Local Mayors Meet Honors Program Students in New Leadership Class

Honors students asked hard questions and got honest answers about the challenges of leadership when they met with three Kansas City-area mayors on September 28 in Honors 360C, a new class about leadership and ethics.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, Mission Mayor Sollie Flora, and Prairie Village Mayor Eric Mikkelson talked about responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, dealing with critical and polarized constituents, and efforts to provide affordable housing. Mayor Flora, one of the few women mayors in the area, addressed assumptions about gender and leadership.

“We were impressed that three local leaders took the time to meet with our students and share their experiences and insights,” said Dr. Henrietta Rix Wood, a Teaching Professor in the Honors Program who is co-teaching Honors 360C with Margo Gamache, the Honors Program Student Services Director.

A funny thing happened to Mayor Lucas on the way to the meeting: he had trouble finding the classroom, so he used his Twitter account to ask for help and later posted a picture of the class.

Tweet from Mayor Quentin Lucas that says "I found my UMKC classroom and enjoyed visiting with students today on policy, communications, and what makes us unique - quite a question." Attached is an image of Mayor Lucas sitting in a classroom with students.

Honors 360C is the first class in the Honors Leader Program, which helps students develop the skills they need to solve social problems and address important issues. The program is a series of four one-credit courses focusing on the four Honors pillars: environmental sustainability, social justice and cultural awareness, leadership and ethics, and Kansas City history and urban engagement.

Gamache proposed the Honors Leader Program because students told her they wanted more opportunities to make a difference in Kansas City.

“Many Honors students already volunteer for campus and community organizations,” Gamache said. “The Honors Leader Program will allow them to connect with local leaders, learning from and with them about the needs of the Kansas City area.”

Honors faculty and staff will teach the Honors Leader courses, which will include discussion groups, guest speakers, and community service. One course will be offered each semester during a two-year period with the program repeating every two years.

“For more than forty years, the UMKC Honors Program has encouraged students to develop leadership skills through classes, student-led groups, and study abroad,” said Dr. Gayle Levy, Director of the Honors Program. “The Honors Leader Program extends our efforts to help our students, our university, and Kansas City. Many of our alumni are leaders, and we plan to call upon them to participate in the program.”

For more information about the Honors Leader Program, please contact Margo Gamache at gamachem@umkc.edu.

Christian Dang Wins Prestigious Fellowship

Honors Program student Christian Dang has won a prestigious fellowship at the National Institute of Health (NIH) and will spend the year following his graduation in December 2022 conducting biomedical research at the main campus in Bethesda, Maryland.

Competition for the fellowship, the Postbaccalaureate Intramural Research Training Award, is intense and only 24 percent of applicants were selected over the past year, according to the NIH.

Christian will work in the Muscle Energetics Laboratory led by Dr. Brian Glancy within the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. This lab studies the function and development of mitochondrial networks within skeletal and cardiac muscle and how energy distribution is mediated during contraction.

“I think this fellowship will be a great opportunity to gain experience in basic and/or translational research in medicine,” Christian said. “The NIH is the hallmark of bench-to-bedside research, and the experiences I will gain from the fellowship will better prepare me for a potential career as a physician-scientist. I envision that I would be able to run my own lab in addition to seeing patients related to my research. Learning to conduct independent hypothesis-driven research is a key skill for this type of career.”

Christian has been part of the Honors Program for four years as he pursued a Biology B.S. and minors in Chemistry and Sociology. He credits Biology H206: Genetics, taught by Dr. Saul Honigberg and Dr. Scott Hawley, as key to his studies.

“I would say taking honors genetics is an extremely useful class for someone aspiring to a career in biomedical research. This class solidified my interest in wanting to understand the mechanisms of diseases and why incorporating genetics is such a useful starting point to expand our knowledge of diseases in the hopes of developing new therapeutics,” he said.

Christian recently participated in the Summer Undergraduate Research Opportunities (SUROP) Poster Symposium, where he presented his project, “A Self-Directed Mutagenesis Approach for Examining the Drosophila Tribbles Recognition Degron in the C/EBP Transcription Factor Slbo.” His research was supported by a SUROP grant provided by the UMKC Office of Undergraduate Research & Creative Scholarship. Dr. Leonard Dobens of Biological Sciences in the School of Science and Engineering was the faculty mentor for Christian’s project.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to work in Dr. Dobens’ laboratory throughout my time as an undergrad,” Christian said. “I learned new techniques in genetics/developmental biology and experienced firsthand the process of conducting hypothesis-driven research.”

Dr. Dobens said Christian was an important part of his lab. “It has been a pleasure to have Christian in the lab during his undergraduate studies and both his preparation in the Honors Program and financial support from funding mechanisms like SUROP has assisted his contributions to our ongoing project to understand how protein turnover contributes to cell function. “

What advice does Christian have for Honors students who want to get a NIH fellowship?

“I would recommend applying as far as six months in advance of your proposed start date to increase your chances of landing a position. Many of these labs are looking for applicants with experience in research, whether it’s benchwork or clinical,” Christian said. “If this fellowship is something you are interested in after graduating, I would recommend getting involved in research as soon as you can. Consider reaching out to a research mentor to apply for a SEARCH/SUROP grant, which are a great source to fund your proposed projects and help you gain experience in drafting a research proposal.”

During his years in the Honors Program, Christian volunteered as a peer mentor. He also is a student reviewer and the marketing and design coordinator for Lucerna, the UMKC undergraduate research journal produced annually by the Honors Program.

After he completes his fellowship, Christian plans to apply to medical school, and he hopes to return to the Midwest.