Celebrating 30 Years of Fearless Creators

Photo by Janet Rogers, Strategic Marketing and Communications

Photo by Janet Rogers, Strategic Marketing and Communications

I love being part of the Fearless City.

You’re probably not familiar with that phrase. “City of Fountains” and “Heart of America” are certainly better-known ways to refer to Kansas City. But becoming known as “America’s Most Entrepreneurial City” is one of our Big Five goals as a community, and when you think about it, “Fearless” is an essential characteristic of any town that aspires to that description.

It takes nerve to step away from the security of a steady paycheck and create something totally new. But that’s what this city has always been known for. At UMKC’s Henry W. Bloch School of Management, we’ve been celebrating that kind of entrepreneurial courage for 30 years now. That’s why the recent 30th anniversary gala of our annual Entrepreneur of the Year awards was entitled “Fearless City: Celebrating Those Who Fearlessly Create.”

It was truly an honor for me to stand at the podium at that celebration; to look out at an audience that included the likes of Henry W. Bloch, Barnett Helzberg and William Dunn Sr.; and to cite the many examples of entrepreneurial drive, creativity and courage that define our Fearless City.

At first, they were fledgling startups. Now they are household names. When we think of them, and what a leap of faith they took to begin and persevere, we think of AMC Theaters, Hallmark Cards, Russell Stover Candies, H & R Block, United Missouri Bank and Sosland Publishing, to name a few. Some of these folks started out going door to door to get their name out. Look where they are today.

That tradition has continued through to the present day. Our local entrepreneurs with a national or global reach are a blend of timeless business principles and cutting-edge technology:  Kansas City engineering firms, such as Burns and McDonnell, Black and Veatch, and HNTB, creating projects across the globe; J. E. Dunn, a design-build and construction management provider; Cerner, applying technology to improve health care; Garmin Industries, reimagining devices to assist us in our daily lives; Freightquote, helping businesses deliver products at the best price; Sprint, positioning itself to once again dominate in phone service; MRI Global, researching life sciences, energy and food safety; the Stowers Institute, where discovering the causes, treatment and prevention of disease is their primary goal; and the Roasterie, making us fall in love with coffee all over again.

I was proud to help present our three Entrepreneur of the Year awards that evening: to  Jaspreet Singh, Student Entrepreneur of the Year; to Danny O’Neil, “Bean Baron” at The Roasterie, Regional Entrepreneur of the Year; and to Gary White, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Water.org, the Marion and John Kreamer Award for Social Entrepreneurship.

And I am just as proud of the role we play, as Kansas City’s university, in empowering that fearless creativity. We give risk takers the fundamental educational tools; we offer seminars, certificate programs and special post-graduate classes; we sponsor venture creation contests and provide management training; and we link would-be entrepreneurs to others with a willingness to invest. These are the reasons why UMKC and the Bloch School are an essential component of Kansas City’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Finally, let me once again congratulate and thank the fearless creators who are the focus of this celebration. You have all learned a similar lesson about the secret to entrepreneurial success, even if each of you expresses it in a different way. I particularly like the one offered that evening by our student entrepreneur, Jaspreet Singh, who is inspired by his love of flying:

“Aviation teaches you that the thing that is pushing against you is the very thing that will eventually lift you and make you soar,” he said. I can’t put it any better than that.

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In 1990, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics was established to address the educational disparities faced by the Hispanic community. The movement has evolved through the years, but efforts to erase those disparities are still needed.

At the end of the 2015 Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15 – Oct, 15, the President announced 150 Commitments to Action to invest in high-quality education, from cradle to career, for the nation’s Latino community. The result will be more Hispanics attending college.

For those of us in higher education, we applaud these efforts, and we commit to continue the work. Because once students get to our campuses, it’s up to us to give them the support and resources they need to reach their full potential and earn degrees. It requires partnerships, collaboration and further commitment.

On Oct. 14, I shared my support of the White House initiative by participating in the #LatinosAchieve campaign. My picture and statement appeared on social media, along with thousands of others who are committed to this important work. I’m proud to have participated in this campaign, because Latinos should have the opportunity to achieve their dreams. The community needs their strengths and talents. We want to help them get to college and become career-ready.

I’m proud to say that UMKC has been committed to this effort for many years.

