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Early Career Achievement Awards

The Early Career Achievement Awards celebrate outstanding young alumni who have demonstrated innovative and responsible professional leadership and the potential for future distinction. The pool of nominees was especially strong this year and the College extends its congratulations to all those under consideration for their successes. We are proud of you and appreciate all you do that enhances our reputation for excellence.

They return to campus to receive their award and share advice with current students through panel discussions during Homecoming Celebrations at Illinois State University.  - See more at:
They return to campus to receive their award and share advice with current students through panel discussions during Homecoming Celebrations at Illinois State University.  - See more at:
They return to campus to receive their award and share advice with current students through panel discussions during Homecoming Celebrations at Illinois State University.  - See more at:

They return to campus to receive their award and share advice with current students through panel discussions during Homecoming Celebrations at Illinois State University on Friday - October 4, 2013.

Panel Discussions — 3:00 - 4:00 pm  Learn from the Award Winners in a Question and Answer session.

  • SFHB 139 - Finance, Insurance and Accounting
  • SFHB 357 - Marketing
  • SFHB 366 - Management and Quantitative Methods

Awards Ceremony − 4:15 - 5:00 pm  Mingle with the Awards Winners during a short reception immediately following a brief presentation celebrating their early career success.

Here is a brief look at the winners of the 2013-2043 College of Business Early Career Achievement Awards (ECAA).


Oscar Baeza '96, Organizational Leadership

Oscar BaezaOscar Baeza is the Chief Financial Officer of Midwest REM Enterprises, Inc., a locally owned  Hispanic construction firm boasting over $18M in sales annually. As the CFO he is responsible for managing the company's finances, heads the accounting department and has oversight of the company's assets. In his 15 year tenure, he has proven to be an effective and decisive leader and is in large part responsible for driving the firm's explosive growth in recent years.

He graduated from Illinois State University with a dual B.S. degree in Marketing and Management and Quantitative Methods. He was trained in the hospitality industry for four years prior to joining the firm in 1998. He credits his extensive training in customer service, customer recovery, and effective communication skills to his success today. He earned his Masters of Business Administration degree in 2003 from the Kellstadt Graduate School of Business-DePaul University, with a concentration in Finance.

Oscar is a proponent of continued education and builds on his knowledge by enrolling in professional education courses regularly. Most recently, he participated in "Growing the Minority Business to Scale", an intense Executive training program hosted by Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College.

A proud member of the Metropolitan Leadership Institute, class of '09, he credits much of his recent success to the skills acquired in this competitive program hosted by the United Neighborhood Organization. MLI fosters leadership development and encourages civic action from its participants.

Oscar is also an active member of the National Society of Hispanic MBA's, Hispanic American Construction Industry and the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He also volunteered as a tutor at the Mercy Home for Boys and currently serves as a mentor to students in the Big Shoulders Fund.

Paris Blalock '99, Entrepreneurship

Paris BlalockAfter graduating from Illinois State in 1999 with a degree in entrepreneurship, Paris Blalock joined the family business, T&L International. This is a distribution company whose products are internationally purchased and nationally distributed.

After 4 years in the family business, Paris realized that her real passion was in a more creative field. In 2004, she developed, owned and operated Paris’ Boutique, an upscale women’s clothing and accessories boutique. She later decided to expand her career into the hospitality, sales and event planning industry. It proved to be the best career decision for her as she realized that she has a talent and passion for this industry that allows her to be highly successful.

Events at Refinery was her first stepping stone as she developed the newly established events department in a short amount of time. Following her time at Refinery, Paris became Director of Catering at Holiday Inn Urbana. During her time at both Events at Refinery and Holiday Inn Urbana, not only did she book, plan and execute client events, she also developed internal events from concept to execution.

Paris is active in her community as she attends and hosts many Chamber of Commerce events as well as serves on local charitable committees such as Salt and Light based in Champaign, IL. Paris was voted 2007 East Central Illinois' "20 Most Outstanding Women You Should Know” for exemplifying the word outstanding due to her accomplishments on the job, her relentless pursuit of excellence, and always giving her time and talents to help others in need.

