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EIU Media Relations

EIU’s 2020 Alumni Award winners announced


(Charleston, IL) –Eastern Illinois University’s Alumni Association has announced the recipients of the Charleston, Illinois university’s 2020 Alumni Awards.

Typically, EIU’s Alumni Awards recipients are officially acknowledged during Homecoming Week at EIU’s annual Alumni Awards dinner and reception. While statewide COVID restrictions and University health and safety guidelines being enforced this fall led to the cancelation of this year’s celebration event, EIU officials are eager to offer their praise of these recognized EIU alums.

“While we regret our inability to celebrate our 2020 Alumni Award recipients and these outstanding EIU alumni in person, we’re absolutely elated to announce this year’s winners to our EIU communities,” said Steve Rich, assistant vice president for Advancement at EIU. “These alumni represent the quality education, lifelong relationships, and personal success of every EIU graduate, and are notable for their own individual personal and professional achievements.”

Several EIU alumni were named as award recipients for their significant personal and professional contributions. Those receiving a 2020 EIU Alumni Award include:

Kraig Koch, Outstanding Young Alumnus

Kraig Koch ’08 is a planning director for the St. Louis-based creative and technology agency HLK. As the strategic lead on key agency accounts, including Ameren Illinois and Bayer Traits and Systems, Koch works closely with his clients and creative counterparts to build brand experiences with the potential to change behavior and shape belief. HLK, whose diverse client base spans more than 20 industries, was recently named a 2020 Top Workplace by the St. Louis Post Dispatch. Previously, Koch spent eight years with Leo Burnett Chicago. Hired as a community manager in 2012, he was promoted twice in two years and eventually rose to the position of global account director. In 2017, he transitioned to Burnett’s strategy department, working as a global strategy director on iconic brands like Samsung and Kellogg’s. Koch believes the communication and critical thinking skills he honed as an undergraduate have been crucial to him making such a significant impact so quickly and he often returns to campus to share this conviction with current students as a regular speaker at the annual English Studies Conference. Koch currently resides with his wife and daughter in Webster Groves, MO.

Lauren Urban, Outstanding Young Alumna

Lauren Urban ’13 is the chief operating officer at Youtech & Associates, a full-service marketing and advertising agency based in Naperville with a second location in Scottsdale, Ariz. Lauren started her journey with Youtech in June of 2013 as a graphic designer, just a year after the $20 million company was founded. She swiftly rose to director of web and graphics, then creative director, before landing her current role as COO. With a reputation as a fearless and professional leader, she oversees marketing, project management, back-end development and creative teams for a company whose most well-known clients include MillerCoors, Chik-fil-A and 3M. The company ranked 522nd in Inc. magazine’s fastest growing companies in the country in 2017, while ranking 60th among Illinois companies on the 2019 list. While at EIU she was involved with both Student Government and University Board as a graphic designer. She received her MBA in 2019.

Eric Combs, Distinguished Educator

Eric Combs ’05, ’18, a middle school band teacher at Richland County Middle School in Olney, was named the 2020 Illinois Teacher of the Year by the Illinois State Board of Education. Combs, who believes every student should have the opportunity to learn how to play an instrument, started a program that loans instruments to students at no cost to them. He has also developed a new system of differentiated and individualized music instruction in which every student in the band program can progress at his or her own pace. The founder of, a free website that allows band directors to share materials, videos and short presentations in their area of expertise, he also maintains several Facebooks groups with thousands of followers for his fellow music educators. Combs also assisted in helping the Illinois State Board of Education draft guidelines for all school districts as they returned to on-site instruction after Covid-19 closures. Combs and his family live in Clay City.

Mike Finkle, Louis V. Hencken Alumni Service Award

Mike Finkle ’62 was as well-respected as one can be in his field as a financial advisor. But his service to others, including his beloved EIU, is what set him apart. Finkle, who passed away unexpectedly in February and is being honored posthumously, made it his life’s goal to use his success to give back. After a highly successful 47-year career as a financial advisor, he retired from Raymond James & Associates in 2014 after being cited as one of the nation's top financial advisors by three separate financial trade publications during his career. He was named a Distinguished Alumnus by EIU’s School of Business and later served two terms on the Business School’s advisory board. He served six years on the EIU Foundation board of directors, serving as President from 2016-17. Finkle was recognized by the EIU Foundation with the Burnham and Nancy Neal Philanthropy Award in 2018. His scholarship, the H. Michael Finkle Finance Endowment, is awarded each year to an undergraduate student in marketing or finance. Formerly a resident of Danville and Marco Island, along with his wife he was also very active in the community, serving on boards and in leadership roles for numerous organizations. 

