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UMKC honors 16 alumni and one family at Awards Luncheon

Each year, the University of Missouri-Kansas City takes great pride in coming together to recognize the accomplishments of graduates at the annual UMKC Alumni Awards Luncheon.

“This event stands as a great reminder to us – to faculty, staff, students and friends of UMKC – that our university has been a part of the development of these great Roos. To our honorees, we welcome you home,” said UMKC Chancellor Leo E. Morton.

As 2017 Alumna of the Year Esther George (EMBA ’00) addressed the audience, she expressed gratitude and pride to be recognized with the many talented and deserving alumni.

“I’m so deeply honored to be in this company today,” said George, president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. “We are products of UMKC with a long history of excellence. We don’t arrive at this support without those who’ve helped us along the way. Thanks to UMKC for its part in my development.”

George spoke of the help she received in college and in her first jobs. In fact, Tom Hoenig, vice chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, attended the luncheon. Hoenig was George’s mentor and predecessor at the Federal Reserve.

George and other honorees met with current students the morning of the luncheon on April 20. And although years have passed since the alumni awardees attended UMKC, George said she quickly realized that despite their diverse backgrounds, they all have one thing in common – “We are all products of where we come from.”

Student success and support was the underlying theme during the awards celebration.

Raymond Cattaneo (M.D. ’03), president of the UMKC Alumni Association Governing Board, talked about the challenges facing students today. One of the biggest is financial.

So it was with exuberance that Cattaneo announced two challenge gifts at the luncheon, all for scholarship funds to benefit students in need. The past presidents of the Alumni Association Governing Board matched gifts made at the luncheon up to $5,000. The second was a matching gift of $5,000 from the Regnier Family Foundation.

“Many students have dire financial need – money that they owe in order for them to continue as a student or to obtain their transcripts,” Cattaneo said.

Morton said a look at a recent list of students who have financial holds on their accounts showed a little more than half of the students owed less than $400 per person. He said many will find a way to pay what they owe. But for others, this debt might mean the end of their dream.

“For some this might be the speed bump that causes them to pause their education. But we can remove that obstacle in their way.”

In a plea to help “wipe the worry away” for students, each table had a chalkboard centerpiece with the class rank, major and amount that a student owed as of last week.

“This real-life person named on your table is a representation of the challenge we have before us today,” Morton said. “On this day, we are going to give relief to some of our great and deserving students.”

“Just imagine the look on our students’ faces when they are informed that UMKC alumni and friends had enough faith in them and their dream to pay off their holds – sight unseen, no questions asked, nothing needed in return,” Cattaneo said.

As people at the table rallied together to match the need on the chalkboard, they were able to wipe the financial need off the chalkboard and wipe one burden from a student’s mind. At the luncheon, attendees raised more than enough to erase the total financial need of students that was represented in the room on the chalkboards.

Over the past several years, the Alumni Awards Luncheon has raised more than $900,000 in support of student scholarships, including a full-ride scholarship to an outstanding Trustees’ Scholar in partnership with the UMKC Board of Trustees.

The surprises kept coming at the celebration as Cattaneo announced a $20,000 donation by Leo Sweeney (B.A. ’51), 2013 Legacy Award recipient, College of Arts and Sciences Class of 1951 and 2017 Alumni Awards Celebration Platinum Sponsor. His gift establishes the Sweeney Family Student Support Fund, an endowed fund that will provide financial relief for students in the years to come.

Following are the 2017 UMKC Alumni Awardees:

Campus-Wide Award Recipients

Alumna of the Year: Esther L. George (EMBA ’00)
President and chief executive officer for the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, George is a world-renowned expert on economic issues. She has held the top post at the bank since 2011. In 2016, she became a voting member of the Federal Open Market Committee. Beyond her national leadership in shaping domestic monetary policy, George also is known globally for her expertise. She hosts the annual Jackson Hole Economic Symposium and has participated in the Bank for International Settlements’ Financial Stability Institute programs in Lima, Peru; Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; Beijing and Malaysia. While much of George’s work is national and international in scope, she generously lends her time to UMKC by giving presentations to UMKC Bloch students and inviting them to the Federal Reserve Bank to engage with economists and other professionals. She is currently a UMKC Trustee and has served on the Bloch Advisory Council. On Feb. 9, 2017, George was appointed to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation board of trustees.

Spotlight Award: Hermon Mehari (B.M. ’10)
Mehari’s career is the latest to put UMKC’s jazz program on the global and national stages, and he has been an ambassador for Kansas City jazz and UMKC’s jazz program around the world. He has won countless accolades, including first place in the national trumpet competition for jazz, first place in the Carmen Caruso International Trumpet Competition, second place in the International Trumpet Guild Competition in Australia, and was a semifinalist in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition and the Charlotte Street Grant awards. While still a student he formed an award-winning ensemble, Diverse, whose debut album made the Top 40 on the Jazzweek radio charts. He continues to perform professionally around the world. One of his nominators notes that, “Next to Bobby Watson, Hermon Mehari has brought the most attention to UMKC and the KC jazz scene in recent history.”

Bill French Alumni Service Award: Bob Regnier (MBA ’78)
Founder, president and CEO of the Bank of Blue Valley, Regnier has been a long-time volunteer for UMKC, dating back to his service on the Bloch Alumni Association Board in 1990-96. He has served on the School’s Finance Advisory Board, and in 2009, he stepped into a campus-wide volunteer role as the co-chair of the university’s capital campaign. In 2016, he became a member of the UMKC Foundation board of directors. In addition to his personal service, the Regnier Family Foundation has supported the Bloch School and the university in countless ways, including founding and naming the UMKC Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation’s signature program, now the Regnier Family Foundation’s Venture Creation Challenge.