The Hispanic Development Fund was created in 1984 by the Hall Family Foundation. In 2006, the fund became a regional affiliate partner of the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation. Its vision is to inspire philanthropy, increase educational access and build strong leaders. Through its Scholarship Program, the fund’s goal is to increase the number of scholarships awarded and mobilize the community to make college education a top priority for every Hispanic family throughout the Kansas City metro.

In June 2015, the fund awarded more than $450,000 to students from both sides of the state line. In the span of over three decades, more than 3,600 Hispanic students from the metro have received college scholarships from HDF.

The fund is a strong sign of the faith the community has in the ability and potential of these students. It’s also a sign of how much a university and its community can do through combined effort and the willingness to put young people first. Education puts them in place to climb the ladder and seize the opportunities that await them. They are building a future for themselves, while enhancing the future for us all.

The Avanzando Program is the result of a partnership between the Hispanic Development Fund and the UMKC Division of Diversity and Inclusion. It supports HDF and Agapito Mendoza Scholarship recipients with individualized support for reaching their academic and career goals.

We know mentorship can be key to a student’s success. Each Avanzando scholar is matched with a campus or community mentor who possesses qualities and experiences relevant to that scholar’s goals. Mentors and mentees meet regularly throughout their academic careers to develop positive relationships and explore opportunities both within and outside of UMKC.

UMKC also established the 24-member Hispanic Advisory Board, a constituent group of UMKC. The HAB ensures the university is aware of the concerns and interests of the Hispanic community as it relates to UMKC’s role in higher education in Kansas City. The board provides guidance for the university in developing strategies to improve engagement with the Hispanic community and promote efforts of UMKC and the Hispanic community in their commitment to better serve the university and the community at-large.

In a city that is first-rate, UMKC must be the academic cornerstone. We have an opportunity to make sure that our next generation of politicians, teachers, medical professionals, CEOs, engineers and entrepreneurs are equipped with the skills they need to succeed. UMKC is the place for them to start their journey. Latinos achieve when we believe in them.

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Documenting the Value of Higher Education

From time to time I get the opportunity to spread the good word about not just UMKC, but about higher education in general, via what we call the Show Me Value Tour. These are community forums in which I take that message straight to our future students at schools in the Kansas City region.

The tour, originated by UM System President Tim Wolfe, is designed to counter growing sentiment that a college education is not as valuable as it once was. Some of my tour stops have been in the Kansas City Northland, with visits to Eastgate Middle School and New Mark Middle School.

I talked about the benefits of a college degree, both career-related and personal, with AVID scholars. AVID is a college readiness program that targets students who fall in the middle academically and have aspirations for college.

I told the students a college education allows them to discover their talents, hone strengths, think creatively and strategically, and learn to work in teams, which are all skills needed in today’s workforce, regardless of the job.

This message applies to anyone considering higher education. There is no greater investment you can make in yourself than a college education. A college education gives you choices and will help you be successful. Education is the path to lifelong success.

I understand that the prospect of student loan debt gives some potential students pause. But an education through the University of Missouri System is more affordable than people might think; a lot of need-based financial aid is available (about 80 percent of UM system students receive some financial aid); and statistics clearly show that college pays off in the long run.

For instance, a person with a college degree will make nearly twice as much in his or her lifetime as someone with a high school diploma. And the rate of return on a college degree is about 15 percent – compared to the stock market at around 7 percent and the housing market at 0.4 percent.

President Wolfe has cited studies showing that college graduates live nine years longer than high school graduates; college graduates enjoy a higher quality of life; and college grads are less likely to lose their jobs during a recession. And UMKC alumna Mary Daly, now senior vice president and associate director of research at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, has studied the financial benefits of a college degree for three decades. Her research shows that the average worker with a college degree earned about $20,000 more, per year, than the average worker with just a high school diploma.

So don’t let finances hold you back. Once you’ve earned it, an education is something no one can take away from you. Go to college, discover yourself and be yourself. The entire community needs you to live up to your potential. Your future is ready and waiting for you to seize it.

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Hispanic Development Fund

Cristina Jiménez held the audience spellbound.

All of us watched her struggle to hold back tears as she told her story. Brought to the States at 13 by her parents, Jiménez filled her school years with hard work and diligence, only to be rewarded with rejection and shame. Her family was undocumented, and that would stand in the way of college.

