The University of Missouri-St. Louis is proud of the economic and philanthropic reach of its programs and partnerships, but it’s the people UMSL most wants to honor as it celebrate its 60th anniversary. Throughout the year of celebration, UMSL will be spotlighting 60 alumni who apply one or more of the university’s core values in the world and help to make it a better place.
This month’s honorees are Farah Babu, Paul Beckerle, Leonora Muhammad, Michael Randazzo and Earl Swift.
Coming to the United States provided Babu an opportunity to further her education and build a career in the tech industry, but it was UMSL that gave this promising student from India a sense of community and the courage to grow into a leader at the university and in her profession.
Born and raised in India, she completed a Bachelor of Engineering in computer science before immigrating. At UMSL, Babu earned her master’s degree in cybersecurity while also working as a graduate teaching assistant, where she guided students with their projects and assignments in a variety of courses.
“I would call UMSL my safe space, a place where I was encouraged to think outside the box, where I was supported for my novel ideas and where I was always offered help,” she said. “I had the most amazing professors who made my journey priceless, especially Dr. Sanjiv Bhatia, Dr. Lav Gupta and Dr. Sharlee Climer.”
As she progressed academically, Babu honed her leadership skills serving as the cultural secretary and then president of the student council and served as an active member of Alpha Phi Omega, a leading national service fraternity. Babu’s rise from a computer science undergraduate to a specialized cybersecurity expert and her current role as system engineer at Mastercard demonstrate her commitment to continuous learning and growth. With a journey as impressive as hers, Babu continues to inspire and set new standards in her field.
Beckerle’s sense of duty and spirit of engagement and inclusion were reflected in his choices of academic studies at UMSL, where he earned a bachelor’s in administration of justice and a master’s in political science.
Drawn to public service, he interned for then-Congressman Richard Gephardt while an UMSL student and worked for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington, D.C., after graduation.
He was elected to the St. Louis Board of Aldermen (25th Ward), where he served for 14 years before joining the St. Louis Development Corporation. In his role as director of the Business Assistance Center, he forged collaborative and productive partnerships for more than 20 years until his death in March of 2023.
Throughout his career, Beckerle exemplified the finest qualities of UMSL, representing his constituents and the City of St. Louis, helping move the metropolitan area forward. Possessing many talents, Beckerle was most known for his willingness to always share them to help others.
His seemingly effortless ability to engage others, listen intently and create solutions were his hallmark. Deeply devoted to his family, church and community, Beckerle was very proud of his UMSL roots and spoke fondly of his alma mater, recounting countless memories through the years.
Muhammad went on to receive her Doctor of Nursing Practice and has utilized her expertise to help lead and serve others in her field. A past adjunct clinical instructor at the College of Nursing, she has served as president of the Black Nurses Association of Greater St. Louis and as a director of the board of the National Black Nurses Association and a trustee of the board for the National Commission on Correctional Healthcare.
“My experience with UMSL has been inspiring since I first stepped foot on the campus in 1997 for a presentation with the St. Louis Internship Program, to my BSN completion in 2011, where I had the opportunity to be led by an extraordinary instructor, Dr. Wilma Calvert, to my opportunity to be awarded the Alumni award and speak at the commencement ceremony,” she said. “UMSL prepares students with a solid foundation to achieve their dreams, soar in their chosen career paths and contribute to their society.”
A leader in her profession, Muhammad works to provide high-quality, culturally sensitive treatment and healing to each and every patient in her care. Currently, Muhammad is the SVP, Associate Chief Nurse Officer at YesCare, a leading correctional healthcare company. She is also the CEO and Founder of the SiiN Institute, which assists international nursing students in passing the US NCLEX exam.
From first-generation college student to one of the youngest presiding circuit judges in Missouri history, Randazzo has willingly embraced academic and professional opportunities to set a higher bar in life.
That can-do mindset took root at UMSL, where Randazzo earned a bachelor’s degree in criminology and criminal justice and a certificate from the Pierre Laclede Honors College, laying the foundation for law school and the prolific legal career that has followed.
“At UMSL, I learned from and was mentored by world-class faculty that included Dr. Richard Rosenfeld, Dr. Bob Bursik and Dr. Tim Mahar,” Randazzo said. “I was uniquely prepared for law school by attending the Pierre Laclede Honors College and would have completed my education at UMSL had there been a law school to attend.”
Since earning a juris doctorate at nearby Saint Louis University in 2010, Randazzo has made his mark in private practice, the courtroom and the community. In 2015, when he owned his own law firm, Randazzo was recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of their Top 50 Under 40. As a prosecutor, Randazzo worked more than 3,000 felony and 10,000 misdemeanor cases as an assistant prosecuting attorney and was later elected prosecuting attorney. In 2021, Randazzo moved to the bench, where he has since participated in more than 75 jury trials, first as circuit court judge for the 42nd Judicial Circuit in Missouri, and a year later, as presiding circuit judge.
Throughout his career, Randazzo has been equally committed to community, serving several town and cities in his hometown region of East-Central and Southeast Missouri as a municipal judge, city prosecutor, city attorney and public defender. Randazzo also shares free legal counsel for local churches, nonprofits and fraternal organizations and educates Missourians about the court process through the statewide Court Enrichment Program. His community focus extends beyond the courtroom to the bleachers, where you are likely to find Randazzo coaching up today’s youth in basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer and softball, just as he’s done for the past 20 seasons.
Swift’s love affair with UMSL began on his first day as a freshman in the fall of 1976, when he walked into the offices of the university’s student newspaper, The Current, and walked out with a story assignment.
When he graduated seven years later, he had a degree in political science, had served as the paper’s editor and two terms as student body vice president and was embarking on a remarkable career in journalism.
Swift went on to report for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat and Alaska’s Anchorage Times before spending more than 21 years as a reporter, editor, columnist and longform writer for the Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk. His assignments sent him on adventures all over the world – to Southeast Asia, Papua New Guinea, the Mediterranean, the Bering Sea, and most of the 50 states – and, as a Fulbright fellow, to New Zealand.
“I’ve been fortunate to have great teachers, every step of the way,” he said. “Any success I’ve enjoyed has been their doing as much as mine. And that good fortune began at Kirkwood High School and, most especially, at UMSL.”
He’s also through-hiked the Appalachian Trail and paddled 700 miles around the Chesapeake Bay in a sea kayak.
Shifting to books in the early 2000s, Swift has penned eight critically acclaimed nonfiction narratives on subjects ranging from the American Dream to lunar exploration. His 2018 book “Chesapeake Requiem” was a New York Times Best Seller, and over the years his editors have nominated him twice for a National Book Award, twice for a National Magazine Award and seven times for a Pulitzer Prize.
His ninth book, “Hell Put to Shame” – about a 1921 mass murder that illuminated the persistence of slavery generations after the Civil War – will be published by HarperCollins in April 2024.