Honoring Alumni, Preserving a Legacy

Photo by Brandon Parigo, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications

2018 Alumni Achievement Awards recognize 15 individuals and one family

Former Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes (M.A. ’71, M.P.A. ’78) was recognized as the 2018 Alumna of the Year at the gala Alumni Achievement Awards program June 15 at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Barnes leadership as mayor from 1999–2007 is widely credited as the driving force behind the city’s 21st century downtown renaissance, including construction of the Power & Light District and the Sprint Center and a downtown population surge that went from 4,000 in 2002 to 26,000 in 2017.

Barnes was among 15 individuals and one family recognized as campus-wide or academic unit honorees at the annual event. The program is one of the university’s largest events, with proceeds supporting student scholarships. In the last decade, the Alumni Awards event has garnered more than $1 million in scholarships and immediate aid for students. (Those who wish to contribute to the fund to help eliminate student debt can do so online.

Barnes thanked her alma mater, its leadership and the Alumni Association for hosting the gala event and other activities over the course of the day.

“It is clear that the legacy that UMKC created for us continues,” Barnes said. “It is up to us now to do everything we can to enable UMKC to be recognized as a great university – not just in this region, but across the country and beyond.”

Ramin Cherafat, president of the UMKC Alumni Association Governing Board, and CEO of McCownGordon Construction, offered a special salute to Interim Chancellor Barbara A. Bichelmeyer.

“On behalf of the Alumni Association, we want to say a special thanks to you.  As this is your last big event of the year as interim chancellor and provost, or ‘chovost’ as we’ve come to call you, we want to extend our great appreciation for the support you’ve given us and the entire university,” Cherafat said. “Your collaborative nature has been inspiring and we wouldn’t be in such a good position as a university without your leadership. So as you return to just wearing the one hat of provost, please know that you have our gratitude.”

Following are the 2018 UMKC Alumni Awardees:

Campus-Wide Award Recipients

Alumna of the Year: Kay Barnes (M.A. ’71, M.P.A. ’78)
Downtown Kansas City, Missouri’s current prosperity and growth is a result of the blueprint created by former mayor, the Honorable Kay Barnes. The first (and only) female mayor of Kansas City, Barnes’ tenacity and leadership as mayor from 1999–2007 inspired a multi-billion dollar campaign for the revitalization of downtown Kansas City — including construction of the Power & Light District and the Sprint Center. In addition to her role as a national political figure, Barnes helped establish Central Exchange and the UMKC Women’s Center. She now serves as senior academic liaison and ambassador for Park University and has been a frequent guest lecturer at UMKC’s Bloch School of Management.

Spotlight Award: Carla Conway Wilson (B.S. ’88)
UMKC’s Director of Athletics, Carla Conway Wilson has a vision for athletics and student-athletes that has put her, and UMKC, in the national spotlight. In 2017, Wilson was elected as the third vice president of the Division I-AAA Athletics Directors Association and appointed to the NCAA Division I Council. She was also chosen to serve on the Executive Committee for the Minority Opportunities Athletic Association. The first female and minority leader of athletics at UMKC, Wilson is also active on a number of community boards including the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the Women’s Intersport Network for Kansas City and the Chancellor’s Advisory Board for the UMKC Women’s Center.

Bill French Alumni Service Award: Hannah Lofthus (B.A. ’07)
Hannah Lofthus is the founder and chief executive officer of the Ewing Marion Kauffman School and a frequent volunteer, speaker and mentor for UMKC. As an undergraduate student and member of the UMKC Honors College, Lofthus co-founded a service-learning program that still exists today. In 2010, Lofthus founded the Kauffman School with the mission of “creating college graduates.” The school was named 2015 Missouri Charter School of the Year and a 2017 “School to Learn From” by Teach For America. In 2015, Lofthus was inducted into the Mid-America Education Hall of Fame and in 2016 she received the Accelerate Institute’s Ryan Award for transformational school leadership.

Defying the Odds Award: Fredrick N. Manasseh (Pharm.D. ’07, EMBA ’12)
Fredrick Manasseh arrived in Wichita, Kansas, from Nairobi, Kenya, with nothing more than a suitcase of clothes and enough money to pay for two months of room and board. As an undergraduate, he worked three jobs to pay for his education and support his family in Kenya. After earning his Doctor of Pharmacy degree from UMKC (and later, his EMBA), Manasseh founded the Monica E. Manasseh Scholarship, named for his mother, to aid minority students who encounter financial barriers to higher education. Now principal and managing consultant at Rx Prowess, he serves on boards of Riverview Health Services, Child with No Father and the Community Development Financial Resources.

Legacy Award: The Eisler-Ferguson Family
Within the Eisler-Ferguson family, there are more than a dozen Roos spanning three generations: William (Bill) O’Neill Eisler (B.A. ’58, J.D. ’60), Richard Eisler (B.A. ’65), Patrick William Eisler (B.A. ’93, M.P.A. ’98), Sean O. Eisler (B.S.M.E. ’93), Heather R. Beaird-Eisler (B.B.A. ’90), Haley Lynn Eisler (B.B.A. ’90), H. Elwin Ferguson (B.S. Pharm. ’50), Marvin J. Ferguson (J.D. ’62), Sandra Lynn Ferguson (B.B.A. ’62, J.D. ’64), Mark Marvin Ferguson (B.A. ’87, J.D. ’90), Margaret Ann Costanzo-Ferguson (J.D. ’94), Carolyn M. Woodburn (B.S.P. ’88), Robert Paul “Bob” Richards, Jr. (B.B.A. ’74), George Mark Dunlap (Attended ’82-’86).

