University News

McDonough County CEO Students Can Now Earn WIU Credit

October 25, 2022

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MACOMB/MOLINE, IL - - The word CEO usually conjures images of high-powered executives at Fortune 500 companies; but in McDonough County and rural counties all over the Midwest, it may look like a high school student selling homemade ice cream or automotive detailing services.

The Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities (CEO) program was developed in Fall 2008 by Effingham County teacher Craig Lindvah. He saw a need in the educational landscape for hands-on business experiences for high school students, so he started what would be the first CEO class with 20 high school students. While Craig has since passed away, his legacy lives on. Since 2008, the program, powered by the Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship, has graduated 4,000 students from 62 programs in seven states.

Members of the WIU community recognized the power of this program early on and were instrumental in bringing it to McDonough County. Among others, Innovation and Economic Development Dean and long-time Director of The Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs Chris Merrett and Executive Director of the Macomb Area Economic Development Corporation (MAEDCO) Kim Pierce were active in introducing business professionals and community leaders to the CEO program in 2016. A steering committee was formalized in 2017, which included WIU Assistant Professor in the College of Business and Technology (CBT) and two-time WIU alumna Honey Zimmerman. After a lot of hard work and fundraising, the inaugural class of the McDonough County CEO program started in Fall 2019.

Zimmerman served on the Board of Directors from 2019-2022.

"I wanted to be on the board for the McDonough County CEO Program from the start because I believed in this program wholeheartedly. I saw the impact it had on the youth and the local economies of our neighboring counties. I knew if smaller communities could do it, so could McDonough County. I'm thrilled to be a part of this program. In my opinion, it is a real game-changer for both education and small businesses," said Zimmerman.

Zimmerman just wrapped up her tenure on the board in June 2022, but not before she was able to facilitate the addition of a dual credit opportunity for CEO students. Zimmerman brought together WIU Administrators, Vice President for Enrollment Management Amber Schultz, Dean of the College of the CBT Craig Conrad and Associate Dean of the CBT Tara Feld to work with the McDonough County CEO Board of Directors to create the opportunity for dual enrollment.

Therefore, in addition to the two high school credits earned for CEO, starting this year, all CEO students in McDonough County are eligible to earn three credit hours from WIU.

"I initiated the discussions for dual credit and encouraged the board to strongly consider it because I saw how hard these CEO students worked, and their commitment is extraordinary," said Zimmerman. "These are our future business leaders, and they will earn every bit of those three college credits during the course of their time as CEO. I also know there are a lot of competing factors for the students' time, so I thought offering dual credit was an additional incentive that might be the tipping point when a high school junior or senior is deciding between CEO and other dual credit or AP course options at their high schools."

If CEO students are interested, they can apply to WIU and earn credit for the introduction to business course. This allows them to get a jump start on their college career and gives them an introduction to life as a potential WIU student.

WIU continues to have a strong presence in the program. Management and Marketing Instructor Michelle Howe and WIU Executive Director of Personnel Services and Finance Ketra Roselieb are both currently serving on the board for the McDonough County CEO.

Howe is excited about joining the board.

"Experiential education creates such an impact on these students' lives. They are not merely reading from a textbook; they are learning by doing. When I first spoke to the inaugeral CEO class, I knew I wanted to continue serving this program," said Howe.

Additionally, McDonough County CEO program facilitator Alison Jefferson and other board members Kathy Dinger, John Meixner, Jessica Lambert, Kristen Conrad and Rachel Lenz are WIU alumni.

WIU faculty are regular guest speakers, including but not limited to, Susan Creasey (Marketing), Bruce Western (Human Resource Management), Sarah Shike (Management), Michelle Howe (Business Communications), Honey Zimmerman (Supply Chain Management) and Jeremy Robinett (Recreation Park Tourism Administration). In addition, many WIU alumni are involved as board members, facilitators, guest speakers and mentors for the CEO program across the state of Illinois and beyond.

The CEO Program is a proven learning model that creates a world class learning environment for our high school students through interactive, real-life learning in local businesses throughout the community. The end result is a group of out-of-the-box-thinkers who have experienced first-hand the opportunities in McDonough County, have cultivated skills that will allow them to contribute better to the workforce and are prepared to participate in future local business growth.

"I would say the biggest thing I learned as a CEO was how okay it was to make mistakes," said CEO program graduate and WIU student Asia Pettigrew. "CEO allows you to grow and develop your skills. No one is expecting perfection when you make mistakes. You learn from them and you can build yourself and discover who you are and what works for you through your mistakes."

If you are a WIU alum and are involved in your local CEO program in any way and would like to share your story, email Honey Zimmerman at or Michelle Howe at

For more information about CEO and the Midland Institute, visit or about the local program, visit

Posted By: Lexi Yoggerst (
Office of University Communications & Marketing