Celebrating and embracing diversity

This past April I had the pleasure of welcoming the Dialogue Institute of Southwest Kansas City to the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus for their 11th Annual Dialogue and Friendship Dinner. The annual event celebrates the importance of inclusion and the value of embracing diversity, so I was delighted UMKC was able to serve as host.

The mission of the Dialogue Institute is to promote mutual understanding, respect and cooperation among people of diverse faiths and cultures. They do that by creating opportunities for direct communication and meaningful shared experiences.

At UMKC, we value these same things. We demonstrate that by making those values a fundamental component of the education of our community’s professional workforce. We do it by collaborating with community partners on urban issues and education. We also accomplish this by maintaining a highly diverse faculty, staff and student body.

The Friendship Dinner was more than a meal and meeting. It was the opportunity to raise much-needed funds for the organization. It was also a way to publicly recognize and appreciate the hard work of the past and to revive ourselves for the future.

I don’t have to tell you that we are living in trying times. From Syria and Belgium to Columbia and Ferguson, Missouri, we see signs of anger, division and violence. At the dinner, though, I saw hope. I saw many different facets of our community. As we celebrated our diversity, we were reminded of the many ways in which we are all unique. That uniqueness is a strength and an advantage. But we also must reach beyond our differences to recognize the common humanity that is within us all.

I’m proud to be affiliated with the Dialogue Institute because together we can promote mutual understanding and cooperation among people of diverse faiths and cultures. That work has never been more meaningful, and more important, than it is right now.

Communities around the world are becoming more diverse by the day. These communities face a choice: to embrace that diversity or to resist it. I tell you this: Those who choose to embrace diversity will have a clear advantage over those who do not. They will be safer, more flexible, and have a broader array of ideas and influences to tap into. By leveraging those strengths and advantages, they will be more prosperous.

At UMKC, we are working hard to help this community become one that harvests the fruits of embracing diversity. And we welcome the Dialogue Institute as a partner in that vital endeavor.

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UMKC: Contributing to a Smart Kansas City

Kansas Citians are collaborators. We have learned the value of working together to leverage knowledge and research to improve people’s lives. And as the leader of Kansas City’s university, I am proud to support our community’s collaboration on the Smart Cities project, being led by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

The IEEE Smart Cities Initiative is a global, multi-disciplinary effort launched in 2013 to help cities share knowledge, experiences and good practices in the use of technology to improve city management. The intent is to build a global network that fosters collaboration among industry, academy and government within and across cities, and to bring the expertise of IEEE members to bear on that discussion.

People at UMKC were all about collaboration long before it was trendy. More than 40 years ago, people in Kansas City decided that our community needed a public medical school to meet our health care needs. We could have created a brand-new teaching hospital to compete with the facilities already here. Instead, we reached out to the existing hospitals to create academic clinical partnerships that endure to this day.

Our faculty has partnered with the Kansas City Police Department and the Jackson County Prosecutor’s office to create a unique, data-driven anti-crime effort called the Kansas City No Violence Alliance, and its success has become a model for cities around the country to emulate. As computing and engineering grew to become large and vital components of our community’s economic base, UMKC expanded our School of Computing and Engineering to meet the growing demand for a well-educated professional workforce.

Our Law School, which has been prominent in the organization of the Smart Cities project, has been a leader in interdisciplinary entrepreneurship courses and programs for more than 14 years.  The UMKC School of Law’s Technology & Public Policy course brings together students from law, business and engineering to collaborate on civic entrepreneurship and technology projects with the city, and with a wide range of local and national leaders in Smart Cities’ endeavors. Those initiatives are an outgrowth of grants from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, another force headquartered here in Kansas City that does so much to promote entrepreneurship in its many forms.

The business community depends on our Henry W. Bloch School of Management as a leading source of research and education on entrepreneurship and innovation. But at UMKC, we don’t confine those disciplines to the single silo of the business school. We have an enterprise-wide emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation that stretches to every corner of UMKC. We promote that emphasis in our school of law, our department of urban planning and design, our school of computing and engineering, even health care and the arts.