School-Based Alumni Achievement Award Recipients

College of Arts & Sciences: Christopher D. Harris (B.L.A. ’14)
In the late 1990s, Chris Harris developed the Harris Park Midtown Sports and Activities Center. The center serves as an educational environment that helps youth and adults cultivate life-skills and self-esteem. At UMKC, Harris was awarded the Bernard Osher Reentry Scholarship, a scholarship awarded to adult students pursuing their first bachelor’s degree after a significant hiatus. He also serves as a housing locator at Truman Medical Centers.

Bloch School of Management: Frank Wewers (MBA ’69)
Frank Wewers founded Manning Systems, Inc., and FLI-TEK Consulting. In 2013, a $1 million bequest established the Frank J. and Helen L. Wewers Scholarship Fund at UMKC. He presently serves on the board of the Kansas City Art Institute and the UMKC Foundation. He and his wife, Helen, are avid supporters of many arts and public education organizations around Kansas City.

School of Computing & Engineering: Karthikeyan Ramasamy (M.S. ’93)
Karthik Ramasamy is the co-founder and chief product officer for Streamlio. Previously, Ramasamy was an engineering manager at Twitter where he co-created Twitter Heron, the back-end system that processes all events on Twitter in real-time. He holds 10 patents, is the author of several publications, and co-wrote “Network Routing,” now in its second printing, with a UMKC faculty member.

Conservatory of Music and Dance: Molly Wagner (B.F.A. ’07)
Molly Wagner, a ballerina in her sixth season with the Kansas City Ballet, has performed some of the most cherished roles in dance including the leads in “Swan Lake,” “Giselle,” “Sleeping Beauty” and “Romeo and Juliet.” She currently teaches at the Kansas City Ballet School and the Crescendo Conservatory in Overland Park, Kansas, and coaches students for Youth American Grand Prix.

School of Dentistry: Joseph Peter Spalitto (B.S. ’68, D.D.S. ’72)
Joseph Spalitto is president of the UMKC School of Dentistry Alumni Association, board member for the Dental School’s Rinehart Foundation and a sponsor of the Xi Psi Phi Dental Fraternity. For more than 10 years, Spalitto and his wife, Liz, traveled to Guatemala to perform dental missionary work. In 2002, he was appointed Honorary Consul of Guatemala and became a member of the U.S. State Department.

School of Dentistry – Dental Hygiene: Debbie Thompson (B.S.D.H. ’81)
Debbie Thompson has been instrumental in bringing dental care and education to southwest Missouri — as a former dental hygiene instructor at Missouri Southern State University (MSSU), member of the MSSU Dental Hygiene Advisory Board and founder of the Dental Careers Institute. In 2015, she created the Debbie Thompson Spirit of Dental Hygiene Scholarships at MSSU.

School of Education: Carol Charismas (B.A. ’67, M.A. ’70)
Carol Charismas began teaching in 1966 and despite leaving the field to pursue other ventures, she always came back to teaching. She currently teaches third and fourth graders at Padre Pio Academy in Shawnee, Kansas. A former principal described her as one of the most dedicated teachers he has known — devoting her time to ensure that underserved students have a welcoming classroom.

School of Law: Dana Tippin Cutler (J.D. ’89)
Dana Tippin Cutler is a member of the Missouri Bar’s Board of Governors and was the first woman of color to be elected its president in 2016-17. A partner at James W. Tippin & Associates, Cutler was named “2018 Woman of the Year” by Missouri Lawyers Weekly. She and her husband, Keith (J.D. ’89), star in the Daytime Emmy-nominated TV show “Couples Court with the Cutlers.”

School of Medicine: William E. (Wes) Stricker (M.D. ’79)
Wes Stricker founded and manages Allergy & Asthma Consultants and is the sole shareholder of Ozark Allergy Laboratory and Clinical Research of the Ozarks. Stricker’s other passion is aviation. He owns Ozark Management, an aviation management company he has used to support academic and athletic departments at the University of Missouri-Columbia, charitable missions for Veterans’ Airlift Command and the Special Olympics.

School of Nursing & Health Studies: Rita K. Haxton (M.S. ’87)
Vice President of Oncology, Inpatient Surgical Services and Women’s and Children Health for Baylor University Medical Center, Rita Haxton has spent more than 20 years of her career in executive leadership positions. Since joining Baylor, Haxton has served as a leader in the first uterine transplant research project with a successful live birth in the U.S., and has been involved in innovative cancer and transplant research studies.

School of Pharmacy: Mark L. Hayes (B.S.P. ’88)
Mark Hayes is a pharmacist and lawyer with more than 25 years’ experience in health law. Currently he is senior vice president of Federal Policy and Advocacy for Ascension. Hayes was a leader in the policy development on health care provisions for several pieces of federal legislation including the Affordable Care Act, Medicare Modernization Act and Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act.



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