About Us

Propel at UMKC is a part of the College of Arts and Sciences Department of Psychology. Propel campus offices are located in Cherry Hall on the first floor, south wing of the building.

Propel Team

Kate Duffy, Transition Manager and Faculty LiaisonKate Duffy, Transition Manager and Faculty Liaison

(816) 235-6415

Senior Research Assistant Kate Duffy is Propel’s operations manager, faculty liaison, and transition manager for students. She has written four books about employment, including two about employment for people with disabilities. Her last book, Developing Talents: Careers for Individuals with Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism, was coauthored with Dr. Temple Grandin. She has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a graduate certificate in Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND), also from KU.

Billijo House PortraitBilliJo House, Administrative Assistant

(816) 235-6340

BilliJo House graduated with an undergraduate degree in psychology in May 2018. She has worked with Propel since July 2016 as a volunteer, mentor, intern, personal care attendant, and program assistant. Working with Propel has become her dream job. Currently, she serves as Propel’s administrative assistant and year one academic advisor. She enjoys helping students with assignments, problem solving, and gaining valuable life experience that they can use in all aspects of their lives. BilliJo has a passion to help individuals change their circumstances to the better. She works as a Community Integration Provider outside of Propel, and has worked as a Job Coach, helping individuals with disabilities in the community and on the job.

Laura Hurse, Academic Advisor and Student LiaisonLaura Hurse, Academic Advisor and Student Liaison


Laura Hurse serves as Propel’s year one academic advisor. Propel students meet with her regularly for mentoring and for support with their academic pursuits and engaging in campus life. Ms. Hurse also supervises the resident assistants, peer mentors, interns, and service learning students that make the Propel community work. Laura has undergraduate degrees in Political Science and Sociology. She earned the Interdisciplinary Leadership in Disability Studies certificate and her Masters in Higher Education from UMKC.

Melissa Messina, Senior Research AssistantMelissa Messina, Senior Research Assistant


Melissa Messina provides research and instructional design support for Propel, and serves as project lead for related inclusive employment initiatives at UMKC. She has taught online technology courses for Emporia State University’s School of Library and Information Management since 2011. She has an MLS from ESU and multiple certifications from Portland State University, Quality Matters, and the Online Learning Consortium.

Shannon Wheeler PortraitShannon Wheeler, Marketing, Recruitment, Admissions, Faculty and Academic Advising Specialist


Native Kansas-Citian Shannon Wheeler tells the Propel story through social media campaigns on Facebook and Instagram, and works in program recruitment, admissions, and advising for Propel students and faculty. A proud Roo, Shannon earned her BA in Communication from Mizzou and her MA in Higher Education Administration from UMKC. She is an avowed foodie who will try (most) anything, including live squid and shrimp.

Propel AmeriCorps VISTA Members

Ben Edwards, Propel Program Enrichment CoordinatorBen Edwards, Program Enrichment Coordinator


Ben has worked with Propel as resident advisor and assistant teacher of Disability History and Culture, and currently serves as Propel’s program enrichment coordinator. He earned a BS in Cultural Studies from the University of Central Missouri and a Master’s Certificate in Disability Studies from UMKC. Ben was born and raised in Kansas City and enjoys making arts and crafts from recycled materials.

Kristal Perry, VISTA Volunteer for PropelKristal Perry, AmeriCorps VISTA


Kristal Perry is a 2018 graduate of the Propel program and the Truman Kitchen Assistant program. She now works at Propel as a VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), where she teaches new students how to ride the city bus, socialize on campus, and embrace change, just as she has.

Propel Leadership

Dr. Alexis PetriDr. Alexis Petri, Principal Investigator and Project Director


Alexis Petri, EdD, is the principal investigator for the U.S. Department of Education grant that funds Propel and also serves as project director for Propel. Her main responsibilities are in managing the grant, collecting data, managing relationships, and sharing the Propel story.

Dr. Petri is research associate professor in the UMKC College of Arts and Sciences Psychology Department and also serves as the UMKC Higher Learning Commission Lead Assurance Argument Writer for the university’s accreditation reaffirmation. Dr. Petri has extensive experience with transition to college and careers for post-traditional students as well as taking leadership roles in building and directing university-wide high-impact learning programs and the campus-community partnerships that are their foundation. She completed her EdD in higher education administration and public policy, and a bachelor’s and master’s degree in English. She is a long-time neighborhood advocate and serves on the school board of Hogan Preparatory Academy, a public charter school in Kansas City, Missouri. Her research areas are access to postsecondary education, urban education, civic engagement, service-learning, evaluation, data visualization, and cities, and her favorite research methodology is Fuzzy Cognitive Mapping.

View Propel’s Mission, Goals and Objectives