If you attend Saluki athletic events, it is unlikely you notice Andy Pettit. He’s perfectly OK with that. His priority is making sure you have a great experience.
Andy is the associate athletics director who oversees the day-to-day operations of all of our facilities, including SIU Arena, Saluki Stadium, Davies Gymnasium and Abe Martin Field, which soon will undergo a major upgrade under his watchful eye. I consider Andy a go-to member of our staff for large campus events, concerts and facility-use planning.
Though he’s been in that role only a short time, Andy’s roots in the athletics department go back to 2000. That’s when the Mallory, N.Y., native came to SIU to pursue an engineering degree. Along the way, a student job as a volleyball scorekeeper continued to evolve into positions of greater responsibility. After earning his MBA in 2005, Andy became a full-time employee in athletics. His wife, Kate, a high school math teacher in Christopher, where the Pettit family lives, also is an alum.
As is true for so many dedicated people who work at SIU, the days can get very long for Andy, his graduate assistants and student employees. His sense of commitment is such that there are times, including weekends, when days off are hard to come by. For Andy, it simply goes with the territory.
“You have to be present. You can’t just take a weekend off,” he says. “Regardless of the event, this is about customer service. We want everybody to come here happy and leave happy. We may have to say ‘no’ sometimes, such as telling people they can’t bring food in because of our concession contract, but we try to do it nicely.”
Last May’s commencement — the first time we consolidated 10 ceremonies into three in one day — was a massive customer service undertaking that succeeded because of the efforts of many departments and offices. Andy compares it to the homecoming football game, which attracts a crowd of 17,000 to 18,000.
“For commencement in the arena, we had 8,000 per ceremony, or 24,000 people in one day,” he recalls. “We had to have everything up to par. It is a much more meaningful event now, and the students get the recognition they deserve.”
Andy is passionate about serving our students, and student-athletes have a special place in his heart.
“The student-athletes we work for, seeing their success, watching them graduate, that is my greatest satisfaction,” he says.
Andy interacts with the student-athletes on a daily basis, so he knows how committed they are to their sport and, most importantly, earning their degree.
“One thing people don’t see is that they are in here 12 hours a day,” he says. “They are in the academic center, at practices, at workouts. They will come into my office, sit down, talk about their schedule, classes, practices. Sometimes, they just need a confidante. That personal relationship is another source of satisfaction for me. All of these student-athletes are very committed people, and we are better people every day for being around them.”
As the saying goes, Andy and wife bleed maroon.
“We love this place,” he adds. “It has given us every opportunity we have ever had.”
RITA CHENG is chancellor of SIU Carbondale. Her column appears weekly in Southern Plus.