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Celebrating 1,000 New Grads During Mid-Year Commencement

Nearly 1,000 students received their degrees during University of Missouri-Kansas City mid-year Commencement exercises on Saturday, Dec. 14.

Festivities began with the College of Arts and Sciences Graduation with Distinction Luncheon where alumna Liz Cook (M.F.A. ’14) offered advice for the 70 students graduating with honors.

“You may not have all the answers right now, but you have the skills to find them,” said Cook, who works at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City and as a writer for The Pitch.

Liz Cook with Chancellor Agrawal and fellow alumna Anne Kniggendorf at the Graduation with Distinction Luncheon.
Liz Cook, pictured left, with Chancellor Agrawal and fellow College of Arts and Sciences alumna, Anne Kniggendorf, pictured right.

Among the students graduating with recognition were the Dean of Students 2019 Honor Recipients. Faculty and staff nominate students for their academic excellence, leadership and service. Ten Roos were honored this fall.

  • Shahodat Azimova, School of Biological and Chemical Sciences
  • Shelby Chesbro, School of Medicine
  • Jordann Dhuse, School of Medicine
  • Lindsey Gard, School of Biological and Chemical Sciences
  • Fiona Isiavwe, Bloch School of Management
  • Leah Israel, School of Biological and Chemical Sciences
  • Anna Lillig, School of Nursing and Health Studies
  • Zach Randall, School of Medicine
  • Marcella Riley, School of Medicine
  • Landon Rohowetz, School of Medicine
Student crowd surfing outside Swinney Center after graduation.
Student crowd surfs in celebration outside Swinney Center after graduation.

On Saturday, Swinney Center was packed with students and their families celebrating the milestone of graduation. Chancellor Agrawal congratulated students saying, “You are ready to take on the world.”

During the Henry W. Bloch School of Management ceremony, alumnus Mike Plunkett (B.S. ’91) addressed students. Plunkett is the co-founder and COO of PayIt, an award-winning digital government platform that simplifies doing business with state, local and federal governments. As students move forward in life, he encouraged them to:

  • Dream: Get in the habit of visualizing attainable goals on a daily basis.
  • Work: The absolutely necessary step to making your dreams a reality.
  • Hope: Have the determination to be positive in life, even when things aren’t going well.
  • Give: Enrich your life by giving to others.
Bloch alumnus Mike Plunkett offers advice to the class of 2019.
Alumnus Mike Plunkett offers advice to the class of 2019.

Student speaker Ian Njoroge encouraged his fellow graduates saying, “Believe that you will find opportunities. Look for opportunities and you’ll see that opportunities are looking for you.”

Research Study Can Help People Get Healthier

Enhanced Lifestyles for Metabolic Syndrome trial will test group vs. self-directed approaches

UMKC is looking for participants.

Metabolic syndrome is a bundle of risk factors caused by common lifestyle choices that can lead to serious conditions such as diabetes, stroke, heart disease and cancer. Currently, one-third of Americans have metabolic syndrome, up from one-fourth a decade ago.

Over the next two years, with funding from the William G. McGowan Charitable Fund, the Enhanced Lifestyles for Metabolic Syndrome (ELM) Trial, developed at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, aims to enroll 600 people who are at high-risk chronic disease and are interested in managing this risk by optimizing their lifestyle. In addition to UMKC at Truman Medical Centers in Kansas City, the other sites are Rush in Chicago; University of Colorado Denver; Geisinger Health System in Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, Pennsylvania; and Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.

The Kansas City study site is overseen by a prestigious UMKC School of Medicine team of principal investigators: endocrinologist Betty Drees, M.D., dean emeritus of the school and Jannette Berkley-Patton, Ph.D., director of the Health Equity Institute; and Matthew Lindquist, D.O.

“Metabolic syndrome is a serious condition because it is so common, and it can silently increase risk of heart disease and stroke without early warning symptoms,” Drees said. “Research into how to stop it early and keep it controlled is very important in preventing heart disease in individuals and in the population as a whole.”

Starting in January, participants will engage in the program for six months, and then will be followed for an additional 18 months, to allow for an assessment of how well they have been able to sustain the good habits they developed and the health benefits they received.

“We know that making these small lifestyle changes can have a big impact on people who have health issues that indicate they may have metabolic syndrome. Plus, everyone who participates will receive a free Fitbit. Other lifestyle-change programs can cost upwards of $500, but ELM will be free to our participants, which is awesome.” – Jannette Berkley-Patton

photo of vegetables and free weights

The ELM program provides tools, methods and support for healthier eating, increased physical activity and stress management. Guidelines include making vegetables half of every lunch and dinner, exercising for at least 30 minutes on most days, and learning to be less reactive to stressors.

