Mike McKenna is the founder and president of Diamond Assets, an Apple hardware trade-up company based in Milton, Wis. The company, named after its chief operating officer and his wife, Diamond, was rated by Inc. magazine as the seventh-fastest growing privately-owned business in the country in 2018. With $43 million in revenue in 2017, the company’s three-year growth rate was an incredible 19,718 percent. The idea for the company was born from McKenna’s job as a salesman for Apple after graduating from the university. He saw a need and found a way for school districts to be able to replace aging technology with affordable upgrades. It now has more than 120 employees during its peak season and has gone from a 3,000 square-foot facility to a 50,000 square-foot space it opened in April 2018. It serves all 50 states and has plans to expand its service offerings and capabilities moving forward. McKenna, who served as president of Sigma Pi fraternity while an undergraduate, has also made a point of staying active with EIU, including serving as the featured speaker for the School of Business’ Entrepreneurship Week.
Monica Genta’s philosophy on education during her 10 years as a teacher is focused not on what kids are taught, but how they are reached. Genta, a Windsor Junior High and High School science teacher, is a national education consultant, motivational speaker and the author of three books, the latest being The Rooted Classroom. Her excellence in teaching has resulted in her being recognized by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards as a National Board Certified Teacher and she has also served as a professional development provider for the Golden Apple Summer Institute on EIU’s campus. Not only a motivator and advocate for students in her classroom, she’s also a recognized leader in her field, as her Ted Talk has been viewed by educators from all over the world. Her speaking topics include strategies to engage students; building relationships with students and staff; and creating engaging science labs and lessons. Genta’s goal is to transform teachers, leaders and schools from seeing education as an ordinary job into an extraordinary adventure.
A social studies teacher at Bluffton High School in South Carolina, Erin Reichert was one of only 44 teachers in the United States honored with a prestigious 2017-2018 Milken Educator Award. For the past 30 years, the awards have been presented to teachers and other education professionals for outstanding accomplishments as well as their future promise. The only teacher in her state to receive the award last year, she was recognized for her commitment to students through a teaching style which exposes them to opportunities they might not otherwise experience. She encourages her senior students to take part in a community service project while also involving all of her classes in activities to help them better understand elections, government and the responsibilities of good citizenship. While teaching history, government and geography courses among others in her career, Reichert has also been recognized as both a school-level and district teacher of the year. She resides in Bluffton with her husband and three children.
Elmer Pullen, who served as a financial aid counselor at his alma mater for more than 30 years, is being recognized for his outstanding voluntary service to the university and its students during his tenure as an employee and in retirement. As a mentor to an untold number of students, faculty, staff and alumni over the years, he contributed immensely to making EIU the welcoming, diverse community it is today. Pullen has served as a volunteer on numerous non-profit and university committees, typically in support of students and youth groups. He was also especially active with Panther Athletics, where he assisted with recruiting and was a long-time official for indoor and outdoor track and field competitions. His efforts and always-positive attitude have been recognized many times over the years, including being selected as EIU’s “Boss of the Year” while on staff and named Big Brother of the Year for his commitment and service to the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization. In retirement, he is also an active volunteer in his hometown of Brookport, where he resides with his wife, Fran.
Dr. James Bailey is long-time educator and expert in leadership development, spending the past 15 years as a professor in the School of Business at George Washington University. Named one of the world’s top 10 executive educators by the International Council for Executive Leadership Development, he has published more than 50 academic papers and case studies and is the author of five books, including the award-winning Organizational and Managerial Wisdom and founded and edits online magazine Lessons on Leadership, which has 40,000 subscribers. He has designed and delivered hundreds of executive programs for companies including Nestle, UBS, Conoco-Phillips and Goldman Sachs, as well as several major law firms and the Joint Chiefs of Staff Annual Conference, where he reported directly to the Speaker of the House. Bailey is a frequent keynote speaker who has appeared on broadcast programs for the BBC, NPR CBS and Fox News, and whose work has been cited in such outlets as The Wall Street Journal, Fortune and Forbes. He is also a frequent contributor to The Hill, The Washington Post, Washington Business Journal and Harvard Business Review. During his successful career, Bailey has also taught at the University of Michigan, New York University and the Helsinki School of Economics
The president and chief executive officer of Midland States Bancorp, over the past 10 years Jeff Ludwig has helped grow the financial institution from $400 million to almost $6 billion in assets. He joined the bank in 2006 as chief financial officer and later served as CFO and president of both it and its holding company, including representing them on Wall Street when they became a publicly traded company. In overseeing their growth, he has been an advocate for hiring employees from the region – including many EIU graduates – while also playing an instrumental role in ensuring all staff have opportunities for professional advancement. Ludwig was recruited to KPMG in St. Louis following his graduation from the university before advancing to a senior manager-audit and advisory services position in their Mountain View, Calif., office. He later served as director of corporate accounting with Novellus Systems, a NASDAQ 100 company, and associate director of corporate reporting with Zimmer Holdings, a national leader in orthopedic implant manufacturing. A member of Lambda Chi Alpha as an undergraduate, he resides in Effingham with his wife, Jami ’96, and their family.
Dave McKinney has had a long and successful career as a journalist in print and on the radio, taking great pride and responsibility in adhering to The Daily Eastern News’ motto of “Tell the truth and don’t be afraid.” Currently at Chicago’s WBEZ and considered one of Illinois’ top reporters on state politics, he previously spent 19 years with the Chicago Sun-Times as the Springfield bureau chief with additional stops at Reuters and the Daily Herald. During his tenure, McKinney has covered stories on scandals of two former Illinois governors and most recently helped uncover a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at the Illinois Veterans’ Home in Quincy. For his work, he has received multiple professional recognitions including being named one of the nation’s best statehouse reporters by The Washington Post in 2014; receiving the Society of American Business Editors and Writers Best-in-Business award; and being selected EIU’s 2016 Journalism Alumnus of the Year. A long-time supporter of the university and his department, McKinney often returns to campus to assist with journalism workshops or speak to classes.
With a distinguished and active career as a literary scholar, Dr. Herbert Russell has long been considered the leading expert on one of Illinois’ most important poets, Spoon River Anthology author Edgar Lee Masters. As part of the research making his work so unique, he was granted access to all of Masters’ previously unavailable diaries, letters and unpublished chapters of his 1936 autobiography. The Association of Writers and Writing Programs – the biggest convention of writers in the United States – along with the Poetry Foundation and National Public Radio, have featured Russell’s work on Masters. He has also provided editorial expertise for two editions of classics written by early Illinois writers W. S. Blackman and Mary Tracy Earle. Additionally, he edited a series of works on Southern Illinois regional history which have played an important role in preserving the state’s cultural heritage for future generations. Beyond his work as a noted author and historian, he has served as a university faculty member, the director of college relations for John A. Logan College and a writer and editor for Illinois’ Coal Research Center.