Looking back at an eventful 2022 through stories told in UMSL Daily
The University of Missouri–St. Louis has done much to fulfill its mission of transforming lives over the past year, educating students from an array of backgrounds and interests and using its resources and expertise to engage with and benefit the broader region.
While there’s no perfect way to sum up 12 months into even a few dozen articles, what follows are some of the memorable and notable stories of success, innovative teaching and research, and impactful community engagement done by students, faculty, staff and alumni during an eventful 2022.
From the Navy to UMSL: Benjamin Ebert’s eclectic journey through higher education
Benjamin Ebert joined the Navy right out of high school, never giving much thought to college.
“I did not like school at all,” he said. “I was a very active, energetic teen, and school bored me. I grew up in the ’80s, a time of the Cold War and G.I. Joe.”
Over 20 years spent traveling the globe, Ebert discovered a newfound passion for education, and he committed to going back to school once he retired in 2017. After starting at Jefferson College, Ebert transferred to UMSL and has been pursuing bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminology and criminal justice through the BS and MA Dual Degree Program.
At the time he was featured in UMSL Daily, he was working as an intern at the new Sainte Genevieve Museum Learning Center, where he gave tours and assisted with cataloging displays, as he also parented his son, Anthony. Read more
More top reads from January:
- Optometry student Alex Fenson was part of the four-man curling team that finished second at the 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials, narrowly missing the chance to compete at the Beijing Games.
- Adella Jones began serving as Chancellor Kristin Sobolik’s chief of staff after spending the previous nine years at the Centene Corporation.
- Sport management and psychology major Jake Bain, once a star athlete, came out in his senior year of high school and has become a widely known advocate for the LGBTQ+ community in sports.
- MSW students Lili Schliesser and Seda Follis spent time interviewing St. Louis-area residents about what they like about their communities and what could be improved as part of a project in Assistant Professor Michael Gearhart’s “Social Work Practice with Communities” class.
College of Optometry launches cutting-edge telehealth course
Until a handful of years ago, telehealth didn’t mean too much in optometry. If anything, it brought to mind dubious websites selling contacts or glasses without prescriptions or outdated ones, potentially endangering health for the sake of profit and convenience.
“But that’s not really telehealth,” said Tareq Nabhan, an assistant clinical professor of optometry. “Telehealth is truly keeping patients at the center of the experience, getting to patients using technology, in a thoughtful way.”
Advances in optometric technology have changed the scope of possibilities. Now optometrists can reach patients through advanced tele-optometry and tele-retinal services that didn’t exist even a decade ago. That’s opening doors for patients during the pandemic and those living in underserved areas of the U.S. and abroad.
Nabhan has been working to help the profession define its position on telehealth and educate the next generation of doctors. During the fall semester, he launched a new College of Optometry offering, “Introduction to Telehealth.” Read more
More top reads from February:
- Gladwell Ndungu left Kenya for the United States to pursue a more prosperous life and has since earned an associate degree in accounting, a bachelor’s degree in supply chain management and a master’s degree in supply chain analytics while securing a job at Ameren.
- Sport Management Program Director Karen Boleska led a group of seven students to Los Angeles to volunteer at Super Bowl LVI. Among their assignments, they worked at field level before the game and during the first quarter, validating credentials and monitoring access to restricted areas of SoFi Stadium.
- The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education awarded UMSL the 2022 AACTE Best Practice Award in Support of Global and International Perspectives for its “Internationalizing Education at UMSL and Beyond” initiative.
UMSL co-leading research and development for the new St. Louis Regional Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Center
The St. Louis Regional Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Center, an organization created to establish a robust advanced manufacturing sector in the region, tapped UMSL and Saint Louis University to co-lead research and development for the venture.
“Having Saint Louis University and the University of Missouri–St. Louis as co-leads for R&D is absolutely ideal,” said John Hixson, a former vice president of Defense Initiatives at the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership and a member of AMICSTL’s board. “Both universities have impactful research programs and active, mature innovation programs. Both universities, at their highest levels, agreed to take on this role enthusiastically.”
