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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This Is Our Role

It was truly an honor when I recently participated in the opening ceremony for the new Entrepreneur Hall of Fame in Kansas City, now open in the Bloch Executive Hall on UMKC’s Volker Campus.

Chancellor Leo E. Morton at the Entrepreneur Hall of Fame Induction.

Chancellor Leo E. Morton at the Entrepreneur Hall of Fame Induction.

The Hall of Fame is an ultra-modern, interactive setting that tells the remarkable stories of some of Kansas City’s greatest business leaders – people like Henry Bloch, Lamar Hunt, Ewing Kauffman and Barnett and Shirley Helzberg.

Few would argue those stories are not worth telling, or those individuals’ contributions to our community not worth celebrating. But why do so on the UMKC campus? None of these people are students or faculty; they’re not teachers or researchers.

The way I see it, hosting this hall of fame is exactly what we should be doing. UMKC is Kansas City’s university. It was founded by our community, and exists as a public entity to benefit and serve our community. The Entrepreneur Hall of Fame is a place designed to be a teaching tool through the stories it tells; a source of inspiration for people – our students, and our community – to reach higher and expand their vision of what is possible.

This Hall of Fame is a demonstration of why Kansas City truly is “America’s Most Entrepreneurial City.” The honorees and their stories are a testament to the record of achievement and success that has occurred right here in this community – a record that rivals that of any city in America. Students, graduates and the community at large will find role models to emulate; and see their success stories as potential road maps to follow.

For the Bloch School, hosting this institution is a natural outcome of our strategic mission to support entrepreneurship in Kansas City. In this Hall of Fame, we are honoring and preserving the past. We are educating and inspiring the present. And we are laying the foundation for the future.

That’s because entrepreneurship and innovation have always been the keys to Kansas City’s growth and development. They had to be. The cities of the east – Boston, Philadelphia, New York – already had been cities for more than a century when Kansas City first appeared. In order to compete, we had to work harder to stand out. We had to be bold and take risks, which is the essence of entrepreneurship.

You could say that process started with the construction of the Hannibal Bridge in 1869. That bridge won the competition, among a number of young communities, to build the first railroad bridge across the Missouri River. Winning that competition established Kansas City as a major metropolitan center.

That drive to be first, and best, is the essence of who we are as a community.

Each succeeding generation has learned from, and been inspired by, the one before. And now, this Entrepreneur Hall of Fame will provide a focal point for our finest entrepreneurship and innovation role models, and the inspiration they provide

I invite everyone in our community to visit this Entrepreneur Hall of Fame, situated proudly on our campus, and learn more about the 20 exceptional individuals whose achievements have earned them a place of honor in this hall.

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Sports: Service and Success

I suppose that one measure of success for our athletic programs is the size of the network showing our games. If that’s true, when the men’s basketball game against Iowa State tomorrow night airs on ESPNU, then UMKC has arrived.

When the game tips off, I’ll be parked in a comfortable chair and tuned in to the Roos. I’m glad it’s a 6 o’clock game, because I get a little loud when the refs make mistakes; and my family needs their rest.

I am excited, not just for these hard-working players, but for all our athletes and their commitment to excellence. Our athletic programs are one more way in which we are Kansas City’s university, because there is something about sports that unites us. Continue reading

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A Shared Honor

Days after it happened, I remain shocked – and honored, and pleased – to have been named Kansas Citian of the Year by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.

I appreciate this recognition because I know it is not mine alone. It is a testament to the talent, effort, commitment and dedication of the faculty and staff of UMKC, and the exceptional record of achievement produced by our students and alumni.

When I first signed on as Chancellor in December 2008, I had one goal in mind: for UMKC to truly be what its founders intended: Kansas City’s university. To me, that meant being the urban research university that would play a unique, vital and necessary role in the growth and development of this community. Continue reading

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Thoughts on Ferguson

My thoughts are with the people of Ferguson and the members of our campus and community who have been deeply affected by events across the state.

Many of our students come from communities in and around Ferguson, but all of our UMKC community – faculty, staff, students and alumni – are touched by this tragedy, and called to continue to respond in a constructive manner that seeks to move forward in peaceful pursuit of positive change.

We are fortunate here at UMKC for the way that our community has diligently pursued a course of constructive engagement. Our students have been engaged in this issue, in a mature and responsible manner, since the beginning of the semester. I cannot state strongly enough how much I appreciate their peaceful resolve and commitment to solutions-oriented activity. I am also greatly appreciative of the student guidance provided by our faculty, and the dedicated staff of the Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, and the Division of Diversity and Inclusion.

