USI Alumni: 40 Years of Connections
USI alumni making an impact
In Evansville and beyond, thousands of alumni are putting to use the guidance, education, and experience they received at USI as their careers and personal lives unfold. Here is a sampler of alumni whose achievements speak for themselves.
Jane L. Hanson ’74, political science, received a Juris Doctor from New York University and is Of Counsel in the Litigation Department of the New York headquarters of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP, an international law firm. Her practice emphasizes employment counseling and litigation in federal, state, and local courts, and before governmental agencies and arbitration tribunals, and also includes providing employment advice in mergers and acquisitions, outsourcings, and financial restructurings. She is recognized annually for her participation in the American Bar Association’s Pro Bono Challenge. She counsels numerous pro bono clients, including the International Planned Parenthood Federation, the National Mentoring Partnership, and Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. At the request of U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Hanson helped a girl from Kosovo who had lost both legs to a land mine get immigration approval to stay in the United States long enough to receive proper medical assistance and prosthetics. Milbank was named “Pro Bono Publico and Public Service Law Firm” by the Legal Aid Society in March 2005, and Hanson was honored for her extensive representation to the Legal Aid Society during its restructuring period in 2004.
The Honorable Brett J. Niemeier ’81, political science, a Vanderburgh County Superior Court judge since 2001, has distinguished himself as an innovator of court programs to assist at-risk youth and their families. He is responsible for all cases involving juveniles who are adjudicated to be in need of services or delinquent. He has initiated programs in collaboration with community organizations including a truancy program, parents drug court, an alternative high school classroom, a mentor program, a Churches Embracing Offenders program, a juvenile drug court, and a teen court. He also supervises cases involving child custody, support issues, and estates and has taught as an adjunct professor of criminal justice at USI.
In 1989, Barbara Butler ’81 ‘85, respiratory therapy and health occupation education, joined the new HealthSouth Tri-State Rehabilitation Hospital in Evansville as respiratory therapy director. Nine promotions later in 1999, she was named chief executive officer of the facility, now called HealthSouth Deaconess Rehabilitation Hospital. The 80 bed hospital provides rehabilitation services for 1,150 inpatients each year and log 7,200 outpatient visits annually. “When the patients come in, they are debilitated. Some have been told they never will walk again due to a spinal cord injury or lead a productive life due to a brain injury. Seeing them go out of here walking and able to lead productive lives is the most rewarding thing about my job,” she said. “We’ve had weddings in our courtyard. And we’ve had patients who could not walk when they came here dance with their doctor on their day of discharge.” Butler said that USI has been a conduit for her continued growth. After earning two degrees at USI, she completed the master’s in public administration in 1994 when Indiana State University offered the program at USI. She serves on the advisory board for USI’s master’s in health administration program and has been an adjunct faculty member.
The first short story Barbara Haas ’80, English, had published was written for a class at USI. “Literally, one moment I was sitting in a USI classroom and the next thing I knew, my work was appearing in one of the oldest and most respected literary journals in our country. I mean, Abraham Lincoln subscribed to The North American Review" said Haas, an associate professor of English who teaches in the Creative Writing & Environment M.F.A. program at Iowa State University. She describes her style as imagistic and lyrical — influenced by some of her early USI writing instructors who were poets. Since that first story in 1981, Haas has continued to have work published regularly in such journals as The Antioch Review, Quarterly West, Glimmer Train, Hudson Review, and Virginia Quarterly Review. Haas’ collection of short stories, When California Was an Island, was published by Story Line Press in 1987. She received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship that year and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2001. "Lately I've begun writing nonfiction essays about the Iowa Ice Age," Haas said. Her most recent work has appeared in The Wapsipinicon Almanac and the Iowa Review.
Dr. Joey V. Barnett ’81, biology, is professor of pharmacology, medicine, pediatrics, and microbiology and immunology at Vanderbilt University. He also serves as vice chair of Pharmacology and director of the Graduate Training Program in Pharmacology. He directs an active research program that addresses the genes and molecules that regulate the formation of the cardiovascular system and their relationship to human disease. His research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the American Heart Association, the March of Dimes, and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America Foundation. Barnett is a lead investigator in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) -funded SysCODE Consortium where investigators from Harvard, MIT, Vanderbilt, and Boston University are bioengineering a tooth, pancreas, and heart valve. Barnett has served on several expert panels for the NIH and National Science Foundation. He currently is a reviewer of NIH-funded scientist training programs and consults on scientific training issues in the United States and Europe. He serves as president-elect for the Greater Southeast Affiliate of the American Heart Association. He speaks widely on cardiovascular research and disease and has lobbied at the national and state level for cardiovascular programs including providing expert testimony to the Tennessee State Senate. He is an active member of the USI Foundation Board of Directors and sits on the Advisory Board for the Pott School of Science and Engineering.
