Remembering the top UMSL Daily stories of 2021

by | Dec 25, 2021

UMSL Daily celebrates some favorite articles of the year and the countless accomplishments and activities of UMSL people.
From topleft, clockwise: Chancellor Kristin Sobolik, Brock Seals, Wauneen Rucker, Mark Briguglio, students at commencement and nursing students.

The top UMSL Daily stories of 2021 include articles about (from top left, clockwise) Chancellor Kristin Sobolik, Art and Design graduate Brock Seals, Mrs. Missouri America and UMSL graduate Wauneen Rucker, alumnus Mark Briguglio, the US News ‘Best Colleges’ rankings and nursing students giving COVID-19 vaccinations. (Photos by August Jennewein unless noted otherwise)

Picking your favorite foods, books, activities – anything – that’s tough.

Accordingly, every year, when the staff of UMSL Daily sits down to pick its favorite stories of the year – that’s near impossible.

We examine analytics, comb through the archives, ponder the events of the past 12 months and ask for the opinions of our Marketing and Communications colleagues, pulling out a not-insignificant amount of hair in the process. Yet it’s still hard to narrow down to what’s truly top, best, favorite or any other synonyms.

The difficulty comes from the quality of our subject matter: the University of Missouri–St. Louis people, initiatives and programs that fill our virtual pages. We know that no matter what articles we highlight, there are dozens, nay hundreds, of others that could convincingly take their places.

So, with that caveat in mind, we invite you to read on for the “top” stories of 2021 and the tales of UMSL people they contain.


Joan Phillips named new dean of UMSL’s College of Business Administration

Joan Philips

The College of Business announced that it had tapped Joan Philips as its next leader in early January. She had been serving as the dean of the Andreas School of Business at Barry University in Miami since 2018 and brought nearly 25 years of experience working in higher education with her to UMSL.

She is a widely published marketing scholar with expertise in research methods, consumer behavior and political marketing.

“Universities, and business schools in particular, are best when they’re aligned with the needs of and serving society,” she said. “You look at where the jobs for this region are, and they should be the areas that we specialize in while still giving students a broad-based education. We want to provide a strong foundation in all areas but specialty training in the areas of business that are emerging and will continue to serve the region.”
Read more

More top reads from January:

  • College of Optometry Curators’ Distinguished Teaching Professor Carl Bassi developed a $50 optics kits from unconventional materials.
  • Jason Hoeft, manager of Emerging Technologies and lifelong gamer, has been laying the groundwork for an esports club where students can game together.
  • UMSL/Washington University in St. Louis Joint Undergraduate Engineering Program student Kearsten Sakamoto interned at Millstone Weber, helping on the I-270 North Design-Build and hopes to work in transportation engineering and eventually address unequal food access.



UMSL student nurses begin administering vaccines across greater St. Louis area

UMSL vaccine clinic

College of Nursing BSN students began administering COVID-19 vaccinations at sites around the greater St. Louis area on Feb. 1. Working in groups of eight, the students volunteered under the supervision of nursing faculty members with BJC HealthCare Christian Hospital, SSM Health DePaul Hospital – St. Louis and the St. Louis County Department of Public Health.

By the end of the semester, the student vaccinators had administrated about 25,000 shots.

“I probably was nervous up until I had the first person come to my station,” student Janssen Blackmon said. “I remember talking to them and how excited they were that this vaccine was here. I believe they were the first person in their family as well to get it.

“It put me in the moment. I’m like, ‘This is huge. We’re here. Now you’re administering this to this person, something that’s huge and life changing for them.’ Then it was like, ‘Now I’m just excited.’”
Read more

More top reads from February:

  • Andrea Palacios Calderon is studying industrial organizational psychology with a goal of helping companies improve effectiveness and productivity and aid employees developing leadership skills.
  • Political science MA and PhD student Alieu Sanneh grew up in The Gambia and decided to change his life through education at a young age, attending an elite high school and graduating from the country’s first public university before coming to the United States.
  • Shea Kerkhoff, Katie O’Daniels and Nancy Singer secured a $5.1 million grant to promote evidence-based literacy strategies and to create digital literacy resources in the region.



