When Sheli Plummer was a Ball State undergraduate, she enjoyed coaching swimming, so she wanted to become a physical education teacher at a school with a pool. However, her goals changed when she took her first scuba class at Ball State.
“I put my face in the water for the very first time, and I said, ‘This is all I ever want to do. I don't need to teach P.E. I just want this,’” Plummer said.
Now a 1997 Ball State alumna, Plummer is an assistant lecturer of kinesiology, and she works as a scuba diving instructor on campus.
After graduating from Ball State with a general studies major and three minors in aquatics, Plummer traveled south to Key Largo, Florida, where she later finished her physical education degree at Florida International University.
“I worked at a dive shop on the Atlantic Ocean, and I just loved it,” Plummer said. “It was amazing. I was out in the ocean most days of the week. While I was there, I loved it, but I didn’t make much money, so I decided to go back to school.”
Plummer then worked as an aquatics and sports director at a YMCA in Florida for five years before moving back to Indiana to teach physical education in Fort Wayne for eight years. As she was teaching, Plummer enrolled part time at Ball State to earn her master’s degree in 2010.
“My husband and I had agreed that we were open to the idea, so we moved [to Muncie],” Plummer said. “[Neither] of us had a job because I was a student, and he was still working [in Fort Wayne]. We bought a house on a whim, and a prayer of faith made it happen. I was just hoping I was going to get a job with Ball State.”
In 2013, Plummer began teaching at Ball State. She often finds herself engaging and relating to her students, she said, as she remembers what her time was like as an undergraduate student at Ball State. Because her students are often freshmen, she said, she makes an effort to learn everyone’s name and helps them get to know the other students in the class.
“I get to see these students come through the scuba minor, and it’s so neat to see what they are going to do with their lives and their scuba experiences,” Plummer said. “I always try to make good friends with my students because I felt like it was hard for me to connect with people outside of my major.”
One of Plummer’s former students, Brandon Foster, met Plummer in 2018 during his advanced open water class. He said he considered Plummer as family because she has always been there to add positivity to his life.
“She is so nice and easy to work with — we have a little joke where the divers call her the ‘quarry mom’ because she feels like a mother to us,” Foster said. “She is always there for you and will not hesitate to drop what she is doing to help you. Sheli has a huge positive impact wherever she goes.”
Plummer said she was “devastated” in July 2020 to find out the 18-credit scuba minor, which has been around for over 30 years, is ending because of budget reductions.
“People who take this minor also do things like zoology, biology or work in a zoo or aquarium, so there’s so many people who take this minor for so many different reasons,” Plummer said. “I feel like there’s great value in it. I would love to see it continue, but I don’t know what it would take to see that happen … I'm trying to figure out if there’s any way we can save this program.”
In September, Plummer was awarded the 2020 Indiana Recreation/Leisure Educator of the Year Award. In addition to her passion teaching scuba diving at Ball State, Plummer is also involved in the Indiana Society for Health and Physical Education (INSHAPE), where she is part of a “scuba family.” A friend of hers at the society nominated her for the award.
“I’m really humbled and flattered — there’s only one person in the whole state that [wins], so that’s a big deal,” Plummer said. “It’s exciting. I definitely work hard to make my classes fun and engaging, and I have a great group of instructors and divemasters that work with me.”
Carol Reed, one of Plummer’s former scuba instructors at Ball State, said she remembers many experiences with Plummer, both in the classroom and the water.
“Sheli and I went from having a teacher-student relationship to a lifelong friendship as fellow scuba instructors that is still continuing today,” Reed said. “We have co-taught scuba courses and have collaborated on editing some of our agency textbooks.”
Throughout their decades-long friendship, Reed said, she has seen Plummer grow into a confident, caring, skilled scuba instructor. One of Reed’s favorite memories with Plummer was when she and her husband went on a scuba diving trip in the Florida Keys where Plummer was working for a dive resort. Reed said this experience emphasizes how Plummer fell in love with the sport of scuba diving and how passionate she is about sharing her love for it with others.
“On dives, she would lead divers and find hidden marine life using hand signals to show us where and what she had found,” Reed said. “I can still see the time I saw her standing on her head while looking under a ledge on the reef. She had found some cool critters. She had been working in the Keys and diving those reefs [for a long time]. It was like her backyard.”