The Rush team has been studying a group-based version of ELM for nearly a decade. The group approach, which has been shown to be effective, requires participants to attend meetings. While those can be helpful, they’re time-consuming and may be inconvenient; from a public-health standpoint, groups are expensive and labor-intensive. So researchers want to know: Can we simplify this treatment? Can participants get the same or better health results under their own direction, with only minimal contact with the program?

“Metabolic syndrome is a serious condition because it is so common, and it can silently increase risk of heart disease and stroke without early warning symptoms. Research into how to stop it early and keep it controlled is very important in preventing heart disease in individuals and in the population as a whole.” – Betty Drees

For this study, a “self-directed” program will be compared to a group-based program, with the best lifestyle information available in clinical practice today provided in both..

Everyone in the self-directed arm will be assigned to a coordinator, and will receive a Fitbit activity tracker, access to the program’s website and monthly tip sheets for six months.

In the group-based program, participants will get most of those things, too. But instead of the tip sheet, group members will meet for an hour and a half weekly for three months, biweekly for an additional three months, and monthly for 18 months after that. They will also have access to the ELM website. They will learn, for example, to distinguish when they are eating because they are hungry from when they turn to food because it is available or they are bored or sad.

Participants in both arms of the program will report for three follow-up visits so their progress can be assessed. They will receive lab results and physical measures after each visit.

“We are hoping we can learn how self-guided and group support programs can help people eat healthier and move more,” Berkley-Patton said. “We know that making these small lifestyle changes can have a big impact on people who have health issues that indicate they may have metabolic syndrome. Plus, everyone who participates will receive a free Fitbit. Other lifestyle-change programs can cost upwards of $500, but ELM will be free to our participants, which is awesome.”

How to participate

Participants in the study must be ages 18 years or older, not have diabetes, speak English, be willing to commit to a healthy lifestyle and have at least three of metabolic syndrome’s five risk factors:

  • Central fat (waist circumference of 40 inches or more for men, 35 inches or more for women)
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood sugar
  • Low HDL cholesterol
  • Elevated triglycerides

A condition of enrollment is a willingness to participate in either arm of the trial. Participants will not get to choose. To participate in the Kansas City area, email ELMtrial@tmcmed.org or call Alex Lyon at (816) 404-4418.

A woman in an exercise class

12 Teams Advance in UM System Pitch Competition

Last week, 20 teams pitched their ventures at the Henry W. Bloch School of Management Regnier Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. All of the student entrepreneurs were solving problems through their business ventures that ranged from tech products to beauty products to apps and platforms to connect busy parents. Teams pitched in 10-minute time slots with 5 minutes for the pitch and 4 minutes for questions and answers. The next round of the UM System EQ Pitch Competition is in March 2020.

Here are the 12 ventures:

Pegasus Project

Thomas Murphy, business administration, undergraduate; Kyla McAuliffe, business administration, undergraduate; Abdulmajeed Baba Ahmed, mechanical engineering, undergraduate; Ami Khalsa, computer science, undergraduate

Project Description
Pegasus upfits traditional bicycles to run with battery-electric-power assistance. The company is intent on creating an alternative and affordable transportation option for all residents. The target audience identifies as low-income, which drives Pegasus to provide a more effective and reliable mode of transportation for individuals to reach jobs, school and communities. An included bus pass will help manage instances of inclement weather. The team said market-rate customers will experience value from Pegasus’ cost leadership strategy, because an upfit will cost half the price of an equivalent quality new e-bike.

Vortex Cooling Systems

Jordan Berg, mechanical engineering, undergraduate

Project Description
According to Berg, there is an unmet demand for a business to create and sell direct water-cooled central processing units and graphics processing units. He said Vortex Cooling Systems would provide in-house integration of a cooling system and processor to create a much more powerful system than what is currently on the market. By professionally bonding a cooling system to the CPU, the thermal resistances present in currently-available cooling systems would be bypassed and the new cooling system would perform far better. The customer could then purchase the CPU and cooling system combo directly from the company instead of purchasing each component separately. Other business capabilities would include retrofitting customers current CPUs with a cooling system, or custom chained cooling system based on customers’ requirements. The goal of the company would be to keep up with the customizable nature of the gaming community.

Koil Hair Dryer

Konnie Wells, mechanical engineering, undergraduate; Zion Guerrier, mechanical engineering, undergraduate

Project Description
The product is a hair dryer designed to help individuals with curly and coily hair textures to dry and/or straighten their hair. The student entrepreneurs said customers will no longer have to buy multiple devices to straighten or dry their hair, because attachments will be made specifically for curly and/or coily hair types. The hair dryer will also have an ergonomic handle that has better sensors to offer great heat control and power control. In addition, Wells and Guerrier said the attachments will be strong, because coily hair can place a large amount of resistance on them compared to the resistance from straighter hair textures. The hair dryers will be available online or can be bought in stores, giving customers a device tailored specifically for them.

