2019 ESLA Winners | News from CoB | SIU

Southern Illinois University



2019 ESLA Winners

December 18, 2018, Rhiannon Pyle


The College of Business has announced the recipients of the 2019 Emerging Saluki Leader (ESLA) Award. The award is going to six recent alumni who demonstrate post-graduation success through achievement in business, academia, government, not-for-profit organizations or community service. The awardees’ hard work and accomplishments will be honored at a May banquet

Caroline Ebelhar Ellis graduated in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in management, specializing in human resources. While at SIU, Ebelhar Ellis was a Top 25 Distinguished Senior Award and Most Outstanding Women Management Award winner.

Originally from Marion, Illinois, Ebelhar Ellis now resides in Colorado, where she moved after and fell in love with the mountains and her career. She currently is the senior HR business partner for the Aerospace Division of Woodward, Inc.

Ebelhar Ellis received her Professional in Human Resources certification in 2016. She holds membership in the Society for Human Resource Management and Employers Council, a local Denver group. She also is a member of the Management Alumni Board for SIU’s CoB.

She credits the college with her success today as it challenged her to be brave. SIU supported and encouraged her when she wanted to try new experiences, including: externships in different states, presenting in front of an audience, changing majors to pursue a new career dream and even snorkeling in Florida during a University Honors Program class trip.

“Ultimately my time at SIU was a time of great growth for me as a person, academically as well as personally,” Ebelhar Ellis said. “For me, SIU was an opportunity to be fearless.”

Molly Guinnip Wedding received her bachelor’s in marketing from SIU CoB in 2010. After graduation, Guinnip Wedding began working in sales, where she later felt called to a different career. She completed her Juris Doctorate at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in 2016.

While at SIU, Guinnip Wedding was a Dean’s Scholarship recipient and a member of the Golden Key Honor Society and the Beta Gamma Sigma Honor Society. She also participated in the Study Abroad Program , completing a semester at the Grenoble Ecole de Management in Grenoble, France.

Guinnip Wedding is currently practicing law at the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office in Indianapolis, Indiana, where she handles a caseload of 250 open cases annually. A member of the American Bar Association, she also mentors, tutors and performs pro bono work.

“I am very thankful for spending my college years at SIU, especially in the College of Business,” Guinnip Wedding said.

Guinnip Wedding said SIU gave her an excellent education where she met lifelong friends in the classroom.

“We never know quite what the future holds, but I know I will always be a Saluki,” she said.

Jennifer Polk is a 2003 CoB graduate with a bachelor’s in finance. She went on to get her MBA in strategic management from the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago in 2008.

During her time at SIU, Polk served as the president of Blacks Interested in Business and as the secretary for Alpha Kappa Psi.

She began her career at JP Morgan Chase and has worked for several well-known companies. At Sears, she directed brand marketing for the $1.5 billion Kenmore cooking category and later became their director of social media strategy. She has also served as the vice president of digital strategy at Edelman Digital, a public relations firm. She is currently vice president of research for Gartner.

Near her home in Naperville, Polk works closely with a public service organization, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, which focuses on alleviating the needs of the community. Polk also works with SIU’s CoB Minority Board and volunteers with the Aurora Interfaith Food Pantry.

“The leadership and life skills I learned at SIU have stayed with me throughout my career,” Polk said.

Polk believes positive outcomes are often the reward following challenging circumstances and she said SIU’s CoB taught her how to have confidence during uncertain times.

“Those lessons from so many years ago shaped and equipped me to make tough decisions, using both heart and mind,” Polk said.

Nicki Milovanovic is a 2010 graduate with a bachelor’s in marketing. During her time at SIU, Milovanovic served as president of the American Marketing Association for two years and was also a Top 25 Distinguished Senior Award recipient.

Millward Brown, a marketing research firm, initially hired Milovanovic and she later transitioned into pharmaceutical sales. She has worked for leading pharmaceutical companies around the world, including AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Sanofi Genzyme – where she is currently a senior business manager.

In her current position, Milovanovic has built and organized staff training workshops to improve competitive and compliant sales skills for her entire national team. During the course of her career, Milovanovic has volunteered to help patients promote Diabetes Awareness in Chicago and assisted with several Arthritis Foundation Walks.

“Throughout my time at SIU, both the professors and career development staff were so passionate about helping students develop into professionals,” Milovanovic said.

Milovanovic also values skills she gained through experiences outside of the classroom.

“Above the curriculum, I learned so much about the importance of a professional network and that skill has bled into my professional life today,” she said.

Meredith Rhoads Thomas is a double alumna of SIU’s CoB, earning her bachelor’s degree in marketing in 2005 and her MBA in 2006. Later, she completed her doctorate in marketing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2018.

While at SIU, Rhoads Thomas was a member of the American Marketing Association as well as several honor societies. She also participated in internships - including one with Intercontinental Hotels Group in Atlanta, Georgia – and in European seminars as well.

Rhoads Thomas was a graduate assistant within the CoB while completing her MBA and during that time, helped launch the Marketing Alumni Board. She later worked with the board to create the Business Breakfast at the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament in St. Louis, the Mentoring Program and the Saluki Marketing Network. Her hard work and success while in this position was acknowledged when she won the board’s Student of the Year award.

After receiving her MBA, Rhoads Thomas became the executive director of the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce for a year before returning to the CoB where she was the chief marketing officer from 2008 to 2012. Upon completion of her doctorate, Rhoads Thomas accepted a position at Florida State University where she currently is an associate professor of marketing.

She has volunteered with several community service organizations, including Rotary, Boys and Girls Clubs and Carbondale Crime Stoppers and she sits on the board of directors for the Inspiring Women Scholarship Foundation.

“The most special thing to me about my experiences at SIU are the relationships I made,” Rhoads Thomas said.

From the first day of class as an undergraduate to working as an SIU employee, Rhoads Thomas said she is thankful to have met so many inspiring professors, students, and co-workers.

“These are friendships I carry with me to this day and I know we all take our Saluki pride with us wherever we go,” she said.

Lily Sugathan is also a dual-degree Saluki, earning her bachelor’s in accounting in 1999 and her MBA in 2000 from CoB. However, she was a Saluki long before then as she was born and raised in Carbondale, the daughter of an SIU professor.

While attending SIU, she served as president of the Indian Student Association and was an active member of the International Student Council.

Sugathan’s career includes working as an accounting or supervisor for Arthur Andersen LLP, Martz & Wilson LLP, Save-A-Lot, Rubin Brown LLP and Brown Smith Wallace. She is currently a supervisor with Thousand CPA Services LLC.

Sugathan is active in the community as well, serving as treasurer for the St. Louis Artists’ Guild and for the board of St. Martha’s Hall, a shelter for victims of domestic violence. She has also volunteered her accounting expertise at Volunteer Lawyers and Accountants for the Arts for 14 years. She believes that community service is important, citing Mahatma Gandhi in saying “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

“SIU taught me leadership, and there is no doubt I left the university with a solid skill set which has aided me throughout my career,” Sugathan said.

While navigating through her career, Sugathan found that the skills obtained from SIU’s CoB set her apart when applying for jobs and completing daily responsibilities after securing the positions.

“It is due to my degrees from SIU that I have been able to attain employment at some of the most highly regarded public accounting firms in St. Louis,” she said.