SLU and UMSL will coordinate with AMICSTL’s university and industry partners to manage the research and development agenda, including the selection process for R&D projects, dissemination of findings, and translation of research into commercial applications. The two universities will represent AMICSTL to the national and international advanced manufacturing R&D community. Read more
More top reads from March:
- The men’s basketball team rallied from behind against Indianapolis to capture its first Great Lakes Valley Conference Tournament championship and secure the program’s second NCAA berth in the past three seasons. Unlike in 2020, when the tournament was canceled, the Tritons got to take the court and played their way to the regional final.
- FOCUS St. Louis honored the UMSL Succeed Program with a What’s Right with the Region Award. It was one of four honorees in the Enhancing Regional Prosperity category, which recognizes organizations or programs dedicated to the growth of the region and building a stronger workforce and economy for the benefit of all.
- UMSL faculty members shared insights on several pressing global topics, with archaeologist Anne Austin discussing the historical impact of epidemics and pandemics, and historians Peter Acsay and Kevin Fernlund and political scientist Stephen Bagwell providing background on the war in Ukraine.
Doctoral candidate Lauren Morgan balances criminal justice research with training as elite water skier
Lauren Morgan is a doctoral candidate in criminology and criminal justice and is in the process of narrowing her dissertation research on so-called crossover youth – children and adolescents involved in both the child welfare and juvenile justice system.
She has already found a lot of success in her burgeoning career, including a child welfare policy internship position at the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., and a role as a research assistant for the National Institute of Justice.
But when she’s not engaged in research, Morgan is often found skimming across the top of some lake or launching herself off of a ramp at up to 65 miles per hour as she trains for her professional water skiing career. In October 2021, she won a bronze medal at the 37th IWWF World Waterski Championships in Groveland, Florida. (She went on to win a gold medal at the World Games this past July.)
“I’m in awe of her, really,” said Professor Beth Huebner, who is Morgan’s advisor. “We often talk quite early in the morning because after that she gets up and works, and she makes sure to have very clear goals every time we meet. I think that putting that structure into her life has only enhanced her research.” Read more
More top reads from April:
- Former NPS Director Robert Stanton joined the College of Education as a scholar in residence and is working with E. Desmond Lee Endowed Professor of Experiential and Family Education Theresa Coble and her third Heritage Leadership for Sustainability, Social Justice and Participatory Culture doctoral cohort.
- The Science Teachers of Missouri created the Charles R. Granger Legacy Award in recognition of longtime UMSL faculty member Charles Granger’s contributions to science education across the state.
- Art Professor Dan Younger created a virtual tour of La Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Beauvais, a 13th century gothic cathedral located about 85 kilometers north of Paris.
- Kevin Humble, who spent years as a journeyman electrician, landed a job at Boeing as an electrical engineer after completing the UMSL/Washington University Joint Undergraduate Engineering Program.
Richter Family Welcome and Alumni Center to cement late alumnus Kirk Richter’s legacy of connection, care
Kirk Richter believed UMSL had no bigger asset than its 108,000 alumni, so many of whom are living, working and thriving across the St. Louis region.
To him, they served as an example to both current and prospective students of the power of higher education and could also be a bridge as those students embark on their careers and position themselves for future successes.
“UMSL alumni represent the past, present and future of what UMSL is all about,” he said in 2016.
That’s why Kirk, a 1968 accounting alumnus, and his wife, Maureen, a 1974 graduate of the College of Education, made an investment to help strengthen the connections among UMSL’s past, present and future students.
Shortly before Kirk’s death on Jan. 14 after a battle with cancer, the couple made the largest individual philanthropic gift to one project in the university’s history to establish the Richter Family Welcome and Alumni Center. It will encompass a large portion of the J.C. Penney Conference Center and face Alumni Circle on North Campus. Read more
More top reads from May:
- UMSL celebrated nearly 1,500 graduates last spring, including women’s basketball player Alex LaPorta, who earned her MBA; Aman Chishti, who was bound for medical school after earning her degree in public policy administration; and four Optometry graduates who were following in the footsteps of their parents.
- All-American swimmer Zara Konstapel has also excelled in the classroom as an English major, winning the Roy and Hilda Bergmann Scholarship for Literature and contributing to Litmag.
- Senior golfer Joel Sylven won a sudden-death playoff with Indianapolis’ Keegan Bronnenberg to capture the individual title at the NCAA Division II Men’s Golf Championship, becoming just the second national champion in school history. Sylven was also featured in the fall issue of UMSL Magazine.
