Pride, gratitude mark 2015 Trailblazers celebration

2015 Trailblazers

UMSL Chancellor Tom George (left) joins 2015 Trailblazers (from left) Miriam Roccia, Arneatrice Myers, Farida Jalalzai, Angela Coker and Brittany Ferrell, along with Deborah Burris, director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity, on stage after the 20th Annual Trailblazers Ceremony. (Photo by August Jennewein)

When it comes to the contributions and empowerment of women, the University of Missouri–St. Louis is on fire.”

That’s how Tracie Berry-McGhee, the guest speaker at last week’s Trailblazers Ceremony and a UMSL alumna herself, described the advancement of women as demonstrated by her alma mater – and especially by several UMSL women honored as 2015 Trailblazers.

“These women here – they define what a role model is,” Berry-McGhee said during her address March 19 in the Millennium Student Center. “You are truly the thread that weaves through all of us.”

The annual event is held in celebration of National Women’s History Month and recognizes five UMSL women for their contributions to the university and to society. This year’s theme was “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives.”

A therapist, mentor and author, Berry-McGhee emphasized the importance of daily celebration of women – not just on special occasions – and the many roles they fulfill.

“We must continue to share these stories,” she said. “Realize that you have people in your midst that have stories that need to be told.”

Following Berry-McGhee’s address, Meg Naes, a supervisor in Institutional Technology, introduced each honoree, beginning with UMSL nursing student Brittany Ferrell.

Ferrell has been a young leader on campus and also in the St. Louis community, most recently as a co-founder of Millennial Activists United in the wake of events in Ferguson, Mo. Previously she served as president of the UMSL Minority Student Nurses Association and worked on the Black Women and Breast Cancer: Knowledge is Power project.

Leadership and perseverance are about “not only advancing yourself, but advancing others,” Ferrell told the crowd.

UMSL faculty member Angela Coker was recognized for her research and teaching, her commitment to social justice and particularly her initiative SisterScholars-in-Training. An associate professor of counseling and family therapy and faculty affiliate in the Gender Studies program, Coker began SisterScholars about four years ago.

Helping to create a campus environment where female students of color feel a stronger sense of belonging and an ability to succeed, the outreach effort has increased graduation rates among first-generation students.

“I’m so happy that SisterScholars is increasing that sense of home for a lot of women,” Coker said.

Farida Jalalzai, chair of the Department of Political Science and the daughter of Pakistani immigrants, was selected as a 2015 Trailblazer for her research and accomplishments focused on the representation and behavior of women and minorities in politics.

Jalalzai also serves in a key capacity with Interfaith Legal Services for Immigrants and as an adviser for the Sue Shear Institute for Women in Public Life’s Leadership Academy, among other roles. In her remarks, she expressed gratitude for her parents and colleagues.

“So many people in this room and beyond these walls have certainly inspired me,” Jalalzai said.

Alumna Arneatrice Myers, who recently campaigned for alderwoman in St. Louis’s 4th Ward, earned both her BSN and MSN from UMSL. Throughout her career, serving low-income and uninsured patients has been a focus. She began as a registered nurse at Regional Hospital, going on to work at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and then as a nurse practitioner. She is founder of Primary HealthCare STL.

“When I started at UMSL some years ago, I never thought this would happen,” Myers said, adding that perseverance and the support of friends, family and UMSL associates have helped pave her path.

Assistant Dean of Students Miriam Roccia was the final honoree recognized during the event. In her leadership role on campus, Roccia works closely with diverse members of the UMSL community to foster a vibrant environment and bring major projects to fruition.

Students and colleagues consider her a leader and inspiration – and a positive influence on other women around her.

Prior to Berry-McGhee’s address and the presentation of the 2015 Trailblazers, poet Cheeraz Gormon gave a reading of a piece she composed for the occasion, titled “Woman.” Read the poem here.

The UMSL Experience

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