Good Bitter Best

Jennifer Agnew, business administration, graduate

Project Description
Because many of bars and restaurants in the Kansas City area use generic bitters, or make them in-house, Agnew plans to offer local bitters that are made from locally-sourced ingredients. Agnew said giving bars and restaurants access to a local company will allow them time to mix more creative drinks without the mess, hassle and expense of making their own. Providing local bitters would also allow for drink menus to change with the seasons or different events rather than sticking with one flavor all year. Good Bitter Best has already created a line of bitters, giving Agnew the bittering agents and experience with what works best to get the most flavor out of the ingredients.

Recipe Tree

Nathaniel Worcester, computer science, undergraduate

Project Description
Worcester believes the industrial food service and restaurant industry needs an across-platform recipe sharing application that supports different file-types. As the market stands, recipe sharing applications do not support file transfer in their native file format (docs, .txt, pdf, video, etc). Worcester said this requires the chef to manually update and replace old recipes by filling in fields in a recipe sharing application. Where the tech world has moved to “drag and drop,” functions, he said the food industry still uses the equivalent of static html applications that do not allow multimedia or anything outside a filled out form. File-sharing applications provided by Apple or Google Drive are currently being used in many instances in the food-service industry, but these programs do not support role-based access for files to allow the employee to edit, change or share a recipe where they should only be able to view it. Because of the hassle, Worcester said some companies are still using paper recipe books.

Compost Collective KC

Kyle McAllister, business administration, graduate

Project Description
Compost Collective KC solves two fundamental problems – the first is a global issue. McAllister said food waste is a major threat to the environment and is produced in the United States at an alarming rate. Approximately 30% to 40% of all waste going to landfills in the U.S. is food. He said that equates to approximately 33 billion pounds of food in landfills per year. That volume would fill the entire Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, each day for an entire year. McAllister said this is a problem because food waste breaks down in a landfill without oxygen and, as a result, the process emits methane gas. Depending on the study, McAllister said methane gas has 25 to 84 times the climate-change impact than carbon dioxide. Given this issue, people are looking for more sustainable alternatives. McAllister cited a recent Yale study that found that 70% of Americans think environmental protection is more important than economic growth. McAllister believes Compost Collective KC can help solve the second problem – give people a simple way to have a positive environmental impact by composting.

Vest Heroes

Fahad Qureshi, medicine, undergraduate/graduate

Project Description
When Qureshi started shadowing physicians, he saw an unexpected problem when any surgical operation involving an X-ray or radioactive imaging technology requires the health care professional wear a heavy lead vest and skirt – the equipment was very heavy and often weighed between 30 and 69 pounds. Because failure to wear protective gear results in carcinogenic radioactive exposure, wearing of protective equipment is required by law. When questioned, Qureshi said surgeons complained of back pain and hindered operational mobility due to the excess weight. In addition, Qureshi said the pain worsened for physicians as they worked long surgeries and as they aged. To solve this problem, Qureshi realized he needed to add an engineering element to his medical background. He started an apprenticeship with a local engineer and learned how to work with his hands. Qureshi said his eyes were opened to the problem-solving nature of the field. He soon started constructing his own prototypes in the fashion of the pulleys and levers. The prototype consisted of a lead vest/skirt with a tether. This tether was hooked to a cord that ran to a small hook on a ceiling. Finally, the cord was connected to a weight that offset the weight of the vest. In this way, a simple pulley was created. He contacted an interventional nephrology practice that uses radioactive imaging called A.I.N. in Chicago who allowed him to build a model in the operating room with special sterile materials. Qureshi used a 50 pound weight to make a 60 pound vest and skirt feel like just 10 pounds. The physicians at the practice were astounded and asked for more, citing their immense need.

Unity Gain

Travis Fields, business administration, undergraduate

Project Description
Fields is creating a 21st century solution to the fragmented local music scenes left in the wake of the 20th century recording industry. Unity Gain is a brand, anchored by a live music venue, artist’s hostel and a 24-hour diner built on local music communities offering local and touring musicians the resources, networking and support necessary to make their musical careers sustainable. By offering hostel-style sleeping quarters for touring musicians, as well as membership based production studios, digital marketing resources, mentorship and more to musicians, Fields said Unity Gain will create a community and value that will attract top talent, and in turn, the live music fans and supporters in those communities. Fields also expects to build relationships with the influencers of tomorrow.

