UMSL recognizes distinguished alumni, outstanding young alumni at hybrid Founders Celebration

by | Oct 8, 2021

The UMSL Alumni Association honored Melanie Adams, Rajiv Banavali, Jennifer Cobbina, Patricia Hendrickson, Amy Hunter and LaVell Monger.
LaVell Monger,Rajiv Banavali, Patricia Hendrickson, Amy Hunter, Jennifer Cobbina and Melanie Adams

The UMSL Alumni Association presented its Distinguished Alumni Awards and the Outstanding Young Alumni award to (from left) LaVell Monger, Rajiv Banavali, Patricia Hendrickson, Amy Hunter, Jennifer Cobbina and Melanie Adams (not pictured) during the 30th annual Founders Celebration, held in a hybrid format on Thursday. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Members of the University of Missouri–St. Louis community recognized and honored the contributions of six alumni for success in their careers and their support of the university during the 30th annual Founders Celebration on Thursday.

During a hybrid virtual and in-person ceremony, the UMSL Alumni Association presented its highest honor, the Distinguished Alumni Award, to Melanie Adams, Rajiv Banavali, Jennifer Cobbina, Patricia Hendrickson and Amy Hunter.

Since its inception in 1987, UMSL has given the award annually to esteemed alumni in recognition of distinction in their professional accomplishments, community service or both while representing the highest standards of integrity and character.

In addition, UMSL Alumni named LaVell Monger as the 2021 Outstanding Young Alumni.

Learn more about this year’s honorees:

Melanie Adams, PhD educational leadership and policy 2014, is the director of the Anacostia Community Museum, one of the 20 museums in the Smithsonian Institution network. Since starting her role in 2019, she has helped invigorate the Anacostia Community Museum in its mission to tell the story of Black Americans in the greater Washington, D.C., area and throughout the U.S. Previously, Adams worked for 11 years as managing director of community education and events for the Missouri Historical Society and the Missouri History Museum, overseeing more than 700 community programs annually. She also has been president of the Association of Midwest Museums and spent nine years on the Special Administrative Board of the St. Louis Public Schools, where she helped the district regain accreditation.

Rajiv Banavali, PhD organic chemistry 1985, is the senior vice president of science and innovation at Westrock Corporation, a $9 billion leader in paper and packaging with 320 manufacturing facilities in 11 countries. At Westrock, he leads a team looking to create more environmentally sustainable products, breakthrough packaging designs and the digitalization of packaging. His remarkable career includes successes as both a scientist and a manager, including 50 patents and senior positions at four global corporations. Since 2007, Banavali has served on the Dean’s Leadership Council for the UMSL College of Arts and Sciences.

Jennifer Cobbina, MA CCJ 2006, PhD CCJ 2009, is an associate professor in the School of Criminal Justice at Michigan State University. Her research examines the intersection of race, gender and crime as well as public response to police use of force. She also focuses on the issues of corrections, prisoner reentry and the understanding of recidivism among recently released female offenders. Cobbina interviewed nearly 200 residents of Ferguson and Baltimore about the police killings of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray in researching and writing her 2019 book “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot: Why the Protests in Ferguson and Baltimore Matter, and How They Changed America.” As part of the nonprofit research organization CNA Project on American Justice, she works with national leaders to create actionable advice and explore creative solutions to improve current law enforcement issues. In 2018, Cobbina was invited to give a congressional briefing on Capitol Hill about the experiences of women in the correctional system.

Patricia Hendrickson, DNP 2018, is the associate director of patient care at the Veterans Administration St. Louis Medical Center. At the VA, she is responsible for more than 1,000 employees and is directly responsible for the care of the inpatient, surgical, outpatient and specialty nursing programs, which impact more than 70,000 veterans. During her tenure, the VA St. Louis Health Care System went from being ranked 112th to 22nd in patient quality metrics for the entire VA Administration and was given the fastest/most improved designation two years in a row. In addition, Hendrickson has served on the College of Nursing’s Leadership Council since 2015 and has helped UMSL Nursing and its students to develop innovative collaborations.

Amy Hunter, BA English 1992, is the vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion at Caleres, is the principal of Lotus Roots Consulting LLC and is pursuing a Doctor of Education in social justice from the UMSL College of Education. She has dedicated her more-than-20-year professional career in corporate, nonprofit, education and health care and her volunteer pursuits to diversity and inclusion, striving to create positive change and equality. Hunter has served as senior global equity, diversity and inclusion specialist for Boeing and led initiatives at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, YWCA Metro St. Louis, Edward Jones, Monsanto and Bank of America. She is a St. Louis community leader, giving her voice to Ferguson and the St. Louis Women’s March. Hunter’s “Lucky Zip Codes” presentation on TEDx continues to gain recognition and has been featured on ABC, CNN, NBC, NPR and other outlets.

LaVell Monger, BA anthropology 2016, is a partner and director of business development and outreach at RTW Photography in Florida. While at UMSL, Monger was a student leader and was instrumental in planning the Black History Month presentation of “Black in St. Louis.” In 2016, the African American Alumni Chapter named him the recipient of the “You Make a Difference” award in recognition of his efforts. Since graduating, Monger has continued to demonstrate his leadership and commitment to making a difference. He has served on the boards of the St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce and the Kissimmee/Osceola County Chamber of Commerce, has been a member of the African American Chamber of Commerce Central Florida and has been involved in the national organization PeerForward, which helps rising high school seniors prepare for college.

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