St. Louis Public Radio marks golden anniversary
The public radio station KWMU began broadcasting over the frequency 90.7 FM from Clark Hall on the UMSL campus on June 2, 1972.
So much about the station – including its preferred name, now St. Louis Public Radio – has changed over the past 50 years. It has switched formats from a predominantly classical music station with news breaks, adding NPR programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered in the 1980s and switching to news-talk format with expanded local coverage in the 1990s. The station merged with the St. Louis Beacon nine years ago and today counts a professional staff of more than 70 employees. It left behind its basement studio in Lucas Hall and is now housed at UMSL at Grand Center, though its reach has grown to Quincy, Illinois, and Rolla, Missouri.
The station got an early start celebrating its golden anniversary when it hosted 337 guests for its annual gala on May 20 at the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown St. Louis. Read more
More top reads from June:
- Lisa Capone and Dr. Keshia Elder were both tapped to join UMSL’s leadership team. Capone was selected to serve as vice chancellor for advancement after previously working at the University of Louisiana Lafayette. Elder, meanwhile, returned to UMSL to become the first Black female dean of optometry in the country after serving on the faculty at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
- St. Louis Anchor Action Network Director Stefani Weeden-Smith helped organize an executive learning experience for leaders of its member organizations at Sumner High School in the historic Ville neighborhood.
- Counseling PhD student Monica Phelps-Pineda won the National Board of Certified Counselors Minority Fellowship Award. The $20,000 prize is helping her with her goal of securing a faculty position in a CACREP-accredited counseling program.
- Optometry graduates Kathryn Schmandt, Riley Liss, Kaleigh Albers and Paige Blankenheim all did rotations at Chickasaw Nation Medical Center while working toward their degrees.
Missouri Sen. Brian Williams touts unprecedented investment in UMSL, north St. Louis County
Elected officials, including Missouri Sen. Brian Williams, and community members gathered at the Patient Care Center after the passage of the state’s 2023 budget in July. The event was meant to celebrate an unprecedented investment from the State of Missouri in north St. Louis County with $40 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act going to UMSL to help support a major campus redevelopment.
Williams said the funding will help create a “campus of the future” that will provide opportunities in a region that has not seen significant investment for decades.
“What began in 2021 as a Campus Master Plan that reimagines the University of Missouri–St. Louis as a metropolitan, public university for the future is today a shared vision and a living commitment to improve the quality of life and economic impact in north St. Louis County,” Sobolik said.
A feature in the fall issue of UMSL Magazine provided much more detail about how the plan came together and the changes that are in store over the next four years as the UMSL campus is transformed in ways that will enhance the student experience and also benefit the surrounding community. Read more
More top reads from July:
- Organizational leadership major Leizel Thomas, and business major Noah Young both had jobs at Food Outreach, a St. Louis-based organization that provides comprehensive nutritional services to people living with HIV and cancer.
- Abderrahmen Mtibaa, an assistant professor of computer science, is part of a team of researchers working to solve networking and security challenges that hinder public safety and disaster response.
- Thirteen area high school students from the Jennings, Hazelwood, Ritenour, Riverview Gardens and University City school districts took part in the Collaborative Laboratory Internship and Mentoring Blueprint Program, spending the summer as paid interns working in research labs in biology, chemistry and psychological science.
Alumnus Steven Harris promoted to managing partner at RubinBrown LLP
Steven Harris realized pretty quickly while interning at accounting firm RubinBrown as an UMSL student that he was right where he wanted to be.
“It checked off all the boxes that I needed: great culture, great people, great learning environment and overall great experience,” Harris said. “It led me to believe, ‘I could make it here.’ I saw a lot of good people overall who wanted to see me be successful, and that was enough for me to really anchor in this organization.”
After graduating with a degree in accounting in 2000, Harris went to work for the Clayton-based firm and has steadily climbed the executive ladder and become a leader in the organization. In 2010, the firm named Harris a partner in Entrepreneurial and Assurance Services groups. Around 2016, he also became chairman of the board of the National Association of Black Accountants.
In May, RubinBrown promoted Harris to managing partner, only the fourth in the firm’s 70-year history. Read more
More top reads from August:
- International relations major Jonathan Gutierrez spent the summer splitting his time between interning at the World Affairs Council of America and exploring Washington, D.C.’s many cultural institutions as the first student to participate in the Washington, D.C. summer internship program, a collaboration between the Pierre Laclede Honors College, the College of Arts and Sciences and the Office of Alumni Engagement.