Hispanic Development FundLucky for Jiménez, New York changed its laws to admit undocumented high school graduates at in-state rates. Now an attorney, Jiménez is co-founder and managing director of United We Dream, an immigrant youth-led organization. She called on the young people supported by Kansas City’s Hispanic Development Fund to work hard and pay their good fortune forward.

“It’s not just about access to college,” she said. “It’s about not living in fear.”

She’s right. Children should not live in fear if, by just laws, we can drive that fear away.

Read more…

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Biological Sciences and Spencer Chemistry

When the Biological Sciences (then called Katz Pharmacy) and Spencer Chemistry buildings were originally constructed in 1968, they were outfitted with the finest labs and most modern features available. Now, to serve our Chemistry and Biological Sciences students, as well as those enrolled in pharmacy, medicine and nursing, these labs are in desperate need of an update.

Chemistry LabThat will begin very soon. In early June, 2015, Gov. Jay Nixon and the Missouri legislature agreed to a bill directing $18.3 million in bond funds to renovate these laboratory spaces. I can’t wait to see the transformation.

Read more…


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Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise Center

It’s not difficult to sell people – potential students, business owners, artists and creative types – on the idea of locating in Kansas City. Our area is filled with amenities that few cities can rival, and an entrepreneurial climate that is known world-wide.

Free Enterprise CenterWith the opening of the Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise Center, Kansas City should experience a rush of thinkers and theorists who want an imaginative, inspirational environment ready to road test their brainchild.

A state match of $7.4 million dollars, added to the original gift from the Plaster and Kauffman Foundations totaling $7.4 million, will help build the center on the Volker Campus.

Read more…

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Kangaroo Pantry Needs Our Help

Rent, electricity, gas, medicine or food – which could you live without? This is the question facing many students, faculty and staff right here on the UMKC campus. The Office of Student Involvement is proud to announce the formation of the UMKC Kangaroo Pantry.


The Kangaroo Pantry will open its doors Monday, March 30. This food pantry will be open to all current UMKC students, faculty and staff.

Here are some startling facts specific to UMKC:

  • More than 92 percent of first time students are receiving some type of financial aid (Fall 2013)
  • In Fall 2014, three students reported they were homeless
  • 47 percent of survey respondents stated they are responsible for feeding two or more household members
  • 46 percent of survey respondents stated they agreed or strongly agreed that they would use the Kangaroo Pantry

These individuals are our colleagues, students and friends.

Your donations of food, dollars or time will help the Kangaroo Pantry assist those who are in need at UMKC. We want to help our community by providing nourishing meals and a sense of belonging. Without donations like yours, however, the Kangaroo Pantry will not have enough funds to remain open. A financial contribution or a gift of your time will be a big help in supporting the UMKC community. Your financial gift could provide the following:

  • $10 provides meals for a day for a family of four
  • $35 provides individual meals for one week
  • $60 feeds a family of four three meals a day for an entire week

You may submit a donation by visiting Kangaroo Pantry online.

Together we can transform lives and make a difference for our University of Missouri-Kansas City family. I hope you will join me in supporting this new initiative.

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Addressing the Urban STEM Challenge

IMG_5276University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Computing and Engineering.

Together with KC Stem Alliance and many donors and volunteers, high school students from Paseo Academy and Lincoln Prep now have a place to work on robotics projects. Located on the UMKC campus at 4825 Troost Ave., it’s a space for them to create and innovate. And we provide tremendous STEM resources and mentoring.

As an engineer, I understand the need for and the importance of KC EZ. At a recent robotics challenge hosted by UMKC, 500 middle and high school students spent the day putting their team-built robots through a competition. The students were from the Kansas City area, St. Louis, Oklahoma and Iowa.

We like the idea of hosting these robotics contests, and like having KC EZ to provide a safe and positive environment for students to work and learn. We believe it’s imperative to provide the best science and math education for all the bright, inquisitive students who will be minding our future.

As an urban-serving public university, we have a responsibility to help level the playing field for young people whose local schools don’t have the resources to provide materials and facilities to prepare their students for these experiences. These robotics events are a lot of fun and are brimming with youthful enthusiasm, but they are not frivolous games. And where students live should not be an impediment to participation. That’s why KC EZ stepped into the picture.

