Jim Schlueter, generous donor and retired Boeing communicator, receives 2023 College of Media Distinguished Alumni Award

Jim SchlueterWhen it comes to career accomplishments, Jim Schlueter (BS ’80, journalism) could name a few, but none are quite as important to him as his ability to build up others. 

It’s an honorable trait Schlueter has carried with him throughout his life—as an undergraduate student at Illinois, during his 33-year career in corporate communications, and more recently, as a very generous and passionate alum. 

“If I think about accomplishments, really, it’s about helping people develop and grow and watching what they do,” Schlueter said. 

Thanks to Schlueter’s contributions to the college, as well as his notable career achievements, the college’s leadership team agreed no one was more deserving of the 2023 College of Media Distinguished Alumni Award.

“Jim Schlueter has made many investments in the College of Media to benefit students now and in the future,” said Dean Tracy Sulkin. “We are so grateful for his engagement and for his desire to help make Illinois the number one destination for those who want to be part of the dynamic field of media.”

Schlueter is passionate about ensuring students stay ahead with new innovations and changing trends. In 2019, he and his wife, Amy, gave a generous gift to launch the Media Innovation Fund, which supports a wide range of activities that celebrate faculty excellence, faculty and student research, technology advancements, and cutting-edge pedagogy.

Schlueter said he felt humbled and honored when he learned of his nomination.

“I don’t do what I do to get awards, but to be recognized is a very, very special feeling because of [how I] feel about the University and the College of Media, the students, and the folks who have come before me and after me,” he said. 

Schlueter, who grew up in rural Edwardsville, Illinois, and had always loved writing and sports, came to Illinois with a plan to study journalism. He joined the staff at The Daily Illini his sophomore year, covering women’s rugby, women’s cross-country, and men’s track. He became an executive reporter in sports his senior year covering football and basketball, and worked as a local stringer for the Associated Press. 

“As much as I was looking forward to [attending the University of Illinois] … it was even better than I thought,” he said. “I met all my best friends there, I got to do experiences and things I couldn’t believe I was able to do, and I really stretched and learned a lot from my fellow students.” 

After graduation, Schlueter worked as a reporter at a few newspapers, mostly covering the sports beat, and eventually earned his MBA in marketing from SIU-Edwardsville. In 1985, he went to work for an employee newspaper at McDonnell Douglas, an aerospace manufacturing corporation and defense contractor that eventually merged with Boeing in the late ’90s.

Schlueter said his career offered him a variety of opportunities that allowed him to support different fields within the aircraft industry including international communications, military products, and commercial airplanes. He spent the last six years of his career in Boeing’s corporate office in Chicago as the director of technology communications, finally retiring in 2018. 

“I got to do a lot of things at an amazing company, so many different things that I can’t believe, from military programs and products to the space programs. I even worked a few shuttle launches, which is incredible,” he said. 

Schlueter gives credit to his experience at Illinois, learning from some of the best professors alongside some of the brightest students, as well as his time at The Daily Illini for helping to shape his future career endeavors. He expressed gratitude for the journalism skills he gained that contributed to his success as a corporate communicator. 

“When you’re a communications person at a company like Boeing, it behooves you to be able to write like a journalist writes and edit and dive into complicated questions and issues that really get to the heart of the matter,” he said. 

Schlueter currently resides in Iowa with his wife, and they also have an apartment in Champaign. As lifelong season ticket holders, they come back to campus often for football and basketball games, and to visit the college for alumni commitments and events. Schlueter has served on the College of Media Alumni Leadership Council for more than a decade, sharing his professional insights and resources with faculty, staff, and students. 

“It’s always been part and parcel of me, I guess, to stay connected and involved,” Schlueter said. “That feeling of being part of something bigger than yourself, and that you belong amongst it, is a big deal to me.”

In addition to kickstarting the Media Innovation Fund, a $50,000 donation from the Schlueters helped build the Media Technology Center, which offers a variety of technology and resources that students can check out or access online. The center opened in Fall 2022.

The couple also created the Schlueter Family Endowed Fund for Internships in Journalism to support students seeking real-world experience. Schlueter hopes their contributions will make a difference for Media students by enriching their education and preparing them to become future leaders in their field.

“I want Illinois to be on the forefront of the people who are coming up with the new ideas, the folks who are going to figure out how to do journalism for this century,” he said. “It’s going to be the students. They’re going to be the ones who figure it out.”

—Kelly Youngblood