2021 Trailblazers Award honorees

(Clockwise from top left) Susan Jones, Shhdwafi Youssef, Nikole Shurn, Laura Kuensting, Anita Manion, Nancy Singer and Danielle Friz all received UMSL Trailblazers Awards at a virtual event held last Wednesday.

The 2021 University of MissouriSt. Louis Trailblazers Award recipients range from students who are starting down the path to greatness to alumni and faculty members who have paved the way for them.

Laura Kuensting was one of seven women to be given a Trailblazers Award, presented during Women’s History Month by UMSL’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Kuensting started the College of Nursing’s new Doctor of Nursing Practice program in 2016, and it has quickly grown into one of the top programs in the country 

“Being a pioneer and traversing paths that were not there before, this does take quite a bit of risk taking,” Kuensting said. “I think that we have created such a solid foundation that puts us on the path to becoming the very best Doctor of Nursing Practice programs in the United States. And for that I humbly honored.”

All of the honorees shared expressions of gratitude during an online presentation on March 24. The Trailblazers Awards is annual salute to women at UMSL who have blazed a trail for women in predominantly male occupations, or who have made noteworthy contributions to the University and or to their profession. 

Student honoree Shhdwafi Youssef, a triple major in international business, information systems and philosophy, said she must also pay tribute to her mother, who immigrated to the United States from Egypt, “leaving everything behind and coming to a new country just for these moments of success for their children,” Youssef said.

“She grabbed my chin and made sure it was level,” said Youssef. “She said a humble woman is a beautiful woman. But a woman looking straight her chin not too high or her chin not too low shows a successful woman looking straight into her future. That is something I want us women to remember.” 

In its 26th year, the theme of this year’s tribute is “Valiant Women of the Vote” in honor of the 100th anniversary of suffrage rights for women.

“This great accomplishment of securing the right to vote however significant it is, is merely a milestone in our journey for equality,” said keynote speaker Natissia Small, assistant provost for access and academic support in academic affairs. “As these women blazed a trail, and opened up new avenues, then we must recognize, that there is still much more work to do, and many more trails to blaze.”

Awardees include: 

Danielle Friz is a senior nursing major in the Pierre Laclede Honors College with minors in psychology and global health and social medicine and a certificate in gerontological studies. As a first-generation college student, she received an Opportunity Scholars Program scholarship in 2016 and is working on campus as an OSP mentor. Friz is serving her second year as the community service representative for the Pierre Laclede Honors College Student Association, for which she was awarded UMSL’s Outstanding Service to the Community and Best Campus Community Building awards in 2019. Friz plans to be in the Aging & Neurological Diseases Track summer research program at Washington University in St. Louis.

Shhdwafi Youssef is a triple major at UMSL in pursuit of bachelor’s degrees in international business, information systems and philosophy. Youssefv identifies as an Egyptian Muslim woman with multiple sclerosis. During her freshman year, Youssef began working as Project Manager for the International Business Career Conference, progressing into becoming the Founder and current Project Manager for UMSL’s Taste of Islam. Youssef currently holds leadership positions on campus as President of the International Business Honor Society and Treasurer for the Muslim Student Association. 

Susan Jones is the vice president of the St. Louis Board of Education. She is also the founder of the nonprofit organization The Belle Effect, which focuses on fighting homelessness, poverty and illness by providing people with professional headshots, makeup, products, life skills workshops and employment opportunities. Jones serves on the Board of Directors for the Consortium Partnership Network for St. Louis Public Schools. She was elected to the St.Louis Board of Education in 2013 and served as Board Secretary from 2013-2015 and Board President from 2015-2018. Jones received a bachelor’s degree in political science from UMSL and served as a lobbyist for the University of Missouri System as an intern. Jones was a member of Helping Hands, Student Government Association and Political Science Academy, an intern for the Sue Shear Leadership Academy, president of the Associated Students of the University of Missouri and legislative intern for the St. Louis Board of Alderman. Jones received a master’s degree in leadership and management and an MBA from Webster University.

Nikole Shurn is a former middle and high school English Language Arts teacher and current wrap around services building director for Wyman Center in the School District of University City. Shurn is the founder of the nonprofit organization The Fairy Glam Project, which collects prom dresses and prom-night necessities for high school girls and offers them free of charge. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Kentucky State University, a master’s in secondary education from UMSL and a master’s in media communications from Webster University. Shurn is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. and serves as the co-chair of the Keysor Elementary Racial Equity Group, a member of Wyman Center’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, Teach For America’s Aspiring School Leader Fellowship and a member of the Transformational Leadership Team at Brittany Woods Middle School. She is currently seeking her first term as a Kirkwood School District board member.  

Laura Kuensting has been the director of the Doctor of Nursing Practice Program since 2016. She has been practicing as a pediatric nurse for over 30 years including as an advanced practice registered nurse in the emergency department at Mercy Children’s Hospital in St. Louis for 25 years. Kuensting received a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a BS in nursing (double major) in 1987 and a master’s degree in the nursing of children as a clinical nurse specialist in 1994 and a post-master’s certificate as a pediatric nurse practitioner in 1997. Kuensting completed her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree from Saint Louis University in 2011. While maintaining her clinical practice part-time, Kuensting began a career in academic nursing as the coordinator of the PNP program at UMSL. In 2015, Kuensting served as the first director of the Institute for Emergency Nurses in Advanced Practice at the Emergency Nurses Association in Chicago. Kuensting is a member of the St. Louis Chapter of the ENA, St. Louis Nurses in Advanced Practice, Association of Missouri Nurse Practitioners and is the immediate past-president of the St. Louis Pediatric Nurse Practitioner group.

Nancy Robb Singer is chair and associate professor in the Department of Educator Preparation and Leadership and a faculty lead in English Education and teaches undergraduate and graduate courses to students preparing for a career in education. From 2010-2018, Singer co-directed the Gateway Writing Project, an affiliate of the National Writing Project, which supports outreach and professional development to area teachers and their students to improve the teaching of writing in P-12 schools. Singer’s research investigates how best to support and mentor novice teachers – especially for those serving in hard-to-staff schools. She continues to serve as graduate program director for the Graduate Certificate in the Teaching of Writing. Singer received her PhD from UMSL in 2004.

Anita Manion is an assistant professor of political science and teaches courses in gender and politics, American politics, public policy, leadership, and poverty and welfare. Manion is the political analyst for KSDK news and provides political analysis for a variety of media outlets in the region. Manion has spearheaded a number of events at UMSL and the St. Louis area to register voters, increase voter education of candidates and policies, and to encourage voter participation – including collaboration with the League of Women Voters, a panel on women in elected office, and a project where students developed recommendations for Missouri policies related to gender and presented them to their elected officials. She is currently working on studies of state and federal-level policies on higher education – determining who supports different policies, and how they impact diverse groups of students. Manion was the recipient of the 2019 Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. 

Ramona Curtis

Ramona Curtis