Dominick Bruno '02, Insurance

Dominick BrunoDominick Bruno is Vice President of the Excess Casualty Retail unit of Navigators Commercial. He is responsible for managing Central Zone out of Chicago office. Dominick has held various underwriting and management positions in the insurance industry over the past 12 years. He joined Navigators in January and is reporting to Peter Burns. Dominick’s insurance experience is primarily underwriting excess liability business.

Dominick was previously Assistant Vice President for AWAC in his management role for past 4 years in Chicago.  Prior to AWAC, he held various excess underwriting and management roles with AIG for 8 years in Chicago. He is a graduate of Illinois State University with a B.S. in Finance and Insurance.



Martin Franchi '01, Finance

Martin FrnachiMartin Franchi ‘01 is the Chief Financial Officer and Partner at Mirus Trading Solutions, a Chicago futures industry firm focused in four key areas - low latency trading software, high speed global network architecture, futures brokerage and investment services, and trading media and education. His responsibilities span beyond the finance and accounting functions, as he is the Partner responsible for legal, human resources, and M&A. He also sits on the strategy, compensation, and capital steering committees. He played a key role in the divestiture of the firm’s managed network services business 7ticks, LLC to Interactive Data Corporation in 2009.

Martin began his post Illinois State career at Kraft Foods, where he held various accounting and finance positions ranging from corporate functions to international business for Asia Pacific and Latin America. While a College of Business student, Martin completed an internship at Normal Town Hall in the finance department.

 He and his wife Maureen are proud parents to three children, Emily, Colin, and Isabella. Martin is active in the Elmhurst, Illinois community as a Board Member for the Elmhurst District 205 Foundation. He is the first of three brothers to graduate with Finance degrees from Illinois State.


Amanda Giles 02, Business Administration

Amanda GilesAs a student at Illinois State, Amanda Giles was excited to be an intern with Country Financial. After completing her degree in Business Administration in May 2002, Amanda began her career with County Financial as a Financial Representative.

Establishing an office close to her hometown, in the Decatur/ Forsyth area, allowed Amanda to help provide financial security to many of her friends and family. Working diligently, she quickly grew her client base and continues to do so today. Amanda’s goal is to help her clients grow and protect their money from now until retirement.

In 2003, Amanda married her husband Zeth (Criminal Science ’04). They both reside in Forsyth and have 4 children. Zayn, 8, Bianca, 6, Ace, 6, Vincent, 2 and another due March 2014.

Amanda credits her success to God, her Catholic faith and her supportive and encouraging husband.

 Audrey Hahn, Bachelor of Science/Master of Professional Accountancy '08, MBA '09

Audrey HahnAudrey Hahn is a Senior Financial Auditor at State Farm Insurance.  She began her career as a Financial Analyst in Property and Casualty financial reporting.  After three years, she transitioned to the Internal Audit department where she has conducted auditing activities, coordinated internal audit engagements and worked on a variety of department initiatives.  She remains active on campus at Illinois State as an accounting recruiter and currently manages the Illinois State University accounting recruiting team at State Farm.

Audrey has continued her passion for learning and has earned her Certified Public Accountant, Certified Internal Auditor, Chartered Financial Consultant, and Fellow Life Management Institute designations. 

While attending Illinois State, Audrey was named Robert G. Bone Scholar, Outstanding Undergraduate Student in Accountancy, and received the Outstanding Master of Professional Accountancy Award. 

She resides in Normal with her husband Justin (Finance ‘06, MBA ‘08) and their daughter, Lucy.


 John Hill '11, Marketing

John HillJohn Hill is a Community Manager at Leo Burnett at the worldwide headquarters in Chicago, Illinois. His role entails creating content strategy, assisting with content creation, developing assignments briefs, moderating fan activity, and constructing reports where key takeaways influence future content for clients on social media channels.

