2019 Distinguished Alumni Awards

The outstanding accomplishments of Western Illinois University graduates Stephen C. Mills and Carin L. Stutz were recognized Saturday, May 11 at Western's Spring 2019 Commencement Exercises in Western Hall. Mills and Stutz were both recognized at the 1 p.m. ceremony.

The Distinguished Alumni Award, given since 1973, recognizes alumni who have brought credit to the University and themselves through exceptional professional accomplishments, meritorious service to ensure the continued excellence of WIU and through service to their communities at the national, state or local levels. 

Stephen C. Mills

millsMills, a 1971 recreation and park administration (currently recreation, park and tourism administration) graduate, is chief executive officer of Bear Development LLC, Bear Realty and Bear Commercial, LLC. He has nearly 40 years of experience as a real estate consultant and entrepreneur, specializing in real estate consulting, brokerage and development, as well as in advising clients in real estate-related matters.

He has been involved in all aspects of the real estate business as a buyer, seller, broker, investor and financier. Along with partners and stockholders, and in addition to his real estate activities, he owns and operates companies in the fields of construction and property management. Mills previously served as director of Southport Financial Corporation and as director of Southport Bank. He was a managing member of Construction Management Associates (CMA) and serves as a construction manager and general contractor. He holds the Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM) designation as a recognized expert in the commercial and investment real estate industry. As a Certified Commercial Investment Member of the National Association of Realtors, he has demonstrated expertise in real estate investment analysis, taxation and property investment.

While at WIU, Mills played football for the Fighting Leathernecks and remains actively involved with his alma mater, WIU Athletics, the football program and the WIU Alumni Association. Most recently, he made a significant gift and commitment in support of athletics facilities improvements and the football facilities project.

Carin L. Stutz

stutzStutz, a 1978 graduate, is the former chief operating officer and executive vice president for Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, Inc. She has more than four decades of experience in the restaurant industry and is credited as a strategic leader specializing in driving operational excellence, building great teams and creating shareholder value, along with extensive franchise and international experience.

She is passionate about mentoring and teaching financial literacy. Prior to Red Robin, she served as president of McAlister’s Corporation at FOCUS Brands Inc. In 2012, she was named the CEO and president of Cosi, Inc. and served as a member of Cosi’s Board of Directors from 2012-13. Previously, she served for three years as the president and COO of global business development for Brinker International, where she led franchise development and operations for Chili’s and Maggiano’s restaurants worldwide; spent eight years as an executive vice president of operations for Applebee’s International; five years as central and pacific division vice president for Wendy’s International; served as regional operations vice president for Sodexo, U.S.A.; and was vice president of corporate operations for NutriSystem, Inc.

Stutz was the past board chair and member of the board of directors of the Women’s Foodservice Forum, an organization in the food service industry dedicated to developing gender-diverse leadership talent. She also served on the leadership and management advisory board at the University of Kansas.

She was named 100 Women to Watch—Today’s Chicago Woman and 100 Women Making a Difference in 2012; Women Worth Watching—Texas Diversity Journal in 2011 and was a SIFE and ProStart Volunteer and National Judge—National Restaurant Association Education Foundation.

Stutz was a member of Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority at WIU, has been active in her communities, and with her alma mater, including meeting with and hosting students in Chicago and speaking at College of Education and Human Services events. 

She and her husband, Rodger, also a WIU graduate, most recently established a scholarship at Western to support hospitality and law enforcement and justice administration students. She received her master’s degree in business administration from Mid America Nazarene University.


View Past Recipients