Alan W. Tompkins ’83, economics, earned his MBA and Juris Doctor degrees from Southern Methodist University. He also earned a master’s degree in accounting from University of Texas at Dallas. He has worked as a businessman, lawyer, and adjunct professor at SMU. He is currently general counsel for Unity Hunt, Inc., in Dallas where he manages legal and business affairs for the Lamar Hunt family and their affiliated entities. Hunt holdings include the Kansas City Chiefs and MLS teams FC Dallas and the Columbus Crew. Tompkins has served as chair of the State Bar of Texas Entertainment & Sports Law Section and was named one of the 50 Top In-House Counsel by Texas Lawyer magazine. He is active nationally in bluegrass music as founder of the non-profit Bluegrass Heritage Foundation, host of the weekly Bluegrass Heritage Radio Show on KHYI-FM in Dallas, and as a bluegrass musician. Tompkins is married and the father of a one-year-old daughter, Jessica Lynn.
Michelle Schroeder ’96, accounting, deals every day with numbers, but when she talks about Kimball International in Jasper, Indiana, she talks about people — about the satisfaction she receives from leading and teaching those who report directly to her and seeing them grow. And she reveals the pride she has in watching the company grow and knowing that she made a difference. First affiliated with Kimball in 1984, Schroeder was promoted to chief accounting officer in May 2009. She had been corporate controller since 2002, with responsibility for worldwide accounting and financial reporting, and in 2004 was awarded the additional responsibility of vice president, giving her a larger role in the strategic aspects of Kimball International, which has operations in China, Mexico, Poland, and Thailand, as well as in the United States. She is now responsible for corporate taxation, including worldwide tax planning and compliance. Schroeder’s success in business is no surprise to those familiar with her preparation and focus as a student. She was a summa cum laude graduate of USI and earned the second-best score in the state when she took the CPA licensing exam in November 1996.
Dr. Cathlin Gray ’85, elementary education, is the associate superintendent for Family, School, and Community Partnerships for the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation (EVSC). Gray holds a Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Educational Administration from Indiana State University. She has done extensive work in the areas of community collaboration and family engagement. Gray has served as a classroom teacher and building-level principal. In her role as principal, she facilitated the development of the first “full-service community school” in the school district. In 2007, under the leadership of Superintendent Dr. Vince Bertram, the EVSC identified Family, School, and Community Partnerships as one of the five core focus areas of the school district’s strategic plan. In her current role, she is responsible for expanding this community school concept throughout the school district. Gray received the ATHENA Award in 2008.
Jackie (Miller) Knobbe ’93, communications, lives in a small town in Nebraska with her husband Kent, a farmer, and their two children, Chloe and Cooper, but is senior vice president, head of comedy for the Agency for the Performing Arts (APA) in Los Angeles. The firm represents actors, writers, producers, and directors, and has a music division. Knobbe works with comedians, getting them jobs at college campuses, corporations, theaters, and in television and film. Knobbe’s involvement with USI’s Activities Programming Board led directly to her career. As vice president of programming for APB, she negotiated with agents, booking talent for University events. She attended conferences of the National Association for Campus Activities and met college talent buyers. After graduating from USI, she worked for a small talent firm in New Orleans before moving to Los Angeles in 1995. Her agency represents some of the biggest names in comedy, including Ron White, Lewis Black, Craig Ferguson and Aziz Ansari.
Brian Bennett '00, advertising and public relations, worked for AT&T Advertising for nine years, earning five national and two Midwest awards for graphic design, before he founded Social Life Marketing, LLC, a social media company that consults and represents more than 50 businesses nationwide on various social media platforms. Social Life Marketing operates in nine markets in six states and employs about 20 people. Bennett also started SocialLifeDeals.com, an online coupon platform, and SocialLifeMobile.com, a mobile marketing platform. He recently purchased Penny Lane Coffee House, located in Evansville’s Haynie’s Corner Arts District. Penny Lane specializes in fair trade, organic coffee, bakery foods, and healthy lunches.
