Faculty, staff and students of the University of Missouri–St. Louis have long prided themselves on the diverse community they’ve created across campus, so it should be no surprise to see UMSL alumni doing the same across the broader St. Louis region.
Three – economics alumna Marcela Manjarrez Hawn, business alumnus Jason Jan and political science alumnus Eric Madkins – were among 23 individuals, businesses and community organizations honored at the St. Louis Business Journal’s Diverse Business Leaders Awards.
The awards, handed out Friday at a luncheon at the Hilton at the Ballpark, are intended to recognize those who promote diversity around race, sexual orientation and disability.
“Growing a region’s talent pool can only mean positive things for area companies,” Business Journal managing editor Vince Brennan wrote while unveiling the honorees on the publication’s website. “Diverse backgrounds and experiences are needed to bring new ideas to the table in order to grow business.”
Both Hawn and Jan first arrived in St. Louis as UMSL students, Hawn from Mexico City and Jan from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
“I still remember when I first joined UMSL and I joined the economics department as a student, and I just can’t believe that so much time has passed and that I’ve come to where I am,” Hawn said. “The economics department at UMSL was just wonderful to me. It was my first experience with an American university, and they were just extremely welcoming and friendly.”
Her time at UMSL – ending with her bachelor’s degree in 1998 – helped launch her on a career path that included more than 15 years at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. She started as an economic research analyst before becoming special assistant to the president and later transitioning to public affairs, eventually obtaining the title of vice president for external communications, industry relations and public outreach.
Hawn, who also earned a master’s degree in economics at Washington University in St. Louis, moved to Centene Corporation in 2015 and now serves as the company’s senior vice president and chief communications officer.
She also manages the Centene Charitable Foundation, which invests in organizations and programs that work to benefit underserved communities, both in St. Louis and throughout the United States.
Jan has his own immigrant story, which included arriving at UMSL in 1997. He earned his BSBA in 1999 and went on to receive a master’s degree at the University of California, Irvine, but returned to St. Louis to put down roots.
The entrepreneur opened froYo, a frozen yogurt concept, in 2008, and he’s seen the business grow to include nine locations across the St. Louis area. He’s also launched a restaurant, Nami Ramen, in Clayton.
In addition to promoting diversity in his businesses, Jan has been involved in the St. Louis Mosaic Project and often speaks to groups about his experiences.
“Every immigrant has their own unique story to tell – the experience of how they’ve actually survived the ups and down both from a socioeconomic standpoint to cultural differences,” Jan said. “They slowly learn to adapt and at the same time share, bringing their own cultures and sharing them locally here.”
Madkins’ work hasn’t involved assimilating to a new environment so much as it’s been about making an impact in a community that’s always been his home.
He grew up in north St. Louis County and graduated from Riverview Gardens High School before enrolling at UMSL. He earned his bachelor’s degree with an emphasis in public policy administration in 2001.
“I’m the type that just tries to go about doing what’s best for the community and definitely a big proponent for diversity,” said Madkins, who worked as a site director for the Gateway Region YMCA while still in college.
His professional life has seen him focus on community development. He spent time as a program manager at Beyond Housing before moving to the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, first as the senior housing director and later the division operating officer.
For the past three-plus years, he’s been at Regions Bank, serving as vice president and Midwest community affairs manager. He works with community development lending with an eye on serving in low- and moderate-income communities.