Patricia Zahn helps strengthen connections between UMSL, wider community

by | Jul 31, 2023

Zahn is in her 13th year at UMSL and serves as the director of community outreach and engagement and legislative liaison while supporting the Des Lee Collaborative Vision.
Patricia Zahn

This fall, Patricia Zahn will mark 13 years at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, where she serves as the director of community outreach and engagement and legislative liaison and is the administrator for the Des Lee Collaborative Vision. (Photo by Derik Holtmann)

Patricia Zahn has always felt a strong pull toward community engagement.

“It’s kind of the core of my being,” she said. “I think I was raised in a family that was always involved in the community. My dad was in the military, and when we traveled and moved from place to place, the community was our family because we didn’t have actual family there. My parents were also very involved with their church, so I became very involved with my church. I just think it was a value that was instilled in us.”

It’s remained throughout her career. This fall Zahn will mark 13 years at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, where she serves as the director of community outreach and engagement within the Office of Research and Economic & Community Development. She also serves as legislative liaison for UMSL and supports the community engagement work of the faculty along with other engagement initiatives on campus.

She’s seen the university work hard to strengthen its connections to the surrounding community during her tenure.

“I see such a difference, especially in the way that our local community interacts with us and sees us more as a collaborator, as a neighbor,” Zahn said. “We’ve really strategically looked at how we are listening to them, how we show up, and I’ve been a part of that.”

She noted the meetings Chancellor Kristin Sobolik has with community leaders several times each year and the focus groups Zahn has helped lead that give neighbors a chance to share ideas and relay ways they would like to engage with the university.

Zahn also helps curate a monthly Community Connections newsletter that keeps community members apprised of activities on campus and shares stories about the university and its people, as well as lifts up stories about the great things happening in our neighboring communities.

She believes it’s important to show that there are no gates separating UMSL from the wider community.

“I think we’ve been really strategic and thoughtful about how we’re trying to make people feel connected because this is their university,” she said. “That’s the language that I use all the time. UMSL is yours. It’s a public institution. It belongs to all of us.”

Zahn also helps UMSL students, faculty and staff members get involved with and give back to region. She’s a member of UMSL’s Civic Engagement Coalition, which encourages UMSL community members to participate in the democratic process through voting. She is also the point person for UMSL’s Month of Community Giving each October, helping orchestrate UMSL’s participation in the in the United Way of Greater St. Louis and the CHC Creating Healthier Communities campaigns, which help support more than 250 nonprofit organizations.

Zahn earned a bachelor’s degree in American Studies at Saint Louis University in 1998 and went to work at the Missouri Humanities Council. She spent 12 years there and provided leadership and oversight in all aspects of the organization, supervising staff, helping develop and manage grant proposals and assuring compliance with funding regulations.

In one of her most rewarding projects, she managed a statewide museum outreach program in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution. She also directed and expanded a statewide family reading program.

During her tenure at the Humanities Council, Zahn found herself going back to school – pursuing a master’s degree in public policy administration with an emphasis on nonprofit management and leadership at UMSL. She completed her degree in 2007.

She didn’t know that three years later her career would bring her back to the university.

“I came for the Des Lee Collaborative Vision,” she said. “I had worked around the state with nonprofit organizations broadly, and I saw the position at UMSL, and I loved the fact that there were people committed to taking the resources at the university, and not just talking about making a difference in the community, but making it happen, making it real and putting money to it. That was really exciting.”

Zahn’s work in the community doesn’t stop at the end of the workday. She’s also an active volunteer who spent more than 12 years as a director of the Affton School District Board of Education before her tenure finally ended in April.

She’s been a volunteer advisor for UMSL’s Nonprofit Management & Leadership Program since 2009, and she’s been a member of the United Way of Greater St. Louis’ Women’s Leadership Society for the past decade. The Women’s Leadership Society is a growing network of more than 3,600 women who collectively give their time, talent and treasures to help people in St. Louis, bringing women together to address societal issues across the region.

Zahn has continued to learn and grow in her career and last August earned her EdD in educational practice and heritage leadership as part of a cohort led by UMSL faculty members and and DLCV professors Theresa Coble and Keith Miller.

“They are just doing incredible work,” Zahn said. “When they put together this cohort for the EdD, I was like, ‘If I’m ever going to do this, now is the time,’ because I wanted to learn from them. They’re just amazing, community-connected people.”

Steve Walentik

Steve Walentik