Top Stories of 2014

Chancellor Leo E. Morton (center) with Chamber CEO James A. Heeter (left) and Kansas City Mayor Sly James (right)

A year of recognition: of achievements made, and tasks unfinished

For the University of Missouri-Kansas City, 2014 was a year of recognition. We recognized outstanding individuals for their achievements on behalf of our campus and community. We recognized the unfinished business of bringing all people into full participation in our campus and community. And we recognized how much we need each other, and need to work at understanding and appreciating each other.

Here, in chronological order, is a recap of UMKC’s top news stories of 2014.

February: UMKC hosts the nation’s largest LGBT college conference

Start to finish, UMKC students were pleased with the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Ally College Conference they hosted.

Also known as MBLGTACC or “Mumbletalk,” the conference brought about 2,000 students from all over the country — including Hawaii. The conference had 90 workshops to choose from, with topics including safe sex, creating change on campus and ally-community building, and offered nationally known speakers.

“It was exactly the weekend we envisioned when we first started planning two years ago” said UMKC senior Roze Brooks, the chair of MBLGTACC. “There was an enormous sense of community and empowerment in a fun, celebratory environment.”

“One of the takeaways from the conference is how far we’ve come,” said Jonathan Pryor, co-adviser of MBLGTACC and coordinator of UMKC LGBTQIA Programs & Services. “Chancellor Morton received a standing ovation for his speech, showing UMKC’s administrative support. When this conference started 22 years ago, college and university administrations weren’t so supportive. Now about 80 percent of the conference goers’ colleges registered their support by paying for their conference or by helping them get here.” Read more.

February: Eilise O’Connor named first team academic all-American

Women’s Basketball senior guard Eilise O’Connor was named a Division I First Team Capital One Academic All-American.

O’Connor, now a student at the UMKC School of Dentistry, earned a 3.99 GPA as a Health Sciences major in the School of Nursing and Health Studies and a Chemistry minor in the College of Arts and Sciences. The San Francisco native set new Kansas City and WAC records for free throws in a game with 22 at New Mexico State on Jan. 18, as well as records for free throws in a season.

“It’s absolutely humbling to be categorized with the tremendous athletes who make up the Academic All-American teams,” O’Connor said. “They are some of the best and brightest collegiate athletes in the country and I can be nothing but honored to be considered alongside them. Without question, I could not have earned anything without my team, coaches and staff. From our manager to our head coach, all I can say is thank you for supporting me throughout my career on the floor and off.” Read more.

February: New hall of fame celebrates female role models

UMKC hosted the gala luncheon launch of the new Starr Women’s Hall of Fame, with Chelsea Clinton, vice chair of the Clinton Foundation, as the featured speaker at the event.

The new Hall recognizes women from the Metropolitan Kansas City area and preserves the legacy of their accomplishments. In her remarks, Clinton described how members of her generation – and future generations – will benefit from that preservation.

“It’s very hard to imagine what you can’t see. That’s why it is crucial that institutions like this exist,” Clinton said to a crowd of more than 1,100 in the UMKC Swinney Recreation Center. “This will help UMKC students, and other young people, to see what is possible; to shape their dreams and fire their imaginations.”

The Starr Women’s Hall of Fame bears the name of the late Martha Jane Phillips Starr, a Kansas City philanthropist and champion of women’s rights. Starr was one of the first women to become a member of the UMKC Board of Trustees. She also helped start the UMKC Women’s Council and their Graduate Assistance Fund, which provides financial assistance to female students. She died in 2011. Read more.

April: New strategic plan for diversity calls on all to participate

Faculty, staff and students converged at the Student Union to witness the rollout of a new Diversity Strategic Plan, the product of more than two years of work by the Chancellor’s Diversity Council. University leaders and members of the council described the plan, and the process that led to its formation.

Dr. Marita Barkis, one of the co-chairs, said the council included diverse individuals from all sectors of the community and the university, including administrators, faculty, and staff at all levels.

“The plan developed by the Council is the product of input from UMKC campus and community stakeholders; it is informed by data and expertise relevant to diversity, many hours of thoughtful dialogue, and analysis of a variety of resources,” she said.

Dr. Susan Wilson was introduced at the event as the university’s new Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion.

“I’m pretty excited” about taking on the new responsibility, Wilson said, and called for open, honest communication among all members of the university community.

“It is only through open dialogue that we can develop ideas that jump off the page, and don’t just sit on the page,” she said. Read more.

April: Acclaimed dancer-choreographer Jawole Willa Jo Zollar named Alumna of the Year

Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, a Guggenheim Fellow and the founder of Urban Bush Women – a performance ensemble exploring the use of cultural expression as a catalyst for social change – was recognized as UMKC’s Alumna of the Year at the annual Alumni Awards Celebration.

