Trailblazers honored for contributions to women

The 2012 UMSL Trailblazers include (from left) Patricia Rich, principal of EMD Consulting Group; Ambumulire Itimu-Phiri, doctoral student in the College of Education; Nancy Gleason, associate dean of the Pierre Laclede Honors College; Kay Gasen, director of the Community Partnership Project; and Priscilla Dowden-White, associate professor of history. (Photo by August Jennewein)

The five women honored at this year’s Trailblazers Award ceremony March 7 fulfilled the requirement: Women whose extraordinary lives have contributed to the advancement of women. The annual event at the University of Missouri–St. Louis is one of the highlights of Women’s History Month.

Deborah Burris, director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity, said the ceremony recognizes UMSL women for one of three reasons. They are women who have blazed a trail for women by being the first to occupy positions traditionally held by men, who were trailblazers in their fields, or who have made noteworthy contributions to the university, their profession or both.

The 2012 Trailblazer honorees are:

Priscilla Dowden-White, associate professor of history, was the first African American to serve in the department and the first African American woman to earn tenure. Dowden-White told the audience she got her trailblazing start as an undergraduate student at UMSL during the mid-1980s. She led a student protest against U.S. economic support of South Africa’s policy of apartheid.

Kay Gasen, one of three UMSL alumni to win a Trailblazer Award last week, serves as the director of the Community Partnership Project. She was the first Urban Program Leader in St. Louis and continues to be the only female urban program leader in the state. A part of the University of Missouri Extension, urban leaders connect residents with a wide range of programs. Gasen was instrumental in securing recognition from the Carnegie Foundation last year for the depth and breadth of its institutional commitment and engagement to the greater community.

Nancy Gleason, a UMSL alumnna and associate dean of the Pierre Laclede Honors College, was the first non-regular lecturer elected to the faculty senate in the late 1980s. Gleason designed the honors college writing program and serves as the program’s director. She has won numerous teaching awards including Lecturer of the Year, the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Most Accommodating Faculty Member Award from Students with Disabilities.

Ambumulire Itimu-Phiri, a doctoral student in the College of Education, was named this year’s Student Trailblazer. Astounded at the limitations of the education system in addressing students with disabilities in her native Malawi, Africa, Itimu-Phiri started training teachers at a major university there. Mzuzu University has sent her to UMSL to study under Patricia Kopetz, the E. Desmond Lee Endowed Professor in Education for Children with Disabilities in Connection with the Variety Club of Greater St. Louis. “I don’t look at this award as an accomplishment but as an opportunity, because I am just beginning,” she said.

Patricia Rich, principal of EMD Consulting Group, has consulted throughout the country and overseas on fundraising, planning, membership and nonprofit management issues. She is one of only 70 people to have earned the Advanced Certified Fundraising Executive designation, the highest accreditation in the fundraising profession. Rich teaches in UMSL’s Nonprofit Management and Leadership Program.

Former U.S. Senator Jean Carnahan was the keynote speaker. In 2000, after the tragic death of her husband Gov. Mel Carnahan and his subsequent posthumous election as senator, she agreed to take his place in Washington. She served for two years when a special election was held. She is co-founder of the political blog, firedupmissouri.com and is a writer, speaker and political activist.

Click here to watch the UMSL Trailblazer Ceremony video by Alicia Hottle.

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