New UMKC Honors College to Showcase Student Successes

KANSAS CITY, MO – The Honors College at the University of Missouri-Kansas City will celebrate a year of student accomplishments at a banquet at 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 13 in Pierson Auditorium in the Atterbury Student Success Center.

The university created the Honors College last July, and 29 seniors graduate with University Honors in May. Their families, professors and friends will congratulate them at the banquet. All students will be recognized for their achievements. “The students challenged themselves with additional research projects, papers and learning experiences,” said Jim McKusick, Ph.D., dean of the Honors College. “Our graduating seniors are prepared to lead in a variety of fields, from marketing to medical research.”

The Honors College grew out of the Honors Program, which offered highly motivated students classes tailored to their needs. Many Honors College students live together in a residence hall, supporting one another in their advanced studies. The students also build bonds through social activities and community service. Many take part in study abroad experiences led by Honors College faculty. “The UMKC Honors College gives our highly motivated and talented students an opportunity to deeply immerse themselves in all that our public research university has to provide,” said Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer. “This first graduating class certainly demonstrated the power of honors education.”

The banquet follows a winning weekend for UMKC at the Great Plains Honors Council Conference at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Ark. Honors student Elizabeth Porto won the prize for best poster in STEM research for student presenters with more than 60 credits completed.  “This is truly an impressive accomplishment, since hers was judged the best STEM poster, and one of just eight total poster awards, out of 52 college and university honors programs represented at the conference,” McKusick said.

Other student presenters at the conference to be recognized at the banquet include LeAnna Cates, Maria Gentry, Eliana Hudson and Zak Roberts. Cates and Gentry presented scientific research in the poster contest. Hudson and Roberts made oral presentations about Kansas City history. Hudson’s was entitled “A Legacy Lives on in Kansas City’s 18th and Vine Jazz District.” Roberts presented research titled “Cookingham Cleans Up Kansas City: 1939-1940.”

Honors Program alumnus Justin Smith, a Kansas City attorney, will deliver the keynote address at the banquet. Smith, who earned his bachelor’s degree in 2007, was recognized as one of Ingram’s “20 in Their Twenties.” Several graduating seniors plan to follow in Smith’s footsteps by attending law school. Others will continue their education working toward master’s and doctoral degrees. One will intern in PriceWaterhouseCoopers New York City office this fall.

Derick Letman, who enrolled at UMKC at age 47, will attend graduate school working toward a master’s in social work. Letman is the father of four children. One just graduated as a nurse and two are in college. When his youngest child left home, he decided it was time to go back to college. His enrollment in the Honors College happened serendipitously. Letman was working as an office assistant for Gayle Levy, Ph.D., director of the Honors College. Levy recruited Letman for the challenging course of study. “I did it and I’m really glad,” Letman said. “I had a lot of support while I was going through it. The students were very supportive. So were the faculty and staff.”

Letman’s memorable experiences in the Honors College include serving as a student faculty member for 18 months and being the editor of the honors newsletter. He also was a staff member of the Honors College journal, Lucerna. After receiving his master’s degree, Letman plans to attend law school. He wants to practice family and healthcare law. His ultimate goal is to build a long-term addiction treatment center in Kansas City.

Kansas City benefited from the community service component of the Honors College experience. Students volunteered at the Ewing Kauffman School, Kansas City Hospice, the HALO Learning Center and other nonprofit organizations.

Written by Beth Hammock, UMKC Honors College Outreach Consultant