In all, 16 individuals, and one family, were honored at the event. In addition to Zollar, they included a mathematician who morphed into a Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist, a mayor and renowned civic leader, a husband-and-wife engineering team, and an educator/entrepreneur who survived childhood internment in WWII concentration camps. A cancer researcher, renowned attorneys and physicians, humanitarians, artists and educators rounded out the list. At the event, video tributes described how each of them used their UMKC education as a foundation for creating purposeful impact on the wider world.

“I had such an amazing experience here at UMKC,” Zollar said. “I am thrilled to be standing here in this moment.” The 2014 event raised more than $100,000 in scholarship funds. Over the past five years, the event has raised more than a half million dollars for student assistance. Read more.

May: Donors provide site for Downtown Arts Campus

A group of anonymous donors, working with the Downtown Council, assembled an 80,000-square-foot tract to serve as a new home for the university’s Conservatory of Music and Dance.

The donation was another milestone in the effort to create a third UMKC campus – a Downtown Campus for the Arts. The 80,000-square-foot tract covers a full city block bounded by Broadway, Central, 17th and 18th streets, directly south of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

“This is our dream site,” said UMKC Chancellor Leo E. Morton. “It offers everything we wanted, everything we hoped for, a perfect site to execute the vision we have for our students, and for this vibrant and growing artistic district in the heart of Kansas City.

“The Conservatory of Music and Dance has found a home here in the Crossroads District,” Morton said. “It is nothing short of exhilarating to stand here in this beautiful hall, the embodiment of a vision for artistic greatness, and look at the site of our future Conservatory mere footsteps away.” Read more.

July: American Idol holds auditions on campus.

On a steamy summer day, more than 500 people – including dozens of students – took their shot at stardom by participating in an open audition on campus for the FOX TV series “American Idol.”

Several hundred hopefuls had already assembled by 7:30 am. Attire ranged from cowboy, to cocktail dress, to tattoos and a two-toned mohawk.

Producers then began an elaborately choreographed parade through Swinney Commons south to 51st street. A producer with a bullhorn encouraged cheering and waving as the cameras rolled. In the crowd, excitement vied with sleepiness and nerves. UMKC student Vincent Edwards was the first hopeful to advance to the next round.   Read more.

(Note:  the new season of American Idol begins airing on Wed. Jan. 7)

August: Students protest shooting in Ferguson

Student leaders held a rally, march and candlelight prayer vigil to commemorate events in Ferguson, Mo., in the wake of the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown.

The students said their intent was to raise awareness on campus about the situation and to promote a constructive response. The event was organized by leaders of the campus chapter of the NAACP: Danielle McFadden, president, and Carly M. Jones, vice president. Both are seniors majoring in Business Administration.

The evening’s events began at Bloch Executive Hall, where student and administration speakers called for recognition of the frustration and pain in communities like Ferguson, and for open, peaceful dialog to seek positive change. About 100 students marched from there to the UMKC African-American History and Culture House, where students lit candles, prayed and recited poetry.

Chancellor Leo E. Morton told the students of his own experience growing up in Alabama during the civil rights era, and said there is cause for hope, even as much work remains to be done. Read more.

September: Movement for civility in politics launched

The Village Square, a national organization seeking to restore civil discourse to our national politics, has come to Kansas City.

The new Kansas City chapter of the organization, co-founded by distinguished professor Allan Katz of UMKC, has named its co-chairs, appointed an advisory board and held its first event. Katz has returned to his alma mater as a faculty member after serving as U.S. Ambassador to Portugal.

The Village Square is a vehicle for civic engagement. It is an attempt to bring back the spirit of the American town hall and engage local citizens in civil dialogue on contentious issues. The Village Square holds comfortable, casual forums and offers programming that brings people together for face-to-face interactions about polarizing issues facing local communities and the nation. The goal is to engage in dialog, build connections and seek understanding, even while disagreeing.

“Our political system won’t change until leaders lose power when they are divisive and polarizing,” says Katz. “In our hometown, what will change right away is how we discuss these issues, because they’ll be framed not just by advocates, but by the community.

“There is a hunger in this country for rational conversation,” Katz said. “We’re going to create a place for that in Kansas City.”

Each Village Square chapter has co-chairs from opposite sides of the political aisle. Filling those roles in Kansas City are Mary Bloch, a Democrat on the Missouri side of the state line, and Leawood Mayor Peggy Dunn, a Republican from Kansas. Read more.

October: Grand opening celebrates new student housing on Hospital Hill

High expectations surrounded the construction of the first Hospital Hill Campus student housing project by UMKC. The new structure was designed to help draw the most talented future nurses, dentists, pharmacists and physicians to study and practice in Kansas City; stabilize an evolving neighborhood; stimulate spinoff development; promote increased student traffic between UMKC’s two campuses; and help break down a generations-old racial barrier.

State and city dignitaries, neighborhood leaders, university officials, faculty, staff and students gathered at the Hospital Hill Apartments for a grand opening celebration and delivered their verdict: Mission accomplished.