Mrs. Missouri America and UMSL graduate Wauneen Rucker fixes her crown to vie for a national title

Wauneen Rucker

Alumna Wauneen Rucker was named Mrs. Missouri America 2020 and competed in the Mrs. America pageant. Rucker, who earned her bachelor’s degree in criminology and criminal justice from UMSL in 1996, has been competing in beauty pageants since she was 14.

She said that no matter the outcome, competing in the Mrs. America pageant is just another page in her playbook.

“My grandmother used to tell us that we all have a book of life that is written before we even know who we are,” she said. “In that book, there is nothing that can change or alter because that book is written for you. The only thing that changes is how long it takes to turn the page. To learn the lesson we need to learn in life and then move forward.”
Read more

 More top reads from March:

  • Assistant Professor of Biology Lon Chubiz won a prestigious NSF CAREER award for research on bacteria lipid monolayer membranes and how bacteria adapt those membranes to different soil environments.
  • Natalie Sago, an UMSL physical education alumna, was part of the first three-person NBA officiating crew to feature two women.
  • On March 6, the Bridge Program celebrated its 35th annual Award Recognition Ceremony.



Chancellor Kristin Sobolik unveils ‘Rise Up for St. Louis’ initiative aimed at increasing inclusive prosperity

UMSL Chancellor Kristin Sobolik

Kristin Sobolik was inaugurated as the eighth chancellor in UMSL history on April 30 after being appointed to the position the previous April.

She announced a new initiative and direction for the university, called “Rise Up for St. Louis.” It is focused on elevating UMSL’s partnerships to help drive the region forward while modeling and embracing inclusive prosperity. The university also aims to work with partners to eliminate barriers in St. Louis that for too long have inhibited change.

“My goal is to establish UMSL as the top urban, metropolitan research university in the nation,” Sobolik said during the virtual event attended by hundreds of faculty, staff, students, alumni and supporters. “While doing so, we will further strengthen and deepen the university’s roots and impact here in St. Louis.”
Read more

More top reads from April:

  • Christian Brown earned his accounting degree from UMSL in December and secured a job as a staff auditor working at KEB’s office in downtown St. Louis.
  • The Office of Research and Economic and Community Development honored Jianli Pan, Nancy Singer, Jerome Morris, Katherine O’Daniels, Michael Gearhart and Shea Kerkhoff with awards for their research and innovation.
  • Meet the St. Louis area high school graduates who have been awarded the Opportunity Scholarship, a program for academically gifted first-generation college students and/or students who are underrepresented in the workforce.



Mercantile Library celebrates 175 years with an exhibition honoring its place as the oldest library west of the Mississippi

John Neal Hoover

The St. Louis Mercantile Library kicked off a year of celebration of its 175th anniversary with its spring’s exhibition, “A Nation, A City, & Its First Library: Americana, as a Way of Life at the St. Louis Mercantile Library for 175 Years.”

The Mercantile Library staff envision the exhibition, its accompanying book and the year’s worth of events surrounding it as a celebration of the longest-tenured continuously running library west of the Mississippi River and its place as a St. Louis institution.

“The library has always been a collection of great depth and breadth,” Executive Director John Neal Hoover said. “It’s one of the few that does that. A lot of times a library will collect deeply in one or two subjects, or they’ll collect broadly. We do both. If it’s recognized what a special circumstance that is through this exhibition, that’s a wonderful achievement.”
Read more

More top reads from May:

  • BSW and psychology graduate Adeline S. Ibrahim founded The Future Generation Girls, an outreach program to empower young women and connect them to community resources.
  • James E. Jordan Jr. received a Doctor of Business Administration from UMSL in December and was named the director of the USDA Program Assistance Division at Rural Development.
  • Emma Melton walked as the College of Nursing undergraduate student marshal with plans to head to a dual degree DNP program at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a job lined up as a labor and delivery nurse at Mercyhealth Javon Bea Hospital.
  • Will Werner, who earned a master’s degree in criminology and criminal justice at UMSL in 2011, was hired to serve as the director for the National Security and Community Policy Collaborative.



Education and English alumna Sandy Olive wins big on ‘Jeopardy!’

Sandy Olive

Sandy Olive, an English teacher at Lindbergh High School and graduate of the College of Education and College of Arts and Sciences, appeared on three episodes of “Jeopardy!” During Olive’s run, she was a two-day champion and won more than $50,000 in prize money.