Randy Bailey, Distinguished Alumnus

Randy Bailey ’78 is the founder and chairman of First Health Advisory, a healthcare advisory firm which has been recognized as a national leader in connected asset risk management services. The firm serves federal and commercial healthcare entities by developing and providing technology solutions to suit the ever-changing needs of their clients. Active in the information technology industry throughout his career, he also served as chairman, president and CEO of FreeLinc and was a founding board member of SpinGo, where he held the role of president, as well. A sought-after public speaker, he has remained actively engaged with EIU as an alumnus, addressing the university’s graduates as a commencement speaker, spending time in the classroom as an on-campus lecturer during Entrepreneurship Week and serving on the Lumpkin College of Business and Technology Dean’s Task Force. Bailey has participated as a member and leader of numerous volunteer and community-based organizations and was selected to participate in the wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. The Phoenix resident and his family have also hosted numerous alumni gatherings in their home.  

Melissa Conyears-Ervin, Distinguished Alumna

Melissa Conyears-Ervin ’97 is the current treasurer for the City of Chicago and a former state representative for the 10th District of Illinois. A finance graduate and proud member and past president of Sigma Gamma Rho sorority at EIU, Conyears-Ervin has more than 15 years of experience in the insurance industry as a manager for Allstate and CS Insurance Strategies. Elected treasurer in April 2019 for a term of four years, her responsibilities include managing and growing an $8 billion portfolio made up of a variety of securities and bonds, while one of her primary goals is to help increase development in underserved neighborhoods in Chicago. Always civic-minded, Conyears-Ervin also serves as a mentor for high school girls, youth superintendent at her church and has co-chaired numerous community events. She also remains connected to her alma mater, where she served as commencement speaker for the fall 2019 ceremonies. Conyears-Ervin resides in Garfield Park with her husband and daughter.

Judy Ethell, Distinguished Alumna

Judy Ethell ’82 founded J Ethell Consulting and serves as an operating consultant for privately owned, middle market companies. She previously held roles as chief financial officer and chief accounting officer for BearingPoint Inc., a $3.5 billion global management consulting and technology company, and partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP, where she managed global tax relationships for several Fortune 500 companies. An active supporter of EIU with service on the Capital Campaign Steering Committee, as Accountancy Advisory Board treasurer and president of the EIU Foundation board of directors, she was recognized in 2005 as the EIU Foundation’s Outstanding Volunteer and is a past recipient of the Alumni Association’s Louis V. Hencken Alumni Service Award. Highly competitive as an equestrian, Ethell has been awarded gold, silver and bronze medals by the U.S. Dressage Federation and the U.S. Equestrian Federation, which are the highest awards available to amateur riders. Remaining active with the Alpha Phi sorority since graduating, as well, she and her husband live in the St. Louis area. 

Steve Ferguson, Distinguished Alumnus

Steve Ferguson ’90 has experienced tremendous professional and global leadership success during his 30-year career with Caterpillar, the world’s leading manufacturer of construction equipment, diesel and natural gas engines, industrial gas turbines and diesel-electric locomotives. Beginning as an entry-level accountant, he has progressed through the ranks of the company, currently serving as vice president of the Industrial Power Systems Division, where he has worldwide responsibilities for designing, manufacturing, marketing and sales of industrial Cat® and Perkins engines and Caterpillar Defense products. Previously, he was the general manager of Advanced Component Manufacturing and has also served as chief financial officer for the Construction Industries segment based in Singapore. Ferguson also serves as executive sponsor for the Caterpillar Latino Connection employee resource group. Ferguson supports EIU both financially and with his time, having been a member of the Accounting Advisory Board. He was previously honored as an outstanding alumnus by the highly exclusive Beta Gamma Sigma international business honor society. In addition to his bachelor’s degree in business from EIU, the San Antonio-area resident is also a graduate of the Northwestern University Advanced Executive Development program.

Cam Simpson, Distinguished Alumnus

Cam Simpson ’06 is an award-winning international investigative journalist, author and editor. He is currently a senior editor and reporter for investigations at Bloomberg Businessweek magazine and Bloomberg News based in London, where he’s worked since 2010. Previously, he worked for The Wall Street Journal as both a Middle East and Washington correspondent and covered U.S. foreign policy and national security for the Chicago Tribune from its Washington bureau after 9/11, where he also did international investigations. He’s reported from more than 40 countries in the last two decades and received more than a dozen top awards, including two George Polk Awards, the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, and The Barlett & Steele Gold Award for Investigative Business Journalism. Simpson also is the author of The Girl from Kathmandu, published by Harper Collins in 2016. It tells the story of the U.S. government’s reliance on human trafficking during the Iraq War. The book was a finalist for the Investigative Reporters & Editors Book Award and was a nominated finalist for the PEN America Literary Awards. A native of St. Charles, Ill., Simpson lives in London with his partner and their daughter.

For more information about EIU’s Alumni Services Office, visit For more information about EIU, or to learn more about its growing assortment of programs and services, visit the university’s website at, or call EIU’s public information office at (217) 581-7400.

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Photos of EIU’s 2020 Alumni Award recipients are available at



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