Molly McMillin, a senior reporter for The Wichita Eagle covering aviation and aerospace, has been selected by the faculty at Wichita State University's Elliott School of Communication to receive the 2014 Outstanding Alumni Award. She will be joined by Chase Willhite, senior communication officer at the Kansas Health Foundation, who has been selected as the ESC's "One to Watch" honoree.
The Elliott School's awards are given to former students who have excelled since graduation. "One to Watch" is awarded to alumni no more than a decade removed from graduation, while the outstanding alum is anyone who graduated prior to that. Willhite and McMillin, along with May graduates and 2014 scholarship winners, will be honored at the school's annual Scholarship and Awards Banquet on Monday, April 28, at the Marcus Welcome Center on the WSU campus.
"We take great pride in the successes of our Elliott School alumni," said ESC Director Matthew Cecil. "Molly and Chase are wonderful role models, and we look forward to honoring them and awarding scholarships to our current top students at the scholarship and awards banquet."
McMillin said she got a great start at the Elliott School.
"The Elliott School provided the foundation for a career in journalism by offering a mix of classroom learning and hands-on experience," she said. "It was the launching pad for my career."
A Wichitan who graduated from the ESC in 1994 with a degree in print journalism, McMillin has traveled to Russia, Italy, France, Scotland and Brazil covering the aviation industry.
In October, she received the National Business Aviation Association's 2013 Gold Wing Award for Journalism Excellence. Her stories are noted by aviation publications around the world. All Things Considered, CNBC and others have interviewed her.
McMillin has won multiple state and national honors, including awards from the Society of Business Editors and Writers, Heart of America, and the Kansas Press Association, including recognition for a four-part series on Boeing's globalization efforts, called "Shifting Winds: Boeing's Global Push."
"My major influences at the Elliott School were its instructors, especially Les Anderson," McMillin said. "Les taught me to show, don't tell. Let the people in the story tell their story. Care about the people you write about. Above all, he mentored and believed in me. I wouldn't be here without him."
McMillin has been a business reporter for almost two decades, but she came to flying late in life. A licensed pilot, she learned to fly in her dad's 1956 Piper Tri-Pacer. Since then, she has flown with the Air Force Thunderbirds and jumped with the Army's Golden Knights, a demonstration parachute team. She joined the Eagle in 1995.
Before joining the Eagle, McMillin was a reporter for the Wichita Business Journal and managing editor of The Kansas Business Report, a monthly business publication based in Topeka.
McMillin is president of the Kansas Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. She is a past member of the WSU Alumni Association board of directors.
Willhite earned his bachelor's in communication/journalism in 2006. As a Gore scholar, he was able to use his time at Wichita State to create community ties. His ESC work led directly to an eight-year career at the Kansas Health Foundation.
There, he has managed independent contractors, been an advertising agency liaison, run public awareness campaigns, held press conferences, executed TV and other media events, developed marketing and media plans, and managed budgets – among other tasks.
"Each and every day the skills I developed and the lessons I learned while at the Elliott School are critical to my career," said Willhite. "Any professional success or advancement I have is due in large part to the experiences I enjoyed during my time at the Elliott School."
Willhite, an El Dorado native, also has maintained strong ties to Wichita State. Early on, he felt a deep sense of responsibility to give back to the university, which is one reason he established a planned gift. Willhite has designated that his gift fund a scholarship for students studying business or communication. He is a life member of the WSU Alumni Association.