KC EZ wouldn’t have been possible without the support of many. It was established by the UMKC School of Computing and Engineering through a partnership with KC STEM Alliance, assistance from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the support of KC EZ founding partners: US Engineering, NNSA, Honeywell, BNIM, JE Dunn and Mark One Electric. These partners provided in-kind donations of equipment, project management and construction, as well as down-the-road corporate commitments of financial and volunteer support.

We must also acknowledge the importance of our partnership with the Kansas City Public Schools. Superintendent Steven Green and his team took away one big barrier to success – they make sure the students are transported to KC EZ each day, and taken home safely.

I don’t think there is a limit to what motivated students can do. KC EZ is another way that we can help all young people reach their full potential.

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Lighting the Road to Recovery

Just imagine how it would feel. You are sick and in pain, but no one can see it. There are no signs or symptoms, like fever or injury. All the same, you hurt.

According to NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, this is what it’s like for 60 million Americans with mental health troubles. That’s an issue for one in four adults and one in 10 children. When you take into account how this illness affects family members, friends, or coworkers, you see these numbers climb out of sight.

The Kansas City chapter of NAMI was the beneficiary of this year’s Young Matrons Magic Ball, and I served as honorary chair of the event. The Magic Ball is always a party, but it’s a party with a serious purpose.

The Young Matrons are neighbors to the UMKC campus, just across Oak Street from my office, and we make a good team supporting NAMI. People with mental illness need help and hope, and that’s what the Young Matrons and their UMKC allies want to be:  a source of comfort through NAMI that reaches out to them rather than shunning them; being there for the families; and lighting the road to recovery.

It’s not always easy to identify mental illness, but it’s there. And it’s found in all segments of society. Returning veterans, high school students, the elderly, the wealthy, the drug-dependent, the people next door – it’s everywhere. It takes a widespread effort to deal with this illness.

NAMI is one of the best investments any community can make. NAMI affiliates work with crisis intervention teams to improve contacts between police and the mentally ill. They work with the families, like those of veterans, who need to understand their loved ones’ illness. Our university has counseling services for students and employees, because we don’t want people to suffer in silence. Our Counseling Center refers people in need of help to NAMI and other local sources of assistance.

Funds raised by groups like Young Matrons, or contributed by foundations and corporations, are a mainstay of NAMI. Contributions have underwritten the costs for a toll-free helpline, for education and for research into conditions such as bipolar disorder.

NAMI promises that, as long as there is a need, they will be there. Let’s meet them halfway. We can all get behind this effort, by informing ourselves, becoming advocates for the mentally ill, or relating a story that gives hope and shows others that there are people in their corner.

Let’s work some magic.

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Scholarships Empower Students to Achieve

In November 2014, I had the pleasure of speaking at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Computing and Engineering Donor and Scholarship Recognition Luncheon.

I like talking to our talented students and the dedicated alumni and donors who provide financial assistance. With more than 1,700 students, SCE is the third largest school at UMKC, has grown 76 percent since 2010, awards more than 70 scholarships annually and has experienced a 75 percent increase in scholarships since 2008.

These are great accomplishments! Scholarships have played a key role in that growth because they allow students to spend more time on academics. They provide vital support to students and help ensure UMKC is able to attract the best and brightest minds, regardless of income.

Attracting brilliant students to UMKC is important to us all. Computing and engineering are some of the fastest growing career fields in the country. A recent report by the Greater Kansas City Workforce Summit shows there’s an “education-to-jobs mismatch” in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. With UMKC being within 20 miles of 250 engineering and computing firms, the campus is in the heart of one of America’s premier engineering cities – Kansas City. And the people needed to fill these jobs are being educated right here at UMKC.

Getting to this point took hard work and dedication to building our program. The school hired more faculty and created a dual-degree program leading students to undergraduate degrees in both a liberal arts major and a professional engineering, computer science or information technology degree. Students enter UMKC SCE following three or four years at their first institution. Those who follow the guidelines and meet the admission requirements will earn a degree from their first institution and a degree from UMKC following two years of study at SCE.

The graduate and doctoral programs give professionals the opportunity to advance their careers with further education. Continuing education programs help engineers, computer scientists, consultants, managers and other science professionals stay up-to-date on the latest research and technologies. SCE also partners with Kansas City companies and organizations to support Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education and outreach to middle and high school students throughout the region.

As science and engineering fields continue to grow, I look forward to seeing UMKC continue to grow the School of Computing and Engineering, and its partnerships and network of supporters in Kansas City.

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