Pythagorus

Adeesh Parvathaneni, medicine, undergraduate/graduate

Project Description
Pythagorus provides an online service that would allow young people and athletes to have physical therapy whenever and wherever they would like it. By providing an online physical therapy experience using a webcam, the application would use copyrighted code to detect angles and thus, the exercise that the young person made. Therapists can then let patients know whether or not they did the exercise right. The program would also count the amount of reps completed, allowing a physical therapist to use the software to prescribe a workout to a young athlete through a video demo. The patient could then complete the exercises under the guidance of the software. Parvathaneni said the application differentiates itself by not only its marketing strategy, but by being the sole company that allows for physical therapy online. In addition, he said the solution is proprietary and utilizes Intel OpenVino software, which leverages deep learning technology.

DivviUp

Brad Starnes, information technology, undergraduate

Project Description
DivviUp would solve the problem of sharing or splitting automatic payments between peers. Currently, Starnes said consumers have to put one card on file if they plan use auto pay, and use other methods to get funds to their peers or make multiple payments to their merchant for a simple bill pay. DivviUp would allow consumers to put a virtual card on file with their merchant for monthly recurring transactions to then be separated by an algorithm for each person’s portion of their transaction via an ACH withdrawal. The DivviUp team integrated with a third-party banking service, Plaid, which allowed them to conduct real-time balance checks on consumers’ individual accounts prior to allowing the transaction to go through on a monthly basis. They utilize user input of each person’s percentage of the transaction to charge the dollar amount to each user’s checking account each month. Plaid allows them to check each user’s account to see if they have their specified amount, and if not, they send a notification rejecting the transaction. Starnes said this program gives the opportunity to transfer funds and re-attempt the transaction when funds are available. DivviUp will utilize data entered by the consumers on a mobile app, specifying what utility company in use, to market to those companies for an online API integration to reduce cost.

EEG Controlled IoT Devices

Syed Jawad Shah, computer science, graduate (PhD)

Project Description
Shah has identified a problem for people who are physically disabled and don’t have an effective communication medium. EEG Controlled IoT Devices is a brain-computer interface that directs IoT devices to take certain actions. It is an assistive and non-invasive technology that enables physically challenged individuals to complete their daily tasks with some degree of independence. They can also communicate with others in a more effective manner. Examples would be turning the light on or off or calling for help. The device also enables health care providers to provide better services to patients. The interface uses deep learning technology to learn distinct patterns in EEG signals and associates them to trigger certain actions on IoT devices. For example, a patient with no ability to move or talk can turn on a light in a dark room by thinking of an illuminated light bulb. In this way, Shah hopes his product will increase users’ confidence and provide positive a experience.

Genalytics

Greyson Twist, bioinformatics and computer science, graduate (PhD)

Project Description
The core of Genalytics is to prepopulate data from experts in line with current FDA approved and supported/drug gene interactions in the required/proprietary format. Access is shared across all possible target customers but the interface and interaction may differ. In direct-to-consumer, uploaded relevant demographic information as well as genomic information, customers can present a potential medication, via barcode scanner or the drug NDC code. The system will screen the active ingredients and the genomic data, and return a red light or green light based on the results. A green light means it is safe, based on known information to take the medication. A red light means that some concerns exists. With the red/negative indication, the team would like to provide alternative medication options, such as a product minus the offending active ingredient, or suggestions to consult a pharmacist or doctor for dose adjustment guidance.

Read about the last pitch competition

Top Stories of 2019

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Agrawal celebrates investiture with new initiatives

Mauli Agrawal, Ph.D., announced his dedication to establishing a Community of Excellence through five signature initiatives: Roo Strong, a student success initiative; the UMKC Institute for Data Education, Analytics and Science (IDEAS); TalentLink, a skill development initiative; Health Equity Institute, a new initiative to ensure equal opportunity for improved health; and Building Pride, a mentorship program.

Significant gifts support capital improvements and student success

The Marion and Henry Bloch Family Foundation committed $21 million to support programming and capital improvements for the Henry W. Bloch School of Management and RooStrong, a new student success initiative.

The Sunderland Foundation committed $15 million for capital improvements to the Bloch School of Management, School of Dentistry, University Libraries, the School of Law and the School of Computing and Engineering.

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Bloch Family promotes student success by generating $20 million in scholarship funding

About 800 students will benefit from scholarship programs established by the Marion and Henry Bloch Family Foundation, the H & R Block Foundation and matching funds from the University of Missouri system.

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University bids farewell to champion and supporter Henry Bloch

Entrepreneur, philanthropist and tireless UMKC supporter Henry Bloch died in April. His legacy will live on through the people he loved and the organizations to which he was committed.