Tracy Zeller ’89, accounting, owns Tracy Zeller Enterprises. Located in Evansville, the business, which began as a jewelry store, grew to incorporate four divisions: jewelry, home, marketing, and shoes. In 2009, following the addition of apparel, accessories, and the Tri-state exclusive Miss Priss Purses line of handbags, the shoes division was renamed Tracy Zeller style. In 2010, she launched the Tracy Zeller speaks division with a number of local speaking engagements. She has served on the boards of Community Marriage Builders and A Network of Evansville Women (ANEW), which presented her with the Woman of Action award in 2009. The Chamber of Commerce of Southwest Indiana named her the 2009 Entrepreneur of the Year. In 2010 she was the Alumni-in-Residence for the USI College of Business.
W. Kerry Jackson ’84, accounting, has distinguished himself as a corporate executive and active community volunteer. Jackson is executive vice president, chief financial officer, and treasurer of Shoe Carnival, Inc., headquartered in Evansville. When he joined the company in 1988, Shoe Carnival had seven stores located in Indiana and Kentucky. Today, Jackson oversees the operation of a leading retailer of name brand and private label footwear and accessories with over 300 stores in 29 states in the Midwest, South, and Southeast. Jackson assists the USI College of Business and its students by serving as chair-elect of the USI Board of Advisors (BOA) and member of the USI Accounting Circle to ensure direct effective communication between the business world and the business classroom. He chairs the BOA’s Industry/Education Interaction and Membership committee and was the USI Alumni-in-Residence for the college in 2009.
The Honorable Wayne S. Trockman ’81, management, has distinguished himself as an innovator of court programs. Trockman earned his J.D. in 1985. He practiced from 1985 to 1999 as a partner with Newman Trockman Lloyd Flynn & Rheinlander and was assistant city attorney for Evansville from 1991 to 1998. Governor Frank O’Bannon appointed him to Vanderburgh Superior Court in December 1998; he was elected to a six-year term beginning in 2001. He was reelected for another term beginning in 2007. He served as chief judge of the Superior Court from 2003 to 2008. In 2001, he organized and implemented the first drug treatment court in Vanderburgh County. The court serves as an intensive sentencing alternative for non-violent felony drug offenders who have committed crimes in the county. He is past president of the Evansville Bar Association, Brooks American Inns of Court, Vanderburgh County Election Board, Vanderburgh County Community Correction Advisory Board, and Evansville Board of Park Commissions, and past chairman of Vanderburgh County Law Library Foundation. He is the recipient of the Willie Effie Thomas Human Relations Commission Award, the Doran E. Perdue Evansville Bar Association Service Award, the James Bethel Gresham Freedom Award, and the American Institute for Public Service’s Jefferson Award.
The Honorable J. Brad Ellsworth ’81 (sociology) is a former 8th District Congressman and Vanderburgh County Sheriff. He also holds a master’s degree in criminal justice from Indiana State University and attended the FBI National Academy, the National Sheriff’s Institute, and the Law Enforcement Executive Development School. Over 24 years with the Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s office, he held every merit rank and was twice decorated for heroism in the line of duty. He has served on the board of many community organizations and was named a Sagamore of the Wabash by Governor Frank O’Bannon in 2003. He represented Indiana’s 8th District in the U.S. Congress for two terms, from 2007 to 2010, and served on the House Agriculture, Armed Services, and Small Business Committees. In March 2011, he accepted a position as president of Vectren Energy Delivery of Indiana – North (Vectren North) gas utility, based in downtown Indianapolis. He received an honorary Doctor of Civil Law degree from USI at the 2011 spring Commencement.
Randall W. Dauby ’82, accounting, is chief executive officer of Hamilton Memorial Hospital District in McLeansboro, Illinois. In 2009, he managed an $18.5 million expansion/renovation of the hospital campus which resulted in a new emergency room, surgical suites, medical office building, private patient rooms, aquatic exercise pool, and extensive renovation in each department of the hospital. He also provided oversight for the construction of a new $7 million supportive living facility next to the hospital. Dauby is chair of the steering committee for the Illinois Hospital Association’s Small and Rural Hospitals Constituency Section, which includes 87 hospitals throughout the state. In March, he received the Illinois Critical Access Hospital Network (ICAHN) President’s Award for his outstanding leadership and commitment in securing Medicaid outpatient cost-based reimbursement for Illinois critical access hospitals (CAHs). The new Medicaid reimbursement system will enable Illinois CAHs throughout the State of Illinois to continue to provide access to care and services for rural communities.