Western grad recognized for leadership skills

Steven Barnum , News editor

The Galesburg, Ill. Area Chamber of Commerce chose a Western Illinois University graduate as one of the recipients of the “20 Under 40” program.

Smithshire, Ill. native Stephanie Hilten was selected to be a part of 2019’s list, which is announced once for every three years. The award is designed to recognize  younger professionals who have showcased success in business in their local community. To be considered for the award, recipients had to be nominated for their work ethic. Hilten was able to stand out against more than 50 other contenders.

Hilten works as the director of the Foundation Board at Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg. A fellow member of that board nominated Hilten for the award, which she believes is a result of her learning experiences in college.

Before making Carl Sandburg College her home, Hilten was a Leatherneck. In 2015, she earned a Bachelor’s degree in communications from Western, laying the foundation for her future leadership and business skills. When it comes to the university’s communications department, Hilten knows she made the right choice.

“I love that department so much,” Hilten said. “I still keep in touch with a lot of the instructors. The degree itself is really broad, which really comes in handy with what I do now and it’s something that you can use for a number of different careers. I try to steer students at Sandburg to Western’s communication department.” Growing up less than an hour drive away from Macomb, Hilten had Western high on her list of preferred colleges. She recalls one of the many elements that set it apart from other schools.

“I liked how small the classes were. Coming from a small town, that was something that really drew me to Western,” she said. “And it helped that I was close to home and that it had a good reputation.”

Another factor that plays into the chamber of commerce’s selections is volunteer work in the local community, which Hilten has shown a track record of. She comes back to Macomb each fall to volunteer for the communications department’s career prep day, but her motivation to help others started long before now.

“When I was a student at Western, there were a lot of leadership and volunteer opportunities available, which helped me focus on what I wanted in a career. The student-worker position I was in made me fall in love with supporting higher education.”

Hilten’s interest in higher education did not drive her to become a teacher. Instead, she turned to the non-profit world, where she saw the vast number of opportunities. Her duties at Sandburg include organizing special events that deal with scholarships and donations made to the college.

Among the qualities that could put other members of the community on the short list for the next set of selections, Hilten says that it’s important for young workers to get into the mindset of becoming a strong and effective communicator, while also displaying a willingness to adapt in different settings.

“I believe Western helped me in both of those ways when I was there,” she said. To follow her path, Hilten recommends taking advantage of the opportunities that Western has to offer. She also says to volunteer even after you’re done with college.

“I think that being in the student-worker position definitely helped me,” Hilten said. “I was involved in other organizations on campus too, which are all very important. I always tell students to look into those opportunities.”