About Us

Propel at UMKC is a part of the College of Arts and Sciences Department of Psychology. Our offices on campus are located in the Department of Psychology  in Cherry Hall.

Propel Team

Rhonda Blanner, Propel Director     blannerrk@umkc.edu

Rhonda Blanner manages the day to day operation of Bridge to College and the Propel Program.  She has extensive experience in the non-profit, legal and higher education sectors as director and administrator.  She has worked as a youth director with disadvantaged youth.  She  plans to continue her education as a graduate student at UMKC earning the Interdisciplinary Leadership in Disability Studies certificate and Masters in Higher Education and has her undergraduate degree in Sociology.

Kate Duffy, Academic Advising Coordinator  duffymp@umkc.edu

Kate Duffy provides student academic and social advising including the facilitation of person-centered life plans and teaches related classes. Ms. Duffy has worked as a transition navigator for college-age students with disabilities and as a director of Universal Design for Learning on a UMKC-IHD college pipeline program for students with disabilities.  Ms. Duffy 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.

Ryan Gee, Employment Specialist     geer@umkc.edu

Ryan Gee coordinates the development of work-based learning and career opportunities for Propel students including teaching related classes. Mr. Gee has a background in economics and his work focuses on employment of people with disabilities, employment for differing race and ethnic groups, business engagement strategies, program evaluation, and supporting Veterans with disabilities in STEM higher learning programs.

Laura Hurse, Student Liaison  hursele@umkc.edu

Laura Hurse supervises the interns and service learning students.  She serves as a mentor for Propel students and supports them in their academic pursuits and engaging in campus life. She is a graduate student at UMKC earning the Interdisciplinary Leadership in Disability Studies certificate and has undergraduate degrees in Political Science and Sociology.


Grant Team

Dr. Alexis Petri, Principal Investigator and Project Director    petria@umkc.edu

Alexis Petri, EdD, research associate professor and senior research associate, works in the Office of the Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor, and in the Department of Psychology at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Dr. Petri divides her time between two programs. She currently serves as the UMKC Higher Learning Commission Lead Assurance Argument Writer for the university’s accreditation reaffirmation. She is also principal investigator on a grant project funded by the U.S. Department of Education to design and implement a program at UMKC that includes college students with intellectual disabilities at the University, Propel. For the past seven years, Alexis has been principal investigator or co-principal investigator on three National Science Foundation grants focused on broadening participation in STEM majors and careers for individuals who have been traditionally underserved. Alexis 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.

Dr. Julie Warm, Co-Principal Investigator and Parent Support Liaison    warmj@umkc.edu

Dr. Warm provides support to parents of participants in areas related to planning for and navigating college. She has extensive experience in higher education and areas of civic engagement and service-learning. She is the parent of a child with IDD.

Dr. Tamera Murdock, Co-Principal Investigator

Dr. Murdock, professor and chair of Psychology at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, is a licensed clinical psychologist. She has an established research program focusing on achievement motivation and emotional/social development among children and adolescents, as well as contextual influence on these processes (e.g. microinfluences such as parents, peer and teachers and macro-contextual effects, such as gender, ethnicity and social class).   As chair of the UMKC Psychology Department, she has experience designing, resourcing, implementing, and evaluating academic programs.

Dr. Diane Filion, Co-Principal Investigator

Dr. Filion is Professor of Psychology and Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She has served as undergraduate program director, graduate program director, and department chair of Psychology. She is a cognitive psychophysiologist with over 20 years’ experience in research focused on the using of physiological measures to study attention, emotion, and emotion regulation.


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