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Rising to the challenge

A man and woman smiling for a picture.

Mike and Karen Essington in State Farm Hall of Business.

When Mike Essington ’81 transferred to Illinois State in 1979, he was interested in a new major called computer science. Since personal computers weren’t around, students created and stored data on paper punch cards.

Professor Emeritus Gerry McKean stressed to his students the importance of two classes: COBOL, a programming language; and systems design.

“Those are a big reason why I got hired by State Farm,” Mike said. It wasn’t long into his 34-year career with the insurance giant headquartered in Bloomington that Essington started giving back to ISU, with the company matching his gifts.

State Farm is where he met his wife of more than 30 years, Karen Essington. She was hired with a degree in computer science from Augustana University in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

The couple retired in 2015, and started thinking about the next chapter. Long-time Illinois State donors, they appreciated what the University was doing for students and the community. With an affinity for the College of Business, they committed to a seven-figure planned gift through Redbirds Rising: The Campaign for Illinois State.

“We always knew we wanted to do something,” Mike said of the gift that expands the couple’s financial support of the college. They created the Mike and Karen Essington Business Information Systems Scholarship three years ago.

Giving comes naturally to the couple.

“We were raised that way,” Karen said. “When you were little, you had your envelope you’d take to Sunday school. That’s just always been a part of our lives.”

Karen proudly calls herself “an ISU alumni in-law,” and enjoys meeting recipients of their scholarship. Without several scholarships, she would have graduated with much more student loan debt. Mike worked his way through school as the night manager at a Dairy Queen. ISU’s affordable tuition helped him graduate without debt.

“You have to remember back to where you were, and how you can help the next generation,” he said. “It always feels good to give back.”

Your investment in Redbirds Rising elevates scholarship and academic excellence, educates tomorrow’s leaders, and sparks continuous creativity and innovation. Support the campaign by visiting RedbirdsRising.IllinoisState.edu.

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