally recognized for smaller things,” Staples said. “I feel like volunteers are always looked over, it’s not a super flashy thing that you do. But USI really recognizes the small hardworking students they have.”

Staples has already accepted a teaching position at Harrison High School in Evansville. After graduation, she will be teaching ninth grade English there. She also plans to pursue a graduate degree in educational leadership with a focus in diversity and equity. Some of her favorite memories from USI include meeting and rooming with her roommate for the past four years.

“Living with her for four years has been probably one of the best parts of my time at USI,” she said.

Staples said in the future, she hopes to see USI give more scholarships to out-of-state students as well as underrepresented students.

“I encourage all of my students to come to USI. I encourage people around my hometown to come to USI. I’ve had great faculty and staff here. It’s a really welcoming environment,” she said. “Seriously, if I could do the four years over again right now, I would. I wouldn’t change anything, I would just repeat it all again.”