No doubt, many members of our community are troubled today. Some may still be processing the events of this week when they return to campus next week. This is understandable. As I stated when I first addressed the campus on this issue in August, I understand those feelings, having grown up in Alabama at the height of the struggle for civil rights. While each generation’s journey is unique, there is much to be learned from history about how to address issues of social justice. I remain not just hopeful, but confident, that progress can and will be made.

We have been reaching out to students, faculty and staff today to gauge reactions; those conversations will inform the planning that has already been underway for organized student and campus-wide activities, focused on looking ahead and developing strategies for making a positive difference in our communities.

In the days and weeks to come, I urge everyone to remember the values we all share: the human dignity of all people; the importance of listening and mutual respect; the vital importance of peaceful, non-violent solutions that improve the lives of everyone.


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Welcome back, everyone, to a campus that’s going places

move in photoUMKC is the place for people who are going places.

I like the sound of that, and I believe that.

Everyone from Toyota to Dr. Seuss has encouraged us to go places, and that’s good advice. We don’t want to stagnate and stay in our usual comfort zones. We need to get out, make some discoveries, meet people, learn something, and – on occasion – start fresh. You can do all of those things here. That’s why you’re going to hear us talking a lot, over the next few months, about UMKC as a place for people who are going places.

New places offer excitement and challenges, and that’s what UMKC offers to newcomers and old friends alike. Even for those of us who are returning to UMKC, it still will be a new place. We’ll see new faces in our departments, our classrooms, our residence halls.

So many of our fall rituals are the kinds of things that engender good, positive feelings. We welcome students at Convocation – complete with Provost Hackett’s legendary list for success. We celebrate our history and our ties to the community during Founders Week. We congratulate our faculty who have achieved promotion and tenure. We all promise to eat better and get more exercise. And our newly tobacco-free campus (as of Aug. 1) offers a healthier environment for all.

In the fall, everything conspires to fill us with a sense of promise – the beautiful weather, the quiet summer campus giving way to capacity crowds, people everywhere, going to concerts and sports events. This is the place where  our scholars, musicians and athletes take the big city by storm; where students from Blue Springs and Baldwin City meet new friends from Bangalore and Beijing; where a faculty researcher finds someone else approaching the same question from a different angle.

Please, make this a year when you go places. This may be the year you attend a UMKC Theatre production or try the coffee shop in the Student Union. You may promise yourself to attend more extracurricular programs and find out what the draw is that brings the community to campus at all times of the day and night. Take UMKC by storm, and see what’s out there. (Our online calendar offers a wealth of opportunities, from lectures to athletics to free performances by Conservatory faculty and students.)

If ever we need our spirits lifted, fall usually does that for us. My wish is that you may feel a renewed sense of hope that this will be your best year ever.

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An important message about personal safety

Members of the UMKC campus community:

With the end of the spring semester rapidly approaching, I wanted to take this opportunity to update the entire campus community on an issue we take very seriously: the safety and security of our students, faculty and staff.

As you may recall, University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe recently directed each of the four campuses of the UM System to conduct comprehensive reviews of their respective policies, training and procedures concerning the prevention and reporting of sexual misconduct including sexual violence, sexual assaults and sexual harassment, and the availability of mental health services. This inventory is the first step of a three-phase task force designed to ensure that each University of Missouri campus has the necessary resources to educate the campus community about sexual violence and prevention, as well as an effective process for reporting such incidents, plus adequate capacity to address mental health issues among our students, faculty and staff.

Continue reading

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The Chancellor’s Concerto

It was a delight to be a part of the audience at a recent performance by the UMKC Conservatory Orchestra at the Folly Theatre, though I certainly hope no one there got the wrong idea about whose talents were on display.

There was a reference to “The Chancellor’s Concerto,” but let me assure you, I was in the audience, not on stage; and the piece performed was Barber’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, not Morton’s.

No, I lend my office’s title to the annual Chancellor’s Concerto Competition at our Conservatory of Music and Dance because I want to underscore how important this program is to our university and our community. That importance stems from several factors.

Continue reading

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Lucky 13?

The number 13 is supposed to be “unlucky,” and while I’ve never been one to put much stock in superstition, the year 2013 certainly cured me of any lingering negativity associated with that number.

The year just concluded was one of UMKC’s best ever. We celebrated our 80th anniversary in style, enjoyed enrollment growth, and opened two spectacular new buildings. We welcomed some terrific new talent to our ranks, while some of our best and brightest rose to new heights of accomplishment. We were blessed by the generosity of our supporters, and renewed our vital bonds to our community.

So, while we certainly were not unlucky during 2013, it wasn’t luck that drove our success. The progress we enjoyed was the product of hard work by many, many talented and dedicated people who proved their commitment to the future of Kansas City, and Kansas City’s university.

Please take a moment to review this collection of the high points of our outstanding 2013.

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