Santhana Naidu grew up in a big city in India, but he now prefers his comparatively smaller adopted hometown in Indiana, and his community activism proves it.
Naidu came to the United States to get a college degree at Philadelphia University, with the intention of returning to India, where his family is active in the textile industry. But Terre Haute has captured his heart and become his new home, where he is investing his talent and energy through volunteerism and leadership.
Naidu is among a dozen young professionals who are being recognized for their contributions to the community as the inaugural class of 12 Under 40 award recipients, a new recognition established by the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce and the Tribune-Star.
As associate vice president of marketing and communications at ISU, Naidu is responsible for ISU’s web and new media strategy and management. He is also dedicated to volunteerism through the Terre Haute Human Relations Commission, United Way of the Wabash Valley, Goodwill Industries and the Rotary Club of Terre Haute.
“Santhana is the type of leader who achieves success through a humble personality in which he cares more about what is achieved rather than who obtains credit for the successes,” wrote Dave Piker, who nominated Naidu for the award.
Naidu’s thirst for knowledge is what brought him to Terre Haute. After earning his first bachelor’s degree out east, he decided to continue his education, choosing to do so at Indiana State University. He now feels that Terre Haute is where he is meant to be. He has become active in the community, serving on many volunteer boards, and he has returned to ISU as a staff member.
“Four years later, I felt like I was at home and I didn’t want to go anywhere else,” Naidu said of his post-graduation decision to stay. He found employment as the director of online marketing and analytics for Williams Randall Marketing, where he managed million-dollar marketing campaigns to improve profit and non-profit organizations through social media, websites, software and hardware technology.
He is credited with leading the redesign of the ISU website, and he recognizes that social media is an important part of student lives and how they connect with the world around them. While their parents may prefer more traditional contact with their students and the university, he said, everyone should recognize that social media has changed the communications landscape into a 24-hour job.
But connecting the world to ISU, and vice versa, has not destroyed what Naidu likes about the small town feel of Terre Haute.
“I enjoyed coming to a small city,” he said. “One of the reasons I came to Terre Haute was that I knew there is not a big population, so I could get to know about the culture and about the people.”
Naidu can naturally relate to the many international students who come to ISU to pursue degrees. He does miss his home country at times, and this past summer he took his wife and son to India to visit.
“I was talking to someone from New Zealand recently, and we both noticed that we have a growing affinity for our home culture, now that we are so far from it,” Naidu said. That has led him to believe that his parents were braver to send him off to college on the other side of the planet than he may be when it comes time to send his own son off to college one day.
He appreciates that the Terre Haute community offers opportunities for his young family — wife Amy and their 7-year-old son, Cameron — through the arts, sports and educational enrichment activities. And Naidu said he is grateful that his wife supports his community involvement.
“We will be married nine years in December,” he said. “Without her support, I wouldn’t be able to contribute as much time to the other things I’m passionate about.”
Outside his work at ISU, Naidu said he is committed to the noontime Rotary Club, which he joined in 2003.
“I feel that the people in Rotary have embraced me, kind of like a son or a grandson,” he said.
He is involved in the organization’s youth exchange, which sees young people from the Wabash Valley travel overseas to expand their experiences and bring that knowledge back to their communities. He has received Rotary’s Four Avenues of Service Award, and is a member of the club’s board of directors, serving as secretary. He is also Rotary District 6580 Youth Exchange chair, and assistant district governor.
His enthusiasm for his work and his community involvement is readily apparent when he talks about them.
“I just love what I do,” Naidu said, “so I say my work is part of my hobby. I will take my laptop out while watching TV and do some work.”
He said he is “truly honored and humbled” to be part of the inaugural class of 12 Under 40. He knows many of the other honorees, and said they are doing great things in the community.
“It’s obviously not all me,” Naidu said of his positive contributions. “My parents, and ISU, and my family have made me who I am. Without ISU and my colleagues and friends, it wouldn’t be possible. And my wife is my best friend and supporter.”