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Former First Lady Laura Bush visits campus

First Lady Laura Bush and First Daughter Barbara Pierce Bush were in conversation about their experiences in the White House and their family connection at the Starr Women’s Hall of Fame luncheon, which honors the legacy of women leaders in Kansas City.

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UMKC composer named to American Academy of Arts and Letters

Chen Yi, Lorena Searcy Cravens/Millsap/Missouri Distinguished Professor of Composition, was inducted in the American Academy of Arts and Letters, an honor society of the country’s leading architects, artists, composers and writers.

School of Dentistry unveils state-of-the-art training lab

A multimillion-dollar makeover provides students with fully-equipped, ergonomically-correct work stations that is among the newest and largest in the U.S.

UMKC researcher helps discover new strain of HIV

Carole McArthur, M.D. ’91, Ph.D., of the School of Dentistry, made news around the globe as part of a team of scientists who discovered a new subtype of HIV, which can be traced back to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

UMKC business students represent the U.S. in global competition

Three Bloch School of Management students represented the U.S. in the Unilever Future Leaders’ League, a global business-case competition in London. Students from 26 countries participated.

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Elevating Athletics

Kansas City Athletics had a banner year under the leadership of Athletics Director Brandon Martin, Ph.D. The Roos returned to the Summit League, launched a new fighting Roo logo and a bold basketball court redesign.

Dental student delivers patient’s baby at clinic

A fourth-year student in the School of Dentistry started her first day of her new externship eager to treat as many patients as she could. Aliah Haghighat was prepping the tooth of her second patient when the woman’s water broke.

Congratulations to the Fall 2019 Honor Recipients

Graduating students who have excelled in both academic achievement and service may be nominated for the honor. This program recognizes the exceptional students who maintain high scholastic performance while actively participating in university and community leadership and service activities outside of the classroom.

  • Shahodat Azimova, School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, nominated by Tammy Welchert
  • Shelby Chesbro, School of Medicine, nominated by Jignesh Shah and Betsy Hendrick
  • Jordann Dhuse, School of Medicine, nominated by Stefanie Ellison
  • Lindsey Gard, School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, nominated by Mary Osbourne and Tammy Welchert
  • Fiona Isiavwe, Bloch School of Management, nominated by Jessica Elam and Krystal Schwenker
  • Leah Israel, School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, nominated by Tammy Welchert
  • Anna Lillig, School of Nursing and Health Studies, nominated by Ursula Gurney
  • Zach Randall, School of Medicine, nominated by Stefanie Ellison
  • Marcella Riley, School of Medicine, nominated by Nurry Pirani
  • Landon Rohowetz, School of Medicine, nominated by Peter Koulen and Betsy Hendrick

UMKC Vision Researcher Exploring New Technique of Cryopreservation

Peter Koulen is part of $1.5-million NIH grant working on novel tissue-preservation method

The University of Missouri-Kansas City Vision Research Center is part of a $1.5-million National Institutes of Health grant-funded project exploring the capability of a novel, ultra-fast technique of cryopreservation — the use of extremely low temperatures to preserve living cells and tissues — that could help meet those far-reaching clinical needs in ophthalmology and a number of other fields of medicine.

The NIH awarded a grant to CryoCrate, a Columbia, Missouri-based company active in biomedicine working with the University of Missouri-Kansas City Vision Research Center. The new two-year award is for $1.5 million and includes a subcontract of $722,870 to the UMKC Vision Research Center. It is a follow-up NIH grant for earlier collaborative work between CyroCrate and UMKC.

With current techniques, many types of cells and tissues, including cornea tissues, cannot be preserved at all or lose their function when subjected to the freeze-thaw process of cryopreservation. Peter Koulen, Ph.D., professor of ophthalmology, endowed chair in vision research at the UMKC School of Medicine and director of basic research at the UMKC Vision Research Center, and Xu Han, Ph.D., president and chief technology officer of CryoCrate, jointly developed a new cryopreservation technique to preserve the viability and functionality of cornea and bioartificial ocular tissues. This new phase of funding will allow Han and Koulen to extensively test and refine the technology before taking it to the clinics.

So far, traditional methods of cryopreservation have been unsuccessful to preserve and store human corneas for use in patients because cells critical for cornea function are lost during freezing. Corneas need adequate numbers of such cells to be present and properly functioning in the grafted tissue for the surgery to be successful. This currently limits storage of corneas to refrigeration, which is insufficient in delaying the deterioration of cornea tissue beyond a few days and creates numerous clinical challenges shared by other areas of transplantation.