Though her run ended after missing a Final Jeopardy question about Mark Twain, Olive couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

“I won that first game, and I just thought, ‘How can I ask for more?’” she said. “My goal was to have fun and just enjoy being there. It would be so greedy to ask for more.
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More top reads from June:

  • Construction workers in Seton Center Hall on South Campus discovered three 6-week-old kittens.
  • BSN student Sunshine Miles, who was born Deaf, always wanted to be part of the medical world but had to fight through others’ perceptions.
  • Ariana Smith was named UMSL’s new LGBTQ+ and Diversity Coordinator.
  • UMSL partnered with the St. Louis County Department of Public Health to serve as a COVID-19 vaccination site beginning in early June and running through the end of July.



Education alumnus William Pryor awarded Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Taiwan

William Pryor

William Pryor, MEd in elementary education, is serving as an English teaching assistant for a year in the capital city of Taipei as part of a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Taiwan.

The selective assistantship is part of the broader Fulbright Scholarship U.S. Student Program, which provides grants to study, research or teach outside of the United States. The program aims to facilitate cultural exchange through interactions with locals in the classroom, field and home.

“No matter where you’re from, if you make that effort to connect with people, things that you thought might be impossible could definitely be possible if you take time to put yourself out there,” he said. “I really want to try to be a support for people. I know how much support has been given to me to get where I am. No way could I have done it by myself.”
Read more

More top reads from July:

  • Nursing alumna Carol Berger led the creation of the documentary “Rural Children in Crisis: Access to Missouri Oral Care,” which highlights the dental health disparities faced by low-income children in rural Missouri.
  • Cybersecurity student Faith Clarke was selected for the SANS Diversity Cyber Academy.
  • The 2021 Students and Teachers As Research Scientists Program celebrated the accomplishments of 36 participating students from 15 area high schools participating during a confirmation ceremony.



Love of music brings Mark Briguglio back to college, almost 50 years after he started, to earn degree

Mark Briguglio

Mark Briguglio’s voice has been capturing the attention of and delighting audiences for more than 50 years, and in 1972, it won him a scholarship to study at the St. Louis Institute of Music, which at the time, was housed at Maryville University. Back then, he had dreams of becoming a professional singer, as two of his sisters both did, only life got in the way.

Almost five decades later, Briguglio was back pursuing the college degree he never really gave up wanting, and he went on to graduate in December.

“I’ve always wanted to go back to school,” he said. “I thought I would go back here and become a great singer.”
Read more 

More top reads from August

  • The energy of the school year was palpable during Move-In Day as new Tritons eagerly checked-in to Oak Hall on South Campus with luggage, Target bags and family members in tow.
  • INSIGHT into Diversity magazine selected Eyes on Diversity and the Collaborative Laboratory Internships and Mentoring Blueprint for its Inspiring Programs in STEM Award.
  • UMSL Police Detective Mariah Thomas served as an instructor and mentor at Camp Fury STL, a collaboration between the Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri and local police and fire departments.



UMSL remains on the rise in latest US News ‘Best Colleges’ rankings

U.S. News & World Report "Best Colleges" rankings

UMSL was once again regarded as a Tier 1 national university, moving up eight places to No. 118 among public universities in the 2022 rankings unveiled on Monday. UMSL climbed 19 places in the overall rankings, bringing its two-year rise to 42 places – the sixth-highest improvement in the nation during that span.

It also received its highest-ever total score in the 17 measures U.S. News uses to inform the rankings.

“Our faculty and staff strive to ensure that our students receive a high quality and affordable education, and I’m pleased to see their efforts validated by these latest rankings,” Chancellor Kristin Sobolik said. “We measure our own success through the outcomes of our students, over 3,000 of whom earned their degrees this past year as we continue to increase their retention and graduation rates. Our focus is on the success of our students, and our increasing positive results reflect that.”
Read more

More top reads from September

  • UMSL awarded $8 million to students this school year through emergency grants funded by the American Rescue Plan’s Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund III.
  • College of Optometry students helped screen 103 patients at a one-day charitable children’s eye clinic run by the global nonprofit OneSight in Kansas City, Missouri.
  • Alumnus James Young, sixth-grade musical theatre teacher at Johnson-Wabash Sixth Grade Center, was named the 2022 Missouri Teacher of the Year.
  • This year marked the return of the St. Louis Coro Fellows Program, reviving a tradition developing emerging leaders who work and lead across government, business and nonprofit sectors.



