Our People

Paul Ritter

Paul Ritter

Director

Paul Ritter is the Director and Co-Founder of Celebrating High School Innovators. He is a Biology, Ecology, and Earth Science teacher at Pontiac Township High School whose pioneering and engaging approaches to environmental education have led to numerous awards including the 2014 White House Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators (PIAEE) and the 2012 National Environmental Science Teacher of the Year award. His International Prescription Pill and Drug Disposal Program (P2D2) was named the number one environmental program in the nation by the United Nations in 2012 for leading his own students to properly dispose of over 1 million lbs. of pharmaceuticals.

Blake Whittle

Blake Whittle

Program Coordinator at Illinois State University

Blake Whittle serves as the Program Coordiator for Celebrating High School Innovators at Illinois State University.He graduated in 2020 from Illinois State University with a Bachelors Degree in Organizational Leadership. Blake is now an MBA student at ISU. He is a 2016 winner of Celebrating High School Innovators for his innovations. Blake is also the Director of Finance for the University Program Board at ISU. He currently owns ClikIT, LLC, which is a cyber-security and web design and development company. He also owns High School Zoom, an online high school sports streaming platform for youth sports and events. In his freetime, he enjoys researching markets and equities, venture capital, and youth innovation and entrepreneurship.

Dr. Mark Hoelscher

Dr. Mark Hoelscher

Professor of Entrepreneurship

Mark Hoelscher is a professor of entrepreneurship in the Department of Management and Quantitative Methods in the College of Business at Illinois State University. He graduated from Texas Tech University in May of 2002 with a PhD in Strategy and Entrepreneurship, with an additional emphasis on family businesses.

Hoelscher is also an active researcher in the study of nascent entrepreneurs and their use as proxies in understanding the entrepreneurial personality.

Dr. Hoelscher is currently Director Emeritus of the George R and Martha Means Center.

Dr. George Rutherford

Dr. George Rutherford

Associate Professor of Physics

Dr. George Rutherford is an Associate Professor of Physics at Illinois State University. Dr. Rutherford received his B.S. in Physics from Mississippi State University and his PhD in physics in 1991 from Rice University. Dr. Rutherford is an active researcher in the nonlinear dynamics of mechanical systems (the chaotic waterwheel) as well as in both biological and electronic neurons. He also works to understand the way students learn and understand measurement and how project-based learning and the maker movement contribute to STEM and entrepreneurial education. Dr. Rutherford is an ISU CeMaST Associate Director.

Dr. Rob Rhykerd

Dr. Rob Rhykerd

Professor of Agriculture

Dr. Rob Rhykerd is a Professor of Agriculture at Illinois State University. Dr. Rhykerd has served in the role of Dept. chair of the Agriculture dept in the past. Dr. Rhykerd recieved his B.S. in Agronomy at Purdue Uniervsity and his PhD in Soil Science at Texas A&M University. Dr. Rhykerd was awarded the Impact Award at Illinois State University in 2015 and recieved his Honorary State FFA Degree in 2016.

Dr. Chris Merrill

Dr. Chris Merrill

Professor of Technology

Dr. Chris Merrill is currently the Principal Investigator for the Illinois Career and Technical Education Innovative Curriculum Resources Project and Professor of Technology and Engineering education at Illinois State University. Dr. Merrill has been at Illinois State for 20 years and is an active researcher in STEM Education, Technology & Engineering Education, and Career and Technical Education. Dr. Merrill is the 2020 ACTE Teacher of the Year winner. Dr. Merrill was also awarded Outstanding Teacher Educator of the Year by IACTE. Dr. Merrill is an ISU CeMaST Associate Director.

Jim Nelson

Jim Nelson

Executive Director, IMA Education Foundation

Jim Nelson is Vice President Education & Workforce Policy and Executive Director, IMA Education Foundation for the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association.  He  is responsible for the IMA Education Foundation and the association’s education policy initiatives.  In addition, Jim is responsible for Special Projects for the IMA and has coordinated activities for the Small Manufacturers Council and the Young Leaders Council. Previous to joining the IMA in 2003, Jim served as a Legislative Liaison in various Illinois administrative agencies serving three Illinois governors over a 25 year span.  

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