CryoCrate is headquartered at the Missouri Innovation Center. It commercializes a new cooling method that better preserves tissue in a frozen state with only negligible mechanical damage to the tissue. The technology is co-developed and co-owned by CryoCrate and UMKC. It also eliminates the need for so called cryoprotectants, chemicals that facilitate successful recovery of live tissue from freezing, but pose a range of medical and regulatory challenges. International patents pending and patents by CryoCrate and UMKC protect the technology and will enable CryoCrate and Koulen’s team at UMKC to address the urgent worldwide clinical needs and rapidly evolving fields of transplantation medicine.

The new funding allows Han and Koulen to further develop an upgraded system that is equally effective in the cryopreservation of whole corneas and large bioartificial tissue. This would enable long-term storage of the tissues and could make them more readily available when and where needed for clinical use and research.

Early tests at the UMKC Vision Research Center detected no statistical difference in the number and quality of the cells that determine cornea health and function when comparing corneas cryopreserved using the new technology with fresh cornea tissue. This level of efficiency in preserving corneal tissue has not been achieved before with traditional corneal cryopreservation techniques.

If further tests prove to be equally effective, the goal is to introduce the new cryopreservation products for clinical use in patients following completion of the new grant and regulatory steps of product development.

Childhood Dream of Medicine Inspired by Family and the Farm

While Marlena Long grew up caring for livestock, her lifelong plan has been curing patients

Marlena Long ’25
Hometown: Paris, Missouri
High School: Paris High School
Degree program: Six-year B.A./M.D.

“My grandfather died when I was 7 years old. We would travel to the cancer center in Columbia, Missouri, and I would sit with my grandpa while he received chemotherapy treatments,” Long says. “I noticed how the doctors and nurses made my grandpa feel better, and I knew that I wanted to do that someday. Ever since then, I have dreamed of being a doctor.”

Long shadowed with a cardiologist while she was in high school. Just as the medical professionals who treated her grandfather influenced her, this experience further confirmed her interest in becoming a doctor.

“I have learned so much about myself in just the first month at UMKC. Now I know I have a very bright future in front of me if I continue to work hard.” Marlena Long

Long completed her associate’s degree at Moberly Area Community College before coming to UMKC. She says the classroom experience gave her an idea of what to expect, but getting acclimated to college life has been different.

“The courses have been intense,” Long says. “I have been able to learn so much in my short time here due to my professors working so hard to make sure I understand what I need to for my future. But there are advantages, too. Not taking the MCAT decreased the time I need to receive my degree, and I’m able to start clinic work my first year.”

Marlena Long with friend

While Long is taking her studies seriously, she is also making the time to make connections.

“I didn’t know my roommate before school started, but we are close friends now. All my friends have different backgrounds, but I’m the only farm kid,” says Long, who grew up raising pigs and cattle on her family farm through 4-H and the National FFA Organization. “They are really curious about it. I’m planning a trip home with them this winter so that they can see the piglets that I’ll be showing next summer.”

While Long grew up exposed to the practice of animal medicine, she was never interested in being a veterinarian.

“The biggest advantage is understanding the circle of life.”

“That seems like my parents’ life,” she says. “My mother works at BASF (a company that develops chemical products for agriculture with a focus on sustainability). She told me she may be able to help me get a job in that business. But I want to be a doctor.”

Marlena Long in conversation at American Royal

Regardless of her career choice, Long does value her experience growing up on a farm.

“There’s so much responsibility. When it’s snowing outside on Christmas morning, you still have to go outside and heat up the water for the animals to drink,” she says. “But the biggest advantage is understanding the circle of life. I’ve seen animals be born, do all the things they are supposed to do and then pass away. I learned that so early.”

Long showed her pigs at the American Royal this fall. She’s confident and comfortable moving through the rows and pens of the livestock. While she is very independent, she still visits home a lot and has one foot firmly on her home turf.

“I’m going to be a doctor, but I don’t think I’ll ever stop showing pigs.” Long smiles and nods slowly. “I mean, my kids will show pigs.”

Marlena Long at American Royal

UMKC School of Medicine Featured in U.S. News and World Report

What to know about baccalaureate-M.D. programs

Baccalaureate-M.D. programs range in length from six to nine years, according to U.S. News and World Report. For example, the University of Missouri-Kansas City has a year-round curriculum that allows students to complete their undergraduate and medical degree in six years. Yahoo Finance also published the story.

Celebrating Faculty for Excellence in Teaching and Research

UMKC Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer and UMKC Chancellor Mauli Agrawal led the celebration.

