Honors Students Earn Accolades at Great Plains Honors Council Conference

For Honors Program student Noah Fansler, the highlight of the Great Plains Honors Council Conference in March was not winning the Humanities poster competition or helping UMKC bring home the trivia contest trophy.

“The highlight was hearing how interested people were in my research,” said Noah, whose presentation addressed a famous artwork at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. “I presented on Friday, and on Saturday, I had several people tell me that my research was thought provoking. Creating a project that encouraged discussion was so rewarding because it made my research feel meaningful.”

Noah was one of eight UMKC Honors students and two advisors who traveled 1,000 miles in three days to attend the conference at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas. More than 300 students from four states participated in the annual event, which featured poster and oral presentations on topics from diverse disciplines.

Honors Program student Jessica Kim won first place in the STEM poster competition for her research on a dynamic circadian complex.

“I was able to present my research in front of new faces and reaffirmed it is relevant and important. Furthermore, I loved seeing Wichita Falls and eating at Braum’s for the first time!” Jess said.

Noah and Jess helped UMKC win two of the six poster awards of the conference; each student also received $100 as a prize.

The other UMKC participants were Symone Franks, Chinecherem Ihenacho, Ebele Mgbemena, Diana Perez, Theo Raitzer, and Elliott Smith. Margo Gamache, Honors Program Director of Student Services, and Dr. Henrietta Rix Wood, Honors Program Teaching Professor, organized and chaperoned the trip funded by the Honors Program.

Elliott shared his research on the history and current impact of KCUR, the Kansas City public radio station based at UMKC. “My favorite part of the GPHC was interacting with students from other colleges and universities. Learning about the work they do in their communities and seeing how involved they were was very inspiring. We were even able to team up with some students from Texas and win the conference’s trivia challenge!” he said.

The conference was the first time these Honors students had presented their scholarship to a university audience.

“The Great Plains Honors Conference introduced me to what an academic career in my field looks like,” said Ebele, who talked about how three UMKC conservatory professors and composers think of their work. “I enjoyed preparing for the presentation, sharing my research, and discussing the material with my fellow presenters. It was such a positive learning experience, and I look forward to participating in more academic conferences in the future.”

Four Honors Program Students Earn UMKC Award

Four Honors Program seniors have been named UMKC Dean of Students Honor Recipients for Fall 2022. The award commends exceptional graduating students who have made significant contributions in leadership and service to the university and to the community while maintaining high academic standards. 

Dr. Michele D. Smith, Vice Provost for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, congratulated recipients at a ceremony on December 16. 

Students are nominated by faculty members, and competition is rigorous.

“I was happy that Christian Dang was recognized for his remarkable service to the university as well as the Honors Program,” said Dr. Henrietta Rix Wood, a Teaching Professor in the Honors Program who co-nominated Christian with Dr. Tara Allen of the School of Science and Engineering. “And I am impressed that four of the seven recipients were Honors students, who are among the most engaged and committed students on campus.”

The Honors Program students who won the award are pictured with Dr. Smith (far right) from left to right:

Christian Dang, School of Science and Engineering, nominated by Henrietta Rix Wood and Tara Allen; Hailey Armbruster, School of Science and Engineering, nominated by Kathleen Kilway; Carlyn Euritt, School of Science and Engineering, nominated by Peter Koulen; and Nathan Meshau, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, nominated by Rebecca Best.

Jetzel Chavira Focuses on Photography at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Honors Program student Jetzel Chavira stands in front of Manuel Álvarez Bravo’s photograph in the “Highlights from the Collection” photography exhibition she helped curate at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The exhibition features 85 photos related to transportation and is a small sample of the museum’s vast holding of photos dating from the advent of photography in 1839.

“Álvarez Bravo was a Mexican photographer, and I wanted to include him because there’s not a lot of diversity in the photography collection. My parents are from Mexico, and they could relate to this picture,” Jetzel said, studying the 94-year-old photographer’s self-portrait. Álvarez Bravo created the image by snapping his reflection in the side mirror of a truck in 1996 in Oaxaca, Mexico.

To the right of Álvarez Bravo’s photograph is the explanatory plaque Jetzel wrote: “Though Álvarez Bravo rarely took self-portraits as a young man, he made this image just a few years before he passed away, a literal and metaphoric self-reflection at the end of his life.”

During a recent tour of the photography show, Jetzel reflected on her role in the exhibition, her studies as a junior majoring in art history with a minor in Latinx studies who plans to pursue a doctorate degree in art history, and her interest in photography and the work of Mexican and Latinx photographers.

