By CHRIS MORRIS
Rita Hudson Shourds had just taken over the reins as chancellor at Ivy Tech Community College Southern Indiana. She was leading the college through a $16 million capital improvement campaign that was adding 70,000 square feet of classroom space to the campus, all due to record enrollment.
But in the midst of all the good going on in her professional life, Shourds got the worst news possible. She was told she had breast cancer.
However, instead of scaling back her efforts at Ivy Tech or stepping aside during her cancer treatments, Shourds never blinked. Her fighting spirit wouldn’t allow it.
“Not for one moment,” she said when asked if she had considered quitting after being told she had breast cancer. “That is not who I am.”
Shourds, 52, is now a five-year cancer survivor and sits in a building she helped build thanks to the capital campaign, which added classrooms, a 300-seat auditorium, a corporate and community center, fine art and graphic design gallery and state-of-the-art simulation labs for the nursing and criminal justice programs at the Sellersburg campus off Interstate 65. She smiles like a proud parent when describing the new and improved Ivy Tech campus and her journey over the past eight years. Shourds said it was all made possible thanks to the community’s support and generosity.
“Sometimes I get a little awestruck how generous the community was to support us,” she said. “We have been able to retain and attract quality faculty we have here. But it’s not just me. I’m extremely proud and I hope my legacy had a small part in creating a community college that everyone feels a part of.”
Shourds has also given her time and energy to numerous area nonprofits boards, including Floyd Memorial Hospital and Health Services, One Southern Indiana and First Savings Bank Charitable Foundation.
For all her efforts both at and away from Ivy Tech, Shourds was honored earlier this month as the Rotary Club of New Albany’s honoree for the 20th Annual Rotary Community Toast and Benefit Banquet. The event was held at Huber’s Plantation Hall.
“Choosing Dr. Rita Hudson Shourds was an easy choice for our 20th Annual Rotary Toast & Benefit Banquet,” said Rotary Club of New Albany President Adam Naville in a press release. “She exemplifies the Rotary motto of ‘Service above Self’ through her work at Ivy Tech Southern Indiana and on the numerous boards and committees within the community. She has been and continues to be a great leader and role model in our community.”
Shourds said she was overwhelmed with the honor.
“I was like ‘wow.’ I was very humbled and honored,” she said. “I think in a smaller community it’s even more special because most of the people there know me or have worked with me. There is that personal connection.”
Shourds said it is important to serve others and volunteer for the betterment of the community. That was what her message was to the sold-out toast crowd earlier this month.
“My message was to give children the opportunity to see us give back. They can’t do what they don’t see,” she said.
Each year, a portion of the proceeds from the Rotary event goes toward a nonprofit or charity selected by the honoree. Shourds chose the Jean Sekora Hudson Educational Scholarship for Women as her charity. This scholarship fund is administered by the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana.
Shourds is a big proponent of teaching and learning.
“Education can go a long way in combating societal ills,” she said.
She also said faith, along with the support from family and friends, helped her get through the dark days during her illness.
“Faith is very important to me. We don’t know the plans made for us, but it’s a great comfort knowing we will be taken care of,” Shourds said. “I had a great support group, within the college and within the community. I think the most difficult thing was accepting help for the first time in my life. That was the most difficult part to allow myself to be helped.”
Shourds said she has had opportunities to move elsewhere, but isn’t ready to leave Ivy Tech yet.
“This is home. I am entrenched in the community,” she said. “We are not finished here at all. We are just starting to see what we can become. There are still other things I want to accomplish. I don’t see myself even retiring. I don’t see myself riding off into the sunset. I want to continue to participate in education somehow.”
A wife and mother of two, Shourds said she feels good, her family is healthy and is very much at peace with where she is at in life. The tough times just made her resolve stronger, and coupled with the success of her college, she has every reason to smile these days.
“It’s a good time to be me,” she said.