“Our faculty work day in and day out creating a culture of care for our students, teaching and guiding them toward academic excellence,” Bichelmeyer said. “At the same time, faculty are publishing breakthrough research and award-winning creative works, and striving to achieve promotion and tenure. Most importantly, faculty challenge our students every day to maximize their full potential and reach their goals. UMKC faculty are a key reason why UMKC is the university it is today.”

Among the evening’s honorees:

Curators’ and Governor’s Awards

New Curators’ Distinguished Professors in 2019

A curators’ distinguished professorship is the highest and most prestigious academic rank awarded by the Board of Curators of the University of Missouri.

  • Virginia Blanton, College of Arts and Sciences, Curators’ Distinguished Professor of English Language and Literature
  • Kun Cheng, School of Pharmacy, Curators’ Distinguished Professor of Pharmacy
  • Jane Greer, College of Arts and Sciences, Curators’ Distinguished Professor of English Language and Literature
  • Jeffery Hornsby, Henry W. Bloch School of Management, Curators’ Distinguished Professor of Global Entrepreneurship
  • Joe Parisi, Conservatory, Curators’ Distinguished Professor of Conducting/Music Education
New Curators’ Distinguished Professors Emeriti in 2019

A curators’ distinguished professorship is the highest and most prestigious academic rank awarded by the Board of Curators of the University of Missouri.

  • Joan FitzPatrick Dean, College of Arts and Sciences, Curators’ Distinguished Teaching Professor of English Emerita
  • Dennis Merrill, College of Arts and Sciences, Curators’ Distinguished Teaching Professor of History Emeritus
  • Wai-Yim Ching, College of Arts and Sciences, Curators’ Distinguished Professor of Physics Emeritus
  • Max J. Skidmore, College of Arts and Sciences, Curators’ Distinguished Professor of Political Science Emeritus
  • Felicia H. Londre, Conservatory, Curators’ Distinguished Professor of Theatre Emerita
  • Jerry R. Dias, School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, Curators’ Distinguished Professor of Chemistry Emeritus
Governor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching

The Governor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching is presented to an outstanding faculty member from each participating higher education institution in the state based on evidence of effective teaching, effective advising, a commitment to high standards of excellence and success in nurturing student achievement.

  • Kym Bennett, College of Arts and Sciences, associate professor, psychology

faculty hugging

Service and Engagement Awards

Chancellor’s Award for Career Contributions to the University

One of the highest honors for a UMKC empoloyee (faculty or staff) who has made significant contributions to higher education at UMKC over the course of his or her career and has significantly enhanced the mission of the university.

  • Max Skidmore, College of Arts and Sciences, professor, political science
Chancellor’s Award for Embracing Diversity

This award recognizes and celebrates UMKC faculty, staff and registered student organizations that embrace diversity by celebrating diversity in all aspects of university life, creating inclusive environments, culturally competent citizens and globally-oriented curricula and programs.

  • Sandy Rodriguez, University Libraries, assistant dean of special collections and archives
  • Omiunota Ukpokodu, School of Education, professor, teacher education and curriculum studies
Chancellor’s Award for Community Engagement

This award recognizes and celebrates faculty, staff, units and campus organizations that have made engagement with the community a central aspect of their approach to student learning and scholarship.

  • Department of History, College of Arts and Sciences

two faculty holding medals they received at the event

UM System Awards

Presidential Engagement Fellows

Named by the UM System president, the fellows are tasked with fulfilling the university’s land-grant mission by sharing research discoveries with Missouri citizens in every county. They were selected for their excellent teaching, breakthrough research and creative achievements.

  • Jannette Berkley-Patton, School of Medicine, professor, biomedical and health informatics
  • Barbara Pahud, School of Medicine, assistant professor, pediatric medicine
  • Gerald Wyckoff, School of Pharmacy, professor, pharmacology and pharmaceutical sciences

Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer shaking hands with Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas

Teaching Awards

Chancellor’s Early Career Award for Excellence in Teaching

This award recognizes and celebrates UMKC assistant professors who have achieved excellence in teaching early in their professional careers.

  • Rebecca Best, College of Arts and Sciences, assistant professor, political science
Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching

The university’s highest honor for excellence in teaching recognizes and celebrates UMKC faculty who are consistently superior teachers at the graduate, undergraduate or professional level over an extended period of time.

  • Michael Wei, School of Education, associate professor, teacher education and curriculum studies
Provost’s Award for Excellence in Teaching

This award recognizes and celebrates teaching excellence among UMKC clinical and teaching faculty

  • James Benevides, School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, teaching professor in cell biology and biophysics
Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Graduate Mentoring

This award recognizes UMKC graduate faculty advisors with a long-established career at the university who have made significant contributions to higher education through exceptional mentoring.