The Álvarez Bravo photograph is one of the ten images that Jetzel researched and wrote about as an Andrew W. Mellon Undergraduate Curatorial fellow at the Nelson-Atkins. She won the prestigious year-long fellowship, which is part of a national program seeking to create diverse curatorial cohorts in U.S. art museums, in the summer of 2021.

As a Mellon fellow, Jetzel worked with April M. Watson, the curator of photography at the Nelson-Atkins. “I never knew how much curators do,” Jetzel said. “I had hands-on experience.” 

For the exhibition, Jetzel spent many hours selecting ten images to interpret and compiling information about images by photographers such as Henri Cartier Bresson, the famous early twentieth-century French photographer known for capturing on film the “decisive moment.” One of her favorites is Carpoolers, a striking series of images of Mexican workers riding in the backs of pickup trucks from their homes to jobs in 2011-2012. Mexican photographer Alejandro Cartegna took the photos from a highway overpass that afforded a bird’s eye view of the trucks and workers and makes both artistic as well as social statements. Jetzel also conducted an interview with Cartegna interview that is on the Nelson-Atkins website at https://nelson-atkins.org/exhibitions/highlights-photography-collection-fulgal-2/

“Jetzel came into the fellowship with a passion for photography and a love for our collection. While still in high school, she was selected to participate in the selective Photography Scholars Program, a partnership between the Nelson-Atkins and schools in the Kansas City area that introduces teens to the collection and professional practice,” Dr. Watson noted.

Praising Jetzel, Dr. Watson said she “has a natural curiosity, is always eager to learn more, and brought insight to the interpretation of works in our collection. Embracing the museum’s goal to be more diverse and inclusive, she foregrounded the contributions of women and photographers of color in her research. Jetzel was up for any challenge and was an absolute joy to have as part of our curatorial team.”

Jetzel’s fellowship provided other important opportunities, such as attending two national conferences. She encountered Mellon fellows from across the country at a recent meeting in Philadelphia. At the Midwest Art History Conference in Houston, Jetzel became acquainted with a curator from the Chicago Art Institute who gave her a private tour of the renowned museum when Jetzel later visited Chicago.

The Mellon Fellowship also provides funding for fellows as they explore graduate programs. To date, Jetzel has visited Denver University and plans to investigate programs at the University of Arizona and the University of New Mexico. 

Looking back, Jetzel said the highlight of the year “was building connections with people in museums and having the opportunity to do research on a variety of different artists.”

The “Highlights from the Collection” at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is free and can be viewed through April 2023; for more information, go to https://nelson-atkins.org/exhibitions/highlights-photography-collection-fulgal-2/

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.

Lucerna 2022 available online

The latest volume of Lucerna, the UMKC undergraduate research journal published annually by the Honors Program, is available online now.

Lucerna 2022 features the scholarship of twelve UMKC students: Karah Chappel, “Exploration of the Referral Process of Social Work Within a Policing Structure”; Lauren Cooper and Brooke Friday, “The Neuropathological Analysis of Sport and Blast TBIs”; Robin Conrad, “The Many Names of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: How They Have Improved and How They Can Continue to Improve”; Anuhya Dayal, “From MMR to COVID-19: A Study of Vaccination Perception Over Time and the Modern Effects of Social Media”; Denise Dean, “Associations of Environmental Factors and Physical Activity Behaviors: A Photo Analysis”; Dominic Guillen, “A Simpler Annuity”; Ellie Jackson, “Iran: Analyzing the Dominant Coalition of an Authoritarian Regime”; Niki Joshi, “Reconciling Two Identities: The Letters of Anandibai Joshi”; Kai Milanovich, “Performing Escape: Imagining Future with Plato’s Symposium”; Carson Rau, “Spatial and Social Organization in Restaurants: The Dynamics of Cooperation and Contention”; and Lauren Textor, “The Necessity of Art Programming in Restructuring the Prison System.”

Lucerna accepts submissions from UMKC undergraduates in all programs. For more information and guidelines, go to https://honors.umkc.edu/get-involved/lucerna/

Honors senior Sean Purdue steers Concrete Canoe team to regional win

For the first time in more than a decade, UMKC engineering students designed and constructed a unique water vessel for the annual Concrete Canoe Competition sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Led by Honors senior Sean Purdue, a civil engineering major, the UMKC team won its regional competition, hosted by Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, in April.

“The idea of making a canoe out of concrete is absurd, but that absurdity is what makes it so fun. You have to put your head together with your team and make a boat out of a really unsuitable material, so you’re forced to think outside of the box,” Sean said.

Sean is president of the UMKC student chapter of ASCE and was captain and project manager of the UMKC canoe team of fifteen students. He says the team tried to compensate for its lack of recent experience in the competition by keeping things simple and communicating effectively.

