60 for 60: Nameera Fatima, Scott Leisler, Roxane May, Sherry Nelson Thomas and Vince Schoemehl honored as exceptional alumni
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 Nameera Fatima, Scott Leisler, Roxane May, Sherry Nelson Thomas and Vince Schoemehl.
An international, first-generation college student who recently earned her master’s from the College of Business Administration, Nameera Fatima, MS 2022, knows she has laid the foundation for a dynamic career through her studies at UMSL.
“I am immensely grateful to UMSL and specifically to Dr. Dinesh Mirchandani for the exceptional support and opportunities they have provided me,” she said. “The guidance and mentorship of Dr. Mirchandani have been instrumental in my academic and professional growth.”
“UMSL’s nurturing academic environment and supportive community have exceeded my expectations. I am confident that the foundation they have provided will continue to shape my future endeavors.”
During her time as a graduate research assistant in the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the Department of Information Systems and Technology, Fatima actively embraced the value of inclusion. Through her work in ODEI, Fatima played a pivotal role in fostering an environment that celebrates diversity, respects individual differences and recognizes individual attributes. Her dedication to inclusivity exemplifies UMSL’s core value of inclusion, and she continues to make a positive difference in the lives of others by championing the principles of equality and diversity.
Additionally, as a graduate teaching assistant in the Department of Information Systems and Technology, she mentored fellow students while pursuing her master’s, and she supported Mirchandani in hosting the St. Louis Cybersecurity Conference (STL CyberCon 2022) at UMSL. She is now a software engineer.
“My aspiration to leave a positive impact on the world drives me each day,” she said. “I am committed to leveraging technology to address real-world challenges, enhance accessibility and contribute to the betterment of society. Whether it’s through developing sustainable solutions, promoting diversity in tech or inspiring future generations, I aim to embody UMSL’s core values in all my endeavors.”
When Scott Leisler was figuring out his career path, he was locked in a cranial tussle of sorts between his creative spirit and analytical mind. Leisler, who grew up in the mid-’80s on a skateboard, developed an early appreciation for the subculture of art, music and diverse people he encountered as a sidewalk surfer. But he was also a good student with an interest in science who graduated early from high school. Rather than taking a year off before college, he enrolled in art classes to pass the time, a decision that would ultimately define his professional trajectory.
“I could have pursued a career in science,” he said. “But instead, I embraced the ability to think with both my right and left brain to begin my path in the creative arts, which is just as much about problem solving as it is about design.”
His creative journey continued in earnest at UMSL, where he earned degrees in graphic communications, graphic arts and art history. Leisler says the experience emboldened his belief that creativity can lead the way in solving unique challenges to make the world a better place.
“The instructors gave us the freedom to find our voice in the work we were doing while at the same time giving us productive, real-world feedback,” he said. “Whenever an UMSL graduate applies for a creative position at Dovetail, I always make the time to check out their work because I respect the caliber of talent that comes from there.”
Dovetail is the specialized St. Louis branding and digital agency where Leisler has served as president and chief creative officer for 17 of his 25 years as a creative force to help people and brands overcome whatever obstacles may be in their way. Leisler’s agency has been nominated as one of the “Best Marketing and PR Firms” by St. Louis Small Business Monthly for the past two years, and he was named one of Small Business Monthly’s Top 100 People to Know in St. Louis.
Roxane May is living proof that a university experience can shape an entire future. May, who was born and raised in St. Louis, is a first-generation college graduate who worked her way through school and graduated from UMSL when she was nearly 40 years old. She met her soon-to-be best friend and future husband along the way. Soon after tying the knot while still a student, she realized that married life would ultimately lead to a career, although she may not have envisioned at the time how it would ultimately grow.
“After we got married in 1993, Earl decided to take on a small hustle – cutting grass, outside of working at United Parcel Service,” she said. “This turned into May Lawn Care, and at that moment, I knew our personal tax return was now a business tax return.
“The education I received and community I experienced at the University of Missouri–St. Louis made all the difference as I prepared for my life journey.”
To handle the new business’ IRS filings, May took the beginning tax class at H&R Block, then worked for the company for a year before striking out on her own. May started by handling the tax returns of family and friends. Then, after earning a degree in accounting in 2000, she started adding additional streams of income in bookkeeping and payroll processing while working a full-time job and raising two children. Since those early days, her business has been rebranded as Reliable Accounting, growing to seven employees, 30 payroll clients, 15 bookkeeping clients and more than 350 personal and corporate tax returns.
When she’s not crunching the numbers, May is pounding the pavement in her running shoes, riding the air as a skydiver and parasailer and hanging on for a ride on the zip line.
The purpose-driven life is all about the connection, and for Sherry Nelson Thomas, the ties that bind have helped to transform St. Louis. As a fundraising professional with more than a decade of experience, she is an innovator and creative thinker who succeeds in bringing donors and nonprofits together to make a positive difference for the people who need it the most.
As the development director for CareSTL Health, a community-based health care system that provides medical care to the underserved, underinsured and uninsured, Thomas leverages her master’s in social work from UMSL to give her a unique perspective when it comes to building relationships with donors and supporters. Thomas also credits UMSL for being the place that first ignited the power of connection in her life.
“My time at UMSL has given me lifelong friendships that I cherish,” Thomas said, “and I continue to be inspired by the faculty and staff, especially the wonderful Linda Wells-Glover, who challenged and pushed me to grow more than she knows.”
Since joining CareSTL, Thomas has quadrupled corporate sponsors for events, led the strategic development of a $10 million capital campaign and created and executed multi-year fundraising plans in support of the organization’s mission.
Prior to CareSTL, Thomas served in development leadership roles with Kids in the Middle, which empowers children and families as they experience difficult family transitions; Pianos for People, which provides free access to the transformative power of music for children and families with limited resources; and Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region & Southwest Missouri, as well as mental health and program development roles with Mercy Hospital and Magdalene St. Louis.
If you were to compile a list of people who helped shape the St. Louis we know today, it would undoubtedly include Vince Schoemehl. The 42nd mayor of St. Louis, who graduated from the UMSL with a BA in history in 1972, was a vocal champion of historic preservation and urban design during his three terms as the city’s chief executive from 1981 to 1993. Schoemehl credits his time at UMSL, while living in several historic buildings in University City and the Central West End of St. Louis, for stirring a passion for the preservation of the built environment.
“Through friends at UMSL and through the neighborhood associations in Skinker DeBaliviere, I got very active with neighborhood preservation, which led naturally to historic preservation efforts,” Schoemehl said.
“Before becoming mayor, I was elected to the St. Louis Board of Aldermen in 1975, and one of my accomplishments in that role was to pass an ordinance creating the Skinker-DeBaliviere Historic District.”
Later as St. Louis mayor, Schoemehl helped save the Cupples Warehouses from demolition and emphasized public-private partnerships and urban design in revitalization efforts that included Union Station, the Dome at America’s Center and MetroLink. He also launched Operation Brightside, a St. Louis beautification program, and led other initiatives to plant flowers and clean up neighborhoods.
Schoemehl was also a big supporter of creativity while at City Hall, establishing Grand Center as the epicenter of the arts for the St. Louis region. After leaving office, he eventually became president and CEO of Grand Center Inc., completing several major projects to reinvigorate the district, including redeveloping the Woolworth building into the Kranzberg Arts Center; constructing UMSL at Grand Center, which is home to St. Louis Public Radio; and renovating the Beau Arts Building into Grand Center Arts Academy.
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