  • Loyce Caruthers, School of Education, professor, educational leadership, policy and foundations
Elmore F. Pierson Good Teaching Awards

Awarded annually to outstanding teachers in the Henry W. Bloch School of Management, and the Schools of Dentistry, Law and Medicine.

  • Roozmehr Safi, Henry W. Bloch School of Management, assistant professor, management
  • Michaelle Tobin, School of Law, associate clinical professor
  • Amgad Gerges Masoud, School of Medicine, associate professor, internal medicine
  • Tanya Villalpando Mitchell, School of Dentistry, professor, dental hygiene
Award for Excellence in Mentoring Undergraduate Researchers, Scholars and Artists
  • Fenpeng Sun, College of Arts and Sciences, assistant professor, earth and environmental sciences

faculty mingling before the event

Research and Creativity Awards

N.T. Veatch Award for Distinguished Research and Creative Activity

Recognizes distinguished research and other scholarly or creative activity accomplished by UMKC faculty.

  • Kun Cheng, School of Pharmacy, Curators’ Distinguished Professor, pharmacology and pharmaceutical sciences
Trustees’ Faculty Fellows Award

Trustees are recognizing the very best faculty who distinguished themselves through scholarship and creativity.

  • Jeffrey Price, School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, professor, biology and biophysics
Trustees’ Faculty Scholar Award

Recognizes faculty members who show exceptional promise for outstanding future research and/or creative accomplishments.

  • Benjamin Woodson, College of Arts and Sciences, associate professor, political science

faculty hugging at event

Promotion and Tenure

  • Eduardo Abreu, School of Nursing and Health Studies, tenure with promotion to associate professor
  • Carolyn Barber, School of Education, promotion to professor
  • Jannette Berkley-Patton, School of Medicine, promotion to professor
  • An-Lin Cheng, School of Medicine, promotion to professor
  • Masud Chowdhury, School of Computing and Engineering, promotion to professor
  • Reza Derakhshani, School of Computing and Engineering, promotion to professor
  • Travis Fields, School of Computing and Engineering, tenure with promotion to associate professor
  • Scott Fullwiler, College of Arts and Sciences, tenure with promotion to associate professor
  • Orisa Igwe, School of Pharmacy, promotion to professor
  • Jeff Johnson, Henry W. Bloch School of Management, tenure with promotion to associate professor
  • John Kevern, School of Computing and Engineering, promotion to professor
  • Sungyop Kim, College of Arts and Sciences, promotion to professor
  • JeJung Lee, College of Arts and Sciences, promotion to professor
  • Debra Leiter, College of Arts and Sciences, tenure with promotion to associate professor
  • Zhu Li, School of Computing and Engineering, tenure
  • Jennifer Owens, College of Arts and Sciences, tenure with promotion to associate professor
  • Tammie Schaefer, Henry W. Bloch School of Management, tenure with promotion to associate professor
  • Zach Shemon, Conservatory, tenure with promotion to associate professor
  • Hye Young Shin, College of Arts and Sciences, tenure with promotion to associate professor
  • Michelle Smirnova, College of Arts and Sciences, tenure with promotion to associate professor
  • Kim Smolderen, School of Medicine, tenure with promotion to associate professor
  • Massimiliano Vitiello, College of Arts and Sciences, promotion to professor
  • Ben Woodson, College of Arts and Sciences, tenure with promotion to associate professor
Promotion, Non-Tenure Track
  • John Ball, School of Dentistry, promotion to clinical professor
  • Kylie Barnes, School of Pharmacy, promotion to clinical associate professor
  • James Benevides, School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, promotion to teaching professor
  • Scott Curtis, UMKC Libraries, promotion to librarian IV
  • Kenneth Frick, School of Dentistry, promotion to clinical professor
  • Monica Gaddis, School of Medicine, promotion to associate teaching professor
  • Melanie Guthrie, School of Medicine, promotion to associate teaching professor
  • Tamas Kapros, School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, promotion to teaching professor
  • Floyd Likins, School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, promotion to assistant teaching professor
  • Angellar Manguvo, School of Medicine, promotion to associate teaching professor
  • Steven Melling, College of Arts and Sciences, promotion to associate teaching professor
  • Dhananjay Pal, School of Pharmacy, promotion to research professor
  • Natalia Rivera, Conservatory, promotion to associate teaching professor
  • Amanda Stahnke, School of Pharmacy, promotion to clinical associate professor
  • Yesim Tunkuc, School of Dentistry, promotion to clinical professor
  • Henrietta Rix Wood, Honors College, promotion to teaching professor

photo of faculty leaving the event with the Changing the World Starts Here mission statement poster in the background