Alumni Spotlight

Misty Weisensteiner

Discovery and Exploration is in Her Nature: Misty Weisensteiner chosen as the first chief operating officer of Discover Southern Indiana

Southern Indiana is home to a wide array of natural wonders—from Marengo Cave which is one of the most beautiful show caves east of the Mississippi River to the Hoosier National Forest with over 200,000 acres to explore, hike, hunt, fish and enjoy nature.

Growing up in Paoli, Indiana, amongst all these natural treasures, Misty Weisensteiner was inspired to pursue a degree in biology from Indiana University Southeast.

“I love the outdoors and I was passionate about biology and science classes while I was in high school,” said Weisensteiner. “As soon as I could drive, I got a job working at Marengo Cave as a tour guide and I absolutely loved it—there is so much to learn about speleology. I also really enjoyed educating people about how fascinating caves and their formations are.”

Discovering How IU Southeast was the Right Fit

Finding the right college to nurture Weisensteiner’s love of science became a top priority. She enrolled as a first-generation college student and graduated IU Southeast in May 2004 with a Bachelor of Arts in biology and a botany minor.

“I transferred to IU Southeast because I wanted to have a smaller, community feel at college and smaller classes where you could interact with and get to know your professors,” said Weisensteiner. “I was commuting and working while I was going to school. I learned a lot about time management and communicating well with my professors.”

Weisensteiner recalled Dr. David Winship Taylor, professor of botany and biology at IU Southeast and Dr. Claude Baker, professor of biology as her favorite teachers and mentors. Always driven and ready to work her way through school, she put her knowledge of plants and biology to use as a naturalist in the visitor’s center at Patoka Lake. Her next job started her down a career path that opened the door to the hospitality and tourism industries.

“As a student I started working at the 1,100 acre Wilstem Guest Ranch in Orange County,” said Weisensteiner. “I loved the outdoor component of this job—there were horses, cattle, riding and hiking trails and cabins onsite. At that time, as the general manager, I was responsible for the marketing. This was before social media or digital marketing, so I networked with other industry professionals and learned grassroots guerilla marketing. That’s how I got drawn into the tourism marketing world.”

Misty Weisensteiner with Indiana Soybean Alliance

Staff (including Misty Weisensteiner third from left) from the Indiana Destination Development Corporation Board and Office of the Lieutenant Governor and delegates pose outside a restaurant serving Indiana duck tacos during an Agriculture/Tourism trip to Mexico City.

Misty Weisensteiner with giraffe

Misty Weisensteiner petting a giraffe at Wilstem Wildlife Park

Misty Weisensteiner at Goat Milk Stuff in Scottsburg

Misty Weisensteiner at Goat Milk Stuff in Scottsburg

Betting on the Future by Restoring the Past

Weisensteiner’ s next move was to the French Lick Resort as part of the re-opening management team and then on to eventually become executive director of Visit French Lick West Baden, the destination marketing organization for Orange County. It was during this time that French Lick Resort, including the West Baden Springs Hotel, underwent a massive $600 million renovation and expansion.

“It lifted up the community—people were so excited that a project of this magnitude was happening in Orange County,” said Weisensteiner. “When construction started at West Baden, the outside walls were falling down and the inside was in total disrepair. It is just amazing what the Cook Group and everyone who was involved was able to accomplish. I never get tired of seeing people walk into the West Baden Springs Hotel atrium for the first time and everybody just stops and looks up and takes in how grandiose it is.”

Misty Weisensteiner with goats

Misty Weisensteiner playing with some goats.

Misty Weisensteiner presenting in Germany

Misty Weisensteiner in Germany promoting Indiana tourism assets to travel agents and media.

Misty Weisensteiner

Misty Weisensteiner meeting with international travel planners and media promoting Indiana travel.

Exploring the Next Opportunity

Indiana Lieutenant Governor Suzanne Crouch selected Weisensteiner to become the executive director of the Indiana Destination Development Corporation to promote statewide tourism and improve Indiana’s brand.

“Some people overlook Indiana or they just don’t have a perception of Indiana as a destination,” said Weisensteiner. “A big challenge in promoting tourism for the whole state is trying to package it in a way that is easily consumed. From the Indiana Dunes National Park on the shores of Lake Michigan to touring the last fully operating WWII Landing Ship Tank (LST) on the Ohio River in Evansville, and everything in-between, Indiana has so much to offer.”

Weisensteiner was then hired as the first chief operating officer for Discover Southern Indiana in October 2021. A subset of Radius Indiana—a regional economic development partnership representing eight counties in South Central Indiana: Crawford, Daviess, Dubois, Greene, Lawrence, Martin, Orange, and Washington; Discover Southern Indiana is a collaborative regional tourism marketing group.

Tourism is the fifth largest industry in Southern Indiana supporting 3,473 jobs equaling $82.2 million in wages. Tourism generates $280 million in spending with $138 million in total economic impact according to a 2020 study by Rockport Analytics. These numbers are certain to grow with Weisensteiner at the helm.

“Getting my degree from IU Southeast afforded me the opportunities to be where I am now,” said Weisensteiner. “I have also found that no matter what job I am in my biology degree still comes in handy. I am always sharing the names of trees, plants and insects with people and other interesting facts I learned from my professors, which usually leads to people getting a good laugh. I still have a passion and a love for nature and I love passing that along.”

Faculty Spotlight: Sumreen Asim and John Ross