- UMSL’s Addiction Science Team welcomed five students in the PhD Clinical Psychology Program to its inaugural Summer SURG cohort. For 20 hours each week, students Kanila Brown, Arielle Guillod, Melissa Nance, Julia Richardson and Khrystyna Stetsiv contributed to the AddSci team’s efforts to combat substance use in the community and conducted their own personal research projects on overdoses.
- Master of Social Work student Sydney Drennen was among 173 students from 38 states and Mexico selected to be part of the Newman Civic Fellowship’s 2022-2023 cohort.
- Political science alumnus Steven Pursley opened restaurant Menya Rui in the Lindenwood Park neighborhood and quickly earned raves for his traditional Japanese ramen.
UMSL makes another big jump in US News ‘Best Colleges’ rankings, earning high marks for social mobility, value
UMSL had already made one of the nation’s biggest improvements in the annual U.S. News & World Report “Best Colleges” rankings, jumping a combined 42 places over the previous two years. But it climbed 27 more spots when the latest rankings were released in September.
UMSL now ranks No. 212 among national research universities on the 2023 list out of more than 1,800 colleges and universities nationwide, and it improved 11 places to rank No. 107 on the list of top public universities.
“The University of Missouri–St. Louis is truly on the rise, and we are proud the U.S. News & World Report rankings are reflective of our progress,” Chancellor Kristin Sobolik said. “Our faculty and staff continue to work hard to ensure that students get the high-quality education they deserve and will need to be successful as they launch their careers. We celebrate more than 2,800 students who earned degrees in the past year, and we have more work to do as we pursue our goal to make UMSL the top metropolitan research university in the country.”
The university continued to get high marks for helping students boost their economic future through a college degree and ranked first in the state and 75th nationally on the list of “Top Performers on Social Mobility.” Read more
More top reads from September:
- INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine named UMSL one of 103 recipients of the prestigious 2022 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award, marking the sixth time the magazine has recognized the university for its commitment to diversity and inclusion.
- September was a month filled with awards as the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis honored Chancellor Kristin Sobolik at the Salute to Women in Leadership Gala, Social Work Teaching Professor Linda Wells-Glover was celebrated at The St. Louis American Foundation’s 35th Annual Salute to Excellence in Education Scholarship & Awards Gala and UMSL Accelerate Founding Executive Director Dan Lauer received a Champions for Diversity and Inclusion Award for his continued work with UMSL’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Accelerator.
- Edward Jones Principal Ken Cella, a 1993 graduate of the College of Business Administration, assumed leadership of UMSL’s Chancellor’s Council.
UMSL community mourns the loss of longtime supporter and champion George Paz
The university community mourned the passing of distinguished alumnus George Paz, a 1982 graduate in business administration and accounting who went on to become chairman and CEO of Express Scripts. Paz, the former president of UMSL’s Chancellor’s Council earlier this year, died unexpectedly on Oct. 23. He was 67.
“George was a visionary leader, well respected throughout our region and far beyond for his business acumen, generosity and commitment to inclusivity, and his loss will be felt profoundly,” Chancellor Kristin Sobolik said. “He was so proud of the education he received at UMSL and credited it for preparing him for the success that followed in his career, most notably as CEO and chairman of Express Scripts. We are so grateful for all the ways he invested in the university and our students with his time, wisdom and financial support. We offer our deepest condolences to his family, particularly his wife, Melissa.”
UMSL Accelerate had honored Paz with a lifetime achievement award only a few days before his passing at the inaugural UMSL Accelerate Entrepreneur of the Year Awards. In accepting the award, Paz talked about some of the keys to his career success, growing up with modest financial resources as the grandson of Mexican immigrants and going on to lead a Fortune 100 company. He often expressed gratitude to UMSL and the College of Business Administration for helping him build the foundation for his professional accomplishments. Read more
More top reads from October:
- English alumna Christina Andrade Melly, an English and language arts teacher at Ritenour High School, was named 2023 Missouri Teacher of the Year. She is the third UMSL graduate in as many years to win the award.
- UMSL awarded the Boeing Company the 2022 E. Desmond and Mary Ann Lee Medal for Philanthropy at the annual Founders Celebration and also celebrated distinguished alumni.
