As she contemplated the accomplishments of five University of Missouri–St. Louis individuals formally honored on campus last week, guest speaker Theresa Yoffie was reminded of a memorable scene in the 2015 blockbuster “Mad Max: Fury Road.”
Near the end of the film, a handful of strong women rise up on a platform, meanwhile lifting others up alongside them. Yoffie said she sees a similar theme in the lives of the women UMSL recognized March 23 during the university’s 21st annual Trailblazers Ceremony.
“They believe in themselves, but more importantly they believe in others, and they lift others up,” said Yoffie, who is an attorney advisor with the Social Security Administration in St. Louis. Her remarks, along with a poetry reading by UMSL’s 2016 Poet Laureate Victoria Walls, set the tone for the award presentations that followed during the afternoon event.
Senior electrical engineering major Eric’el Johnson was this year’s student recipient of the award. Johnson, who is completing a minor in mathematics and a Pierre Laclede Honors College writing certificate in addition to her studies in the UMSL/Washington University Joint Engineering Program, holds a number of student leadership positions. Among other key roles, she is a lead ambassador for the UMSL Ambassadors and has been deeply involved in the Undergraduate Research Symposium as well as a mentor to first-year engineering students.
Johnson was quick to credit her family, who was in attendance last week, for their support of her endeavors – particularly her mother.
“I wouldn’t be the person I am without her,” Johnson said.
The Missouri Institute for Mental Health’s Brendolyn Bailey-Burch followed Johnson at the podium. Bailey-Burch, a research associate who joined the MIMH faculty in 2003, has led a team of researchers in securing a total of nearly $7 million toward substance abuse and HIV/AIDS prevention interventions over the last 12 years. She has also worked closely with faith organizations, emphasizing the important role they can play in prevention work, as well as offered grant-writing workshops. Most recently she oversaw a $1.4 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
“It’s because of my mother and my late father that I understand what it means to be a servant leader,” Bailey-Burch said.
UMSL College of Education faculty member Jacquelyn Lewis-Harris was also named a 2016 Trailblazer. The associate professor’s long-standing commitment to public service and education in the St. Louis region have recently benefited area youth through partnerships with the Ferguson Youth Initiative and other efforts.
Earlier this year, Lewis-Harris received the the Arts and Education Council’s Arts Collaborator award at the 2016 St. Louis Arts Awards. Drawing on her background as an educator, writer, artist, cultural anthropologist and curator, her current work addresses diversity, social segregation and presentation of African diaspora cultures.
Associate Professor of Music Stella Markou was honored for her contributions in the realms of oratorio, opera and recital work. An award-winning soprano, Markou is also the director of vocal studies at UMSL and of the university’s Opera Theatre productions.
Featured nationally and internationally as a soloist, Markou spoke of courage, beauty and other qualities she loves and aims to foster in herself and among associates and students in her remarks. She is a passionate performer of contemporary music and a sought-out master teacher, adjudicator and speaker.
Teaching assistant Aladeen Stoll was the final honoree, recognized for her work within the UMSL Gender Studies Program and the Office of Sexuality and Gender Diversity. Fulfilling a wide range of roles during her time on campus, Stoll’s jobs have included volunteer coordinating, event planning, peer counseling, office work, tutoring, community liaison and more. She has also worked with at-risk youth, writes both poetry and prose, and invests her spare time in various community initiatives.
“I couldn’t ask for a better foundation for my work than the one I have been allowed to cultivate here,” Stoll said.
UMSL alumna Tierra Parks Brown, who earned her bachelor’s degree in media studies in 2014, served as mistress of ceremonies during the event, which was held in UMSL’s Millennium Student Center. She and Deborah Burris, chief diversity officer and Title IX coordinator for UMSL, emphasized the 2016 theme of Women’s History Month: “Working to Form a More Perfect Union: Honoring Women in Public Service and Government.”