A procession of speakers representing a variety of stakeholders participated in a ribbon-tying ceremony, as opposed to a ribbon-cutting. UMKC Chancellor Leo E. Morton explained the symbolism.

“Today is all about tying things together. We’re tying city and state, campus and community, east side and west side, business and government,” Morton said. “This building is a statement about what we can accomplish when we come together.”

Mayor Sly James added that the building is both “an exciting milestone for UMKC and for this entire community,” as well as an amenity that will help to attract and keep highly talented young people from around the region and country to Kansas City. Read more.

October: School of Pharmacy expands outreach to underserved areas

The UMKC School of Pharmacy at Missouri State University opened this semester in a transformed historic Brick City building in Springfield, Mo.

This is the third site for the school’s PharmD program, the practice-level degree for pharmacists. UMKC School of Pharmacy Dean Russell Melchert said the expansion is a targeted effort to address a shortage of healthcare providers, including pharmacists, in rural Missouri.

“There is nothing more mission-oriented we can do than what we are doing today — providing something of lasting and indispensable value to the people of Missouri,” said UMKC Chancellor Leo E. Morton.

Currently UMKC’s School of Pharmacy admits about 125 students a year, out of 600 applicants. The program at Missouri State will expand the incoming class by about 25 percent.

The new site allows students to register in the UMKC School of Pharmacy program but complete coursework on the Missouri State campus. This university partnership allows students to take the same courses and earn the same UMKC degree as their counterparts in Kansas City, and in Columbia at the University of Missouri. Read more.

November: Mourning the loss of Vera Olson

UMKC lost one of the university’s most loyal supporters in Vera Olson, widow of the late James C. “Jim” Olson. She died Nov. 4 in Kansas City at age 96.

James Olson served as both chancellor of UMKC, and president of the UM System. The late President Olson said often that the presidency was a team effort that he shared fully with Vera.

She was first and foremost a dedicated wife and mother. She served as first lady and hostess of the UM System, but she was also able to set aside time for her interests, which included art history. She was a member of the Friends of Art Board at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and a tour guide. Vera took art history courses at UMKC.

Vera and Jim became active supporters of UMKC and the UM System upon their arrival in Kansas City in 1968. They established UMKC as the System’s campus for the arts and dedicated themselves to bringing arts to each of the System campuses. At the time of his retirement from the UM System, the James and Vera Olson Fund for the Arts was established by the Curators, and it provides for performances on the four UM campuses.

The Olsons led a campaign to create the UMKC Performing Arts Center, which was named in Jim’s honor in 2008. Vera remained active and supportive of the university until her death. Read more.

November: Chancellor named ‘Kansas Citian of the Year’

UMKC Chancellor Leo E. Morton was been named “Kansas Citian of the Year” by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.

The honor, presented annually since 1960, recognizes “those persons whose civic contributions and achievements have reflected the insight, creativity and consciousness necessary to build and maintain a quality urban community.” It was presented at the Chamber’s annual dinner gala at the Kansas City Convention Center’s Grand Ballroom. Morton, who was unaware of the honor in advance, was visibly shocked by the announcement.

“You folks can’t know how much I love this city,” Morton told the more than 1,900 guests in attendance. “Every day I ask God to bless me so that I can help others.”

Morton was introduced with a series of video tributes by leaders such as Henry W. Bloch, Leawood Mayor Peggy Dunn and former University of Missouri System President Gary Forsee; tributes were also offered by UMKC students and by Morton’s son, Leo Morton, Jr. Morton joined several previous winners of the award on stage for photographs, including Bloch, Shirley and Barnett C. Helzberg, Jr., Robert D. Regnier and U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II. Read more.

December: Entrepreneur Hall of Fame opens on campus

An Entrepreneur Hall of Fame was established at the Henry W. Bloch School of Management at UMKC, with an inaugural class of 20 Kansas Citians honored for their entrepreneurial spirit and innovative business success.

The inductees – an impressive list of the community’s foundational entrepreneurs – demonstrate Kansas City’s position as “America’s most entrepreneurial city.” They include a jeweler, real estate developer, pharmaceutical company founder and beer brewer. Henry W. Bloch, the school’s namesake, also is one of the class members.

The hall is a result of a vision and a generous gift from Joe and Judy Roetheli, founders of the Lil’ Red Foundation. It was their vision to have a three-dimensional physical presence for the hall of fame – a place where students and visitors could come for inspiration. It is located on the main level of the Bloch Executive Hall, 5108 Cherry St. Admission is free.

“The Entrepreneur Hall of Fame is a natural outcome of our strategic mission – to support entrepreneurship in Kansas City,” said David Donnelly, dean of the Bloch School. “This hall serves as a teaching tool as it provides role models for our students, graduates and the community to emulate.” Read more.

| John Martellaro, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications


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