By Herb Meeker

News Report Staff

When it comes to an Effingham County CEO event, the high school students in the room do much more than pass out brochures or pour the coffee.

The CEO students truly make it happen.

That was the case last week during the CEO Experience Media Day in the HSHS St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital auditorium. The students from high schools across the county put the event together for presenting what the CEO Experience will offer on Wednesday, March 7, in the Thelma Keller Convention Center.

The list of presenters this year includes successful people with ties to Effingham County and even the CEO program, which encourages students to establish new businesses and organizations.

Dr. Rich Bailey, who grew up in Effingham, will offer his thoughts on designing a new business through his experience as the inventor of the hilarious novelty, “Billy-Bob Teeth.” Bailey’s talk will naturally produce some laughter, but it will also show how simple ideas can change lives.

Cordia Harrington will talk about her work as a McDonald’s restaurant owner in Effingham and later her founding of The Bakery Companies that supplies many different food businesses across the country. Dr. Peter Kollinger will talk about personal and professional resilience over his life of 90-plus years. Diane Rieck and Jamie Rieck will explain how to overcome challenges through four generations of the workforce.

Alexis Teichmiller, a CEO Alumnus from 2011, will show how to use social media to connect with the ideal customer. Jennifer Vahling will explain how effective interviewing techniques can prevent headaches for employers and their employees by avoiding bad hiring choices. Tara Vandersande will show how enhancing your emotional intelligence can improve your quality of life at work and in your home.

Registration starts at 11 a.m. March 7 and the sessions run from 1 to 5:45 p.m. that day in the Convention Center. Registration at the door is offered or by logging onto

Putting this lineup of speakers together shows much work by the CEO students in organizing the annual CEO Experience. They also work with the different corporate and individual sponsors of the event. The students use Media Day to get the word out to a large audience.

Hannah Wolff, a CEO student from Altamont High School, has been working with online registration for the event since August. She and other CEO classmates have traveled outside Effingham County to draw students from CEO classes in Shelby and Jasper counties.

“We’ve been working on getting online registration and contact information from anyone interested in attending,” Wolff said with a wide smile. “There’s a lot of work, but it’s not overwhelming.”

Patrick Tkachuk, also an AHS CEO student, said it was encouraging how students from other counties come to the CEO Experience.

“In Jasper County, they have already heard about it. About 12 students from there will be coming. It is pretty eye-opening how the event helps people,” Tkachuck said with pride.

Tiffany Gates, a senior at Beecher City High School, talked about how her work with CEO and helping organize the CEO Experience has gained her confidence as she prepares for college and a career in marketing.

“The marketing team has been working on this for weeks. I was assigned to find contact names and reach people by email or by phone. It’s very valuable to get out word on this event,” Gates said.

Her plans after BCHS are centered on Indiana State University at Terre Haute where she wants to earn a degree in marketing. Then her focus will move from the Wabash Valley to the Big Apple.

“I am going to New York City and work in marketing there. Then I will create my own business,” Gates said.

It’s a big leap from Beecher City to New York, but that is what CEO has done for Gates and her career goal.

Avery Elder, a St. Anthony CEO student, agreed with Gates that CEO has transformed her into a leader and a confident communicator. She helped lead the presentation last Thursday at the podium in the auditorium, along with other group leaders — Truman Rhodes, Beecher City; Brooke Stuckemeyer, Altamont; Patrick Sharrod, Effingham; Marianna Hemmen, Teutopolis; and Makenzie Keonig, St. Anthony.

Elder spoke like a polished pro but she revealed afterward she has come a long way in being able to step up to the microphone.

“Personally, I have gained a lot of confidence and leadership skills through this class. If you would have asked me three months ago to do this, I would have been a nervous wreck,” Elder said. “My parents have noticed the change in me, too”

Though they are learning through CEO to think outside the box, the students are not boxing out their classmates. CEO emphasizes teamwork.

“It’s about team building. On our committee, we learn to interact and how to build each other up. These experiences are very valuable,” Elder said.

Someday, members of the CEO Class of 2018 might be asked to speak about how they have climbed the ladder to success. Judging by their enthusiasm during Media Day, they will jump at the chance.