Of course, it is not simple to make and race a concrete canoe, but enabling students to test their skills in concrete mix designs and project management is the goal of the competition that began in 1988 and is known as the “America’s Cup of Civil Engineering.”

Sean said there were plenty of challenges. “Lack of experience made duration and cost estimating nearly impossible. I frequently underestimated how long construction tasks would take, which meant a lot of last-minute scrambling to finish things. Unifying the writing of the technical report was also a challenge, since multiple people contributed to it. We also did not do a good job with quality control (ensuring that construction matches design). Managing members who are busy with school, work, and other extracurriculars was challenging as well.”

Bad weather prevented the UMKC team from racing its canoe at the regional competition, where it took first place for the “Blue Phoenix,” which is 238 inches long, 26 inches wide, 15 inches deep, and weighed 395 pounds. Despite the win, the UMKC team did not participate in the national Concrete Canoe competition because it did not meet other ASCE requirements unrelated to the canoe project.

Sean aims to help the UMKC team repeat its regional win and qualify for the national competition next year.

Dr. John T. Kevern, chairperson of the UMKC Department of Civil & Mechanical Engineering and faculty advisor to the Concrete Canoe team, praised Sean’s leadership on the project.

“UMKC hasn’t had a concrete canoe since the mid-2000’s and as such, had no institutional knowledge for the Blue Phoenix. Sean successfully organized all aspects of the team from scratch—canoe design, mold construction, concrete design, paddling, report writing, presentations, and especially fund raising. Under normal circumstances this is a significant bit of extra work, but to do it without anyone to ask, ‘What did you do last time?’ is huge, plus they won the regional competition. It’s safe to say that without Sean’s leadership it would have been a different outcome,” Dr. Kevern said.

Honors students restore Student Union Garden

The garden on the rooftop terrace of the UMKC Student Union looked more like a desert than an oasis for years.

Today, the garden blooms again, thanks to a campaign led by eight Honors students in Spring 2022. The students formed a new organization, the UMKC Gardening Club, as part of their project for an Honors class, Civic and Urban Engagement H202: Social Action. This class asks students to identify a social problem and take action to solve that problem in one semester.

For their social action campaign, Sonya Ahmad, Ashley Appleberry, Amelia Beharry, Jay Cravens, Sudhiksha Kumar, Hannah Leyva, Cassandra Ludwig, and Madi Sweeney focused on a campus garden that was abandoned during the COVID-19 pandemic. They collaborated to get permission and supplies to revitalize the space and organized a planting party on April 29.

For more information about the UMKC Gardening Club, go to Instagram @umkcgardeningclub


Honors students earn recognition at Undergraduate Research Symposium

Honors Program students won two of the six “Presentations of Distinction” awards at the 22nd Annual Symposium of Undergraduate Research and Creative Scholarship at UMKC on April 21, 2022.

Senior Karah Chappel (left in photo above), a music therapy major, won the category of Behavioral and Social Sciences for her study, “Exploration of the Education and Experiences of Music Therapists in Trauma Care.”

“Receiving recognition that my work not only holds up but stands out against my peers is amazing,” Karah said. “It felt great to know that my research is accessible to those outside my field. Receiving the ‘Presentation of Distinction’ was really a crowning accomplishment for my time as an undergraduate researcher.”

Karah’s article, “Exploration of the Referral Process of Social Work Within a Policing Structure,” is published in the latest volume of Lucerna, the undergraduate research journal produced annually by the Honors Program, available here.

Senior Emma Leonard (right in photo above), a history major, won the Arts and Humanities category for her study, “Sports and Gender: A Comparative Historical Analysis of Men’s and Women’s Sports in the United States.”

“Winning the ‘Presentation of Distinction’ award was very exciting and unexpected for me,” Emma said. “After spending so much time on my research project and completing my Senior Honors Thesis, it felt fantastic to be recognized at the Symposium.”

Honors students accounted for 23 of the 86 students who participated in the poster presentation at the Symposium, which was organized by the UMKC Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Scholarship.

Karah and Honors students Niki Joshi and Kyle Broley earned the designation of Undergraduate Research Fellows in 2022. Niki’s study, “Reconciling Two Identities: The Letters of Anandibai Joshi,” appears in Lucerna 2022 and can be read here.

The Honors Program supports undergraduate research by helping students develop research, critical thinking, and communication skills through inquiry-based general education courses, the Senior Honor Thesis option, and the annual publication of Lucerna. For more information about these opportunities, contact Margo Gamache, Honors Program Student Services Director at gamachem@umkc.edu