At UMKC, music majors study entrepreneurship to guide them in their future careers as self-employed musicians. Computer science and medical faculty collaborate to mine big data to develop innovative new approaches to fighting disease and saving lives.

This approach enables our graduates to contribute high value to an enterprise as employees, as well as becoming successful entrepreneurs. They become the kind of people who understand entrepreneurship, crave innovation, and know how to develop data-driven solutions. I like to think our alumni, as well as our faculty, have had a significant influence on Kansas City becoming the special kind of Smart City that we are: a collaborative and entrepreneurial Smart City.

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Business is a pillar of Kansas City

I am proud to be the Chancellor of UMKC, Kansas City’s university, because education empowers people to seize opportunity and make the most of it.

But I spent most of my life in business. I’ve seen what business can do for a community. It makes a significant difference when successful entrepreneurs and business people are willing to come to the table and help others.

While I was at Aquila in Kansas City, the ownership urged me to get involved in civic affairs. And it was there that I began to see how much of a pillar the business community is for this great city. I saw first-hand the involvement of the business community in philanthropy, in education, in civic affairs and in the arts. I saw the opportunity that business success creates for growth and progress in so many other areas.

That opportunity is the driving force of this community, the energy source that makes Kansas City a great community. From startups to centuries-old, businesses in all stages in Kansas City give back to the community by donating money, time and expertise.

We are fortunate to have lots of homegrown entrepreneurs whose businesses date back well into the last century and beyond. When we think of them, and what a leap of faith they took to begin and persevere, we think of AMC Theaters, Cerner, 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.

At the national level, the next generation of business owners and entrepreneurs are asking, “Where is the best place to locate?” They are combing the country for the most appealing and desirable business climates. They are looking for places that support and encourage economic development, communities with adequate housing and other amenities to draw in talented employees, places where the workforce is well educated and where the arts and intellectual growth are respected.

When they ask the question, we need to let them know the answer is: “Come to Kansas City.”

I love being part of this community. Kansas City has pillars, but what Kansas City is, what sets it apart, is that Kansas City is an anchor. It grounds you. It helps you hold fast when the waves come in high. I have seen people turn down opportunities to advance their careers because those opportunities would take them away from Kansas City. It is because we are so anchored that so many Kansas Citians are so committed to giving back to this community.

— Excerpted from remarks delivered at the 2015 Annual Dinner of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce

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An investment in college is an investment in you

I meet a lot of people as Chancellor of the University of Missouri-Kansas City. One group I have the most fun talking with are young people excited about their futures. I see their eagerness to learn and love to hear their aspirations.

When the University of Missouri System created the Show Me Value Tour, I was more than happy to bring it to elementary and middle schools in Kansas City.

In early 2015, I visited two middle schools in the North Kansas City School District. On Dec. 2 and 3, I visited King Elementary School in the Kansas City Public School District and Center Middle School in the Center School District.

Let me tell you, these students are smart! They asked great questions and are thinking big. The timing of my visit with the eighth-graders was perfect too, because they are getting enrolled in high school and choosing their classes. Now is the time for them to start thinking about a career, researching the education needed for that career and taking classes that will prepare them for college coursework. They need to stay focused on getting a good education.

We need these young people to be the best they can be – and they can do it. And I told them there are many people who will help. They need to make sure that the road they’re on is taking them where they want to go. College should be one of the stops on that road.

I was honest with them: it will take hard work, dedication and perseverance. I told them about my family, my educational experiences, my career and how I achieved my dreams. I prepared, and I accepted help from those around me.

We talked about the cost of college. I wanted them to know that scholarships and financial aid are available to help. At the four campuses of the University of Missouri System, about eight of 10 students get some form of financial aid.

I’d love to have them all attend UMKC, but there are many educational options in Missouri. I just want them to go to college. A college degree is something no one can take away. An education is the best investment a person can make in a bright future.

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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.

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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.

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