UMSL spotlights 2023 Distinguished Alumni and Outstanding Young Alumni at Founders Celebration

by | Sep 22, 2023

Petra Baker, Joseph C. Blanner, Gloria Carter-Hicks, Kevin Killeen, Mary McMurtrey and Bharath Mukka have left their mark on their respective industries while continuing to support UMSL.
Chancellor Kristin Sobolik joins the 2023 distinguished alumni award honorees, (left to right) Petra Baker, Joseph C. Blanner, Gloria Carter-Hicks, Kevin Killeen, Mary McMurtrey and Bharath Mukka. Thursday evening was the annual University of Missouri-St. Louis Founders Celebration, held inside the Touhill Performing Arts Center.

Chancellor Kristin Sobolik (center) joins the 2023 Distinguished Alumni and Outstanding Young Alumni awardees Thursday at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center. From left to right, the awardees were Petra Baker, Joseph C. Blanner, Gloria Carter-Hicks, Kevin Killeen, Mary McMurtrey and Bharath Mukka. (Photo by Derik Holtmann)

At the 32nd annual Founders Celebration on Thursday, members of the University of Missouri–St. Louis community recognized and honored the contributions of six alumni who have left their mark on their respective industries while continuing to support UMSL with their time and talent.

At a ceremony held in the Anheuser-Busch Performance Hall at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center, the UMSL Alumni Association presented its highest honor, the Distinguished Alumni Award, to Petra Baker, Joseph C. Blanner, Gloria Carter-Hicks, Kevin Killeen and Mary McMurtrey.

Since its inception in 1987, the Distinguished Alumni Award has been given annually to esteemed alumni to recognize distinction in their professional accomplishments, community service or both while also representing the highest standards of integrity and character. Their work transforms lives locally in St. Louis, nationally and globally as they drive for change to improve the world around them.

In addition to the five Distinguished Alumni winners, the UMSL Alumni Association named Bharath Mukka as the 2023 Outstanding Young Alumni.

Petra Baker, MEd 2003, EdS 2008, knew she wanted to be an educator from a young age, playing teacher for her nieces, nephews and neighborhood kids. After earning a bachelor’s degree in education from Alcorn State University, Baker continued her education at UMSL. She earned a master’s in educational administration and an EdS in administration and is currently pursuing a doctorate. For the past 25 years, Baker has served as a special education teacher and assistant principal at Gateway Michael Elementary School in St. Louis. Under her leadership, Gateway Michael has received several national awards, including a Gold Star designation from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and a Promising Practice Award from the CharacterPlus program.

Joseph C. Blanner, BS 1998, is one of the St. Louis construction industry’s go-to legal resources. Blanner is an equity partner of the St. Louis law firm McCarthy, Leonard & Kaemmerer, LC, where he specializes in construction law and litigation. He earned his bachelor’s in public administration at UMSL before pursuing his JD and building a successful career. Blanner is also the co-founder of the Construction Forum Educational Foundation, a nonprofit organization that grows collaboration in the St. Louis construction industry to drive employment opportunities and economic growth. He has also served in leadership roles with the Missouri Bar Association and the Missouri Department of Economic Development and provided volunteer legal counsel for several nonprofits.

Gloria Carter-Hicks, BS, has reimagined a better workplace for both companies and individuals over the course of her career. After graduating from UMSL, the Alton, Illinois, native joined a J.C. Penney management training program – a position she discovered through UMSL Career Services. Before building her own consulting company, she held several leadership and consulting roles with Global Reinsurance Group of America, General American, McDonald’s, the City of Clayton and Safeco. As the founder and CEO of the consulting firm Hicks-Carter-Hicks, she has customized innovative solutions, earning accolades from clients who commend her firm’s ability to always bring its “A-game.” Carter-Hicks has also been lauded for excellence by numerous organizations, including Enterprising Women’s Magazine, the St. Louis Business Journal and the St. Louis Regional Chamber.

Kevin Killeen, BA 1982, was recently named managing director of the St. Charles County Office of Communications. Since graduating from UMSL with a degree in speech communications, Killeen has enriched the quality of the virtual public square in St. Louis for decades as a radio storyteller with KMOX and as the creator of the long running series “Whole ‘Nother Story.” He is also the celebrated author of “Never Hug a Nun,” which received the Benjamin Franklin Book Award from the Independent Book Publishers Association, and “Try to Kiss a Girl,” which was named one of the best children’s books of 2014 by Barnes and Noble.

Mary McMurtrey, MPPA 2006, is a leading connector of donor passions and big ideas in St. Louis. With more than 20 years of executive experience in the philanthropic sector, McMurtrey creates and shapes some of the region’s largest philanthropic initiatives. In her current role as senior vice president of philanthropy with the United Way of Greater St. Louis, McMurtrey spearheads the major and planned giving programs. Previously, McMurtrey was a consultant with McMurtrey Financial Group and held leadership roles with Philanthropy MO and the St. Louis Community Foundation, where she created and launched Give STL Day and Invest STL, raising millions of dollars for local nonprofits.

Bharath Mukka, MS 2021, understood that entering college is a challenge for anyone but especially those who come from other countries, which is what inspired him to revive the Indian Student Association as an UMSL student. Mukka also led the Information Technology and Cybersecurity Club and served as captain of the UMSL cybersecurity team at the Midwest Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition, where the team won first place over 18 other universities. After graduation, Mukka joined Qualys, Inc. as a security engineer, planning and implementing strategic corporate initiatives and conducting IT security research.

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Eye on UMSL: The flavor of homecoming
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Senior business major Jalen Walker-Wright gets a cup of southwest chili from Vanessa Loyd and Erin Schaeffer during last Thursday’s homecoming Chili Feed.

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Senior business major Jalen Walker-Wright gets a cup of southwest chili from Vanessa Loyd and Erin Schaeffer during last Thursday’s homecoming Chili Feed.

Eye on UMSL: The flavor of homecoming

Senior business major Jalen Walker-Wright gets a cup of southwest chili from Vanessa Loyd and Erin Schaeffer during last Thursday’s homecoming Chili Feed.