Defying the Odds Award: Troy L. Nash (J.D. ’97, M.A. ’05, M.A. ’11, MBA ’13)
Growing up in a single family home and on public assistance, Nash worked odd jobs to help his mother make ends meet. The family bounced from home to home, forcing him to adapt to ever-changing circumstances. He sought out education and with the help of scholarships and loans, he earned an undergraduate degree from Wesley College and then a J.D. from UMKC. He also earned an M.A. in economics and political science and an MBA at UMKC, as well as a doctorate degree in education from St. Louis University. With a long track record of public service to Missouri and the city, Nash became the first African-American real estate executive to become principal and shareholder in a top 10 commercial real estate firm in the Kansas City area at Newmark Grubb Zimmer, led by Hugh Zimmer.

Legacy Award: The Cisetti-Orozco-Madden Family
The Cisetti-Orozco-Madden family’s Roo roots began with Josephine Cisetti, who graduated from what was then known as the University of Kansas City in 1945. Many Roos would follow, including her two sons, John Cisetti and Rev. Joseph Cisetti, who graduated from UMKC with degrees from the School of Education and the College of Arts & Sciences respectively. Father Cisetti is pastor of St. Therese North parish and was ordained in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. John Cisetti has been the award-winning band director for the Louisburg, Kan., school district for more than 37 years. John’s wife, Veronica, is a Roo as well, along with her four siblings. John and Veronica’s daughter Mary came to UMKC as a Trustees’ Scholar and graduated from the Bloch School in 2012. She met her now husband, Nick Patonai, at UMKC – Nick graduated from the School of Medicine in 2014. The Legacy Award celebrates the 24 Roos in the family, including Patrick Madden, a graduate of the College, who is married to Veronica Cisetti’s sister, Gloria. Madden is college programs coordinator for the National Soccer Coaches Association of America and a former president of the College of Arts & Sciences Alumni Association board.

School-Based Alumni Achievement Award Recipients

College of Arts & Sciences
Kathryn Webster (B.A. ’75, M.A. ’79)
Webster is national chair of the board of directors for WomenHeart: the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease.

School of Biological Sciences
Theron E. Odlaug (B.S. ’71, M.S. ’73)
Former CEO of leon-nanodrugs GMBH, Odlaug now serves on the board of directors. He is also an executive-in-residence at Signet Healthcare Partners based in New York City and is acting CEO of Impopharma Inc.

Bloch School of Management
George W. Holcomb III (EMBA ’02)
As the surgeon-in-chief and senior vice president at Children’s Mercy, Holcomb is on the executive team of one of U.S. News and World Report’s best pediatric hospitals with the region’s only Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

School of Computing & Engineering
Jim Hogan (B.S.C.E. ’84)
Hogan serves as the senior vice president of operations in the Transmission & Distribution division of Burns & McDonnell, where he has had a 30-year career. He also manages the division’s Kansas City operations.

Conservatory of Music and Dance
James C. Mair (M.A. ’90)
Mair founded the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra and started the “Basically Basie” big band competition, which brings young talent to Kansas City from all across the region. He is currently a professor of music and director of instrumental studies at Kansas City Kansas Community College.

School of Dentistry
Jane Chestnut Atkinson (D.D.S. ’81)
The director of the Center for Clinical Research at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research within the National Institutes of Health, Atkinson has researched topics like oral health status and salivary gland function in patients with the AIDS virus.

School of Dentistry – Dental Hygiene
Liz Kaz (B.S.D.H. ’86, M.S.D.H. ’87)
Clinical associate professor and director of continuing education at the UMKC School of Dentistry, Kaz has been a pioneer in dental hygiene education throughout her career and serves on national boards for her profession.

School of Education
David Sharp (M.A. ’99, Ed.S. ’03)
A veteran who has been honored for his service, Sharp is principal at Lee’s Summit West High School. In 2015, he was named the Greater Kansas City Principal of the Year and Missouri State Principal of the Year.

School of Law
Nancy B. Firestone (J.D. ’77)
Firestone is a federal judge and serves on the United States Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C. She was the deputy assistant attorney general for the United States Department of Justice and is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University.

School of Medicine
Latha Sivaprasad (M.D. ’99)
Sivaprasad is chief medical officer and senior vice president for Rhode Island Hospital and previously served as chief patient experience officer for Beth Israel Medical Center in New York.

School of Nursing & Health Studies
Anita Skarbek (B.S.N. ’01, M.S.N. ’03)
Skarbek is the director of the RN-BSN program at the UMKC School of Nursing and Health Studies and is a clinical assistant professor. She also serves as a member of the Missouri Organization of Nurse Leaders, the Organization of Nurse Executives/NJ (ONE/NJ), and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

School of Pharmacy
Heather Lyons-Burney (Pharm.D. ’94)
Lyons-Burney is clinical assistant professor at the UMKC School of Pharmacy’s expansion program in Springfield, Mo. Lyons-Burney was co-owner of Branson Drug in Branson, Mo. Recently, she helped establish the non-profit clinic, Faith Community Health in Branson, to provide a patient-centered team approach to health care in a traditionally underserved population.

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