John been a Community Manager on award-winning teams for multiple clients, receiving 'Bronze Reggie' and 'Facebook Studio Gold' Awards.

In John's first year-and-a-half at Leo, he managed third party vendors to successfully plan, implement, execute, and monitor Client marketing initiatives. He has stayed in touch with Illinois State faculty and students by frequenting IMC Nights hosted by the College of Business.

In his free time John enjoys the outdoors, traveling, golfing, and photography.

Kristen Knake '10, Business Information Systems

Kristen KnakeKristen Knake ‘10 graduated from Illinois State with a degree in Business Information Systems.  As a student in the College of Business, she served as president of the Business Information Systems Club and founded one of the first student chapters of the Association for Information Systems.

Kristen currently works for The Boeing Company as a Functional Analyst in their business and supply chain systems organization.  As part of a team supporting an enterprise-wide application, she serves as a change management focal while also leading an effort to adopt a more agile development methodology amongst her team.  Kristen also serves as a mentor for new employees and interns, acclimating them to the company and culture.  

Kristen recently married her husband, Matt. Together they have a dog, Rocky.  In her spare time, she enjoys volunteering with Boeing in promoting STEM careers at area high schools and grade schools. She also training Rocky to become a certified therapy dog for children and the elderly.


Amanda Luebchow '08, Marketing

Amanda LuebchowWhile at Illinois State, Amanda Luebchow was very active in various groups and organizations throughout the school. She was a Delta Zeta, part of the American Marketing Association, the Professional Sales Institute and a Sales Scholar. Amanda also had the opportunity to represent ISU at the National Collegiate Sales Competition in Georgia.  

After graduation in 2008, Amanda accepted an offer with Frito Lay (Pepsico) as a District Manager where she worked for Frito Lay managing various different territories throughout Illinois and Indiana for 5 years.

In June of this year, Amanda joined KIND Healthy Snacks as their Midwest District Manager. KIND is a very small private company producing gluten free, all natural, non-gmo granola and bars.   Her territory includes 11 states throughout the Midwest and 3 sales representatives as part of her team. Part of her responsibilities included setting up the pricing and promotions for KIND in the majority of the grocery retailers throughout the Midwest.  

Amanda recently purchased a bought a home in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago. She loves to play sand volleyball, spend time with family and friends, and is a HUGE Packer’s fan.


Sarah Otey '97, International Business

Sarah OteySarah Otey is the customs compliance manager for Claire’s Stores. Her responsibilities include operations and government regulatory compliance for imports, exports, and the foreign trade zone.

Since graduating in 1997 from Illinois State, she has held various positions in both customs broker and importer organizations. In 2000, Sarah earned her customs broker license.

Sarah is currently active in Toastmasters, where she has completed numerous communication awards and holds many club leadership roles.  


Kevin Vlk '07, Business Teacher Education

Kevin VikKevin Vlk ‘07 grew up in Downers Grove. He began his business career in high school as a Cutco Knives Sales Rep for Vector Marketing. This lead to a successful and profitable run as a College Pro Painters Franchise Manager during his early years at Illinois State. Kevin also had marketing internships with State Farm, Caterpillar, and Ernst & Young (EY).

Upon graduating Illinois State with his Business Teacher Education degree, he began working full time for EY in downtown Chicago as a Business Development Marketing & Events Coordinator. While at EY, Kevin helped assemble, train, and mentor a new Midwest Events team which planned over 100 events a year including PGA sponsorships, black-tie galas, and Entrepreneur of the Year Award programs. He also collaborated with EY’s Digital Platforms Team to develop a mobile events app and to run an onsite app support for national and international events in Palm Springs and Monte Carlo. Kevin transferred to EY’s San Francisco office in January 2012.

In early 2013, he was recruited by Google on LinkedIn and now works with their Google Search team in Mountain View, CA on various projects, events, and project calendaring. Post-college, Kevin went back to school to learn character animation, following his childhood dream of wanting to learn how to animate. He continues to take workshops lead by Pixar animators in Emeryville, CA and works on personal animated projects in his free time.

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