- The Black Nurses Association of Greater St. Louis recognized BSN student Esther Nwojoki for her academic success by awarding her a $1,000 Edith L. Cole scholarship.
- Haitao Li, chair of the Department of Supply Chain and Analytics, is assisting two farms in South Africa with supply chain issues and operations to help them achieve sustainability through the UM System/UWC Faculty Exchange Program.
Bahamian student Shakinah Clarke settling into college life, pursuing engineering at UMSL
Shakinah Clarke didn’t waste any time being homesick during her first semester at UMSL. The Pierre Laclede Honors College student and engineering major, who hails from the island of New Providence in The Bahamas, made sure to actively engage in campus activities from the time she arrived in St. Louis for international student orientation in mid-August. She participated in Weeks of Welcome events such as Paint-A-Palooza and Stomp the Quad and was in attendance at the Brain Stew Pizza Party as she did her best to make friends around campus.
She’s quickly grown fond of working out or playing basketball with some of them at the Recreation and Wellness Center, has found a church group and last month took part in a volunteer project organized by Beyond Housing to help weed and pick up trash in a nearby neighborhood.
“I’ve been adjusting well,” Clarke said of her transition to school and living on her own. “The only thing I’ve found odd is the weather. I’m still getting used to it.”
Given the day-to-day fluctuations that happen in Missouri, that might never happen. But Clarke has found some stability as part of a cohort of 20 students from The Bahamas who have enrolled at UMSL through a partnership with the Ministry of Education. Read more
More top reads from November:
- Former NGA Director Robert Sharp joined the UMSL Geospatial Collaborative as a research fellow and will help guide efforts to lead collaborative K-16 workforce and talent development.
- Five students volunteered with St. Louis Dancing Classrooms through the College of Education’s Community Agency Partners program. Professor Michael Smith, the director of the E. Desmond Lee Fine Arts Education Collaborative, helped facilitate the connection.
- The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums honored the Center for Avian Health in the Galápagos Islands – a more than two-decade collaboration between the University of Missouri–St. Louis, the Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Institute, the Charles Darwin Foundation and Ecuador’s Galápagos National Park – with a 2022 WAZA Conservation Award.
- Maggie Scherder, a second-year student in the UMSL Succeed program, was the first American woman to win gold at the 10th World Down Syndrome Swimming & Artistic Championships in Albufeira, Portugal.
Addiction Science Team growing in numbers, impact with new funding from state opioid settlements
UMSL has been central to efforts to combat the opioid crisis in Missouri over the past five years with Associate Professor Rachel Winograd serving as the director of the Missouri Opioid State Targeted Response and Missouri State Opioid Response projects. She has been leading a group of researchers, social workers and other public health practitioners who provide administration, implementation, and evaluation activities for initiatives led by the Missouri Department of Mental Health. Much of their work is focused on harm reduction to prevent overdose.
The Addiction Science Team has been growing over the past several months while expanding its efforts thanks to more than $6 million in new funding directed to UMSL earlier this fall. The money came from a series of settlements that ultimately will bring nearly half a billion dollars to Missouri over the next 18 years for opioid treatment and other support systems.
“We have a great group of 10 new people from all different backgrounds,” Winograd said. “We have some people who have direct lived experience with substance use disorder and have been involved in the clinical treatment or recovery side of things. They’re coming to be more involved in the planning, programming, infrastructure and system change. We have people who came from other domains of social services – like working with the unhoused. We have someone who just left the military as a medic. We have someone who is an EMT.” Read more
More top stories from December:
- The UMSL volleyball team capped a historic season by advancing to the NCAA Division II Championship semifinals. The Tritons, led by All-American outside hitter Charlotte Richards, knocked off No. 2 seed Barry in the quarterfinals before losing to eventual national champion West Texas A&M.
- The Veterans Center celebrated 10 years serving military-connected students at UMSL and honored the role Associate Dean Jim Craig played in building the center.
- UMSL ended the year by celebrating more than 900 new graduates during fall 2022 commencement ceremonies. UMSL Daily highlighted some of the new alumni launching their careers, including accounting graduate Aurion Farhadi at KPMG, women’s soccer player and economics graduate Imogen Bennett at Decipher Investigative Intelligence, foreign language graduate Aimee Pieper at Steady Rain, and economics graduate Joel Fecke at SAS.
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