UMSL playing leading role in St. Louis Anchor Action Network with goal of building inclusive prosperity

An SUV drives down the street through the Old North Neighborhood toward the Arch

The St. Louis Anchor Action Network is bringing together institutions, businesses, community leaders, and other stakeholders to address racial, economic, and spatial inequities in the St. Louis region through focused efforts to increase employment, income, health and wealth building.

The idea for the network grew out of conversations among local institutional leaders that began in December 2019 and intensified in 2020 in the midst of growing inequities due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the continued national reckoning with racial injustice.

“We are committed to building inclusive prosperity throughout St. Louis, and we are excited to continue to partner with other anchor institutions to work to eliminate the racial and economic inequality that has persisted for too long in our region,” Chancellor Kristin Sobolik said.
Read more

More top reads from October

  • Honors College and biology student Heela Momand is driven by her past to become a doctor and wants to do so as a visible hijab wearer in order to change perceptions and be there for other Muslim women.
  • Former chairman and CEO of Express Scripts George Paz and his wife, Melissa, were honored as the 2021 recipients of the E. Desmond and Mary Ann Lee Medal for Philanthropy.
  • Charlotte Richards is the reigning Great Lakes Valley Conference Volleyball Player of the Year and a star student majoring in supply chain management.
  • The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and UMSL are partnering to create a geospatial talent pipeline that supports student learning from kindergarten through college and beyond.



Leader of the St. Louis Avant-Garde: Artist Brock Seals’ background fuels his ascent

Brock Seals, a 2019 Department of Art and Design graduate, is no longer working a day job but instead supporting himself painting canvases, performing hip-hop and fashioning custom cleats for sports stars, such as Cardinals outfielder Harrison Bader.

Both book smart and street smart, Seals draws on a wide range of influences, from pop culture to ancient philosophy. Today wearing thin blond braids, a vintage KISS T-shirt, camo pants and sneakers running the color gamut, he’s a walking visual statement who pushes boundaries. Having painted “REPARATIONS” in huge letters on the street by City Hall – as well as created roller skates that look like ice cream cones – his art is both political and commercially viable.

“It involves a lot of reflecting on who I am, being from St. Louis and being Black, and my culture,” he said.
Read more

More top reads from November

  • The relaunched Sue Shear Leadership Academy, held virtually this year, was an intensive six-day leadership development program designed to inspire women’s civic engagement and leadership through political and community involvement.
  • Missouri Gov. Mike Parson and Sen. Brian Williams joined the UMSL community and stakeholders for a progress tour of the Nursing Simulation Laboratories.
  • Associate Professor Jianli Pan is one of the primary investigators on an approximately $510,000 NSA grant to improve security of Internet of Things devices.



Working for an education: UMSL students’ tales of perseverance, support, sacrifice and success

Education should be for anyone who wants it – and that’s how it is at UMSL.

As the only public research university within the St. Louis metropolitan area, UMSL serves all willing to work for their education, while providing the support and services necessary to make that happen. UMSL students often balance multiple responsibilities – as parents, caretakers, employees, athletes, reservists – while striving for a college degree to kickstart careers and better lives, families and communities.

Regardless of whether they come straight from high school or transfer in, UMSL students balance seemingly impossible loads on their paths to earn degrees.
Read more for four of their stories

More top reads from December

  • UMSL conferred nearly 1,000 degrees as it held its first in-person commencement ceremonies in two years.
  • UMSL Accelerate announced the second Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Accelerator cohort, with each member receiving a $50,000 nondilutive capital injection and $200,000 in in-kind resources.
  • As a 2021-2022 Kranzberg Resident Artist, Felia Davenport is working to develop her “Torn Mixology” exhibit, a multimedia project that will explore the tension between her multiracial identity and how society at large attempts to define her.
  • UMSL political scientist Adriano Udani is the principal investigator on a $250,000 grant project, in partnership with the Inter-Faith Committee on Latin America and sponsored by the Henry Luce Foundation that will support asylum-seekers and assist them as they push for policy change.

Thanks for reading along this year! Have a story idea for UMSL Daily? Email us at

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