Scholar Alumnus Feature
Brandon Scott Russell
By: Jaeden Johnson, Second-Year Scholar
Sponsor: Copaken Family
Brandon Scott Russell is a 2013 UMKC Trustees’ Scholar alumnus who is a professional opera singer and teacher. Russell received two undergraduate degrees from UMKC — Vocal Performance and Music Education. He obtained his Master’s degree from the University of Cincinnati-College Conservatory of Music, where he studied under the direction of William McGraw. He performed all around the U.S. singing with prestigious young artist programs, achieved numerous accomplishments, and had plenty of experiences to include on his resume.
Some highlights of Russell’s career include when he was a National Semi-Finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 2018. He also participated in the 2019 Merola Opera, where he created the role of David in Jake Heggie’s debut Premiere Opera If I Were You.
COVID-19 affected performances and opportunities for artists in the opera field, so Russell began teaching. He is currently working as the Artist-in-Residence at Missouri State University, and he continues to audition for new projects now that the realm for artists is starting to open up again.
Do not be afraid to ask for mentorship and help, because a lot of people are willing and wanting to help.
l was fortunate | received my music education major to teach, because the skills | learned from UMKC helped me post-COVID with the lack of opportunities and performances,
Brandon Scott Russell
Russell expressed his gratitude for the Trustees’ Scholars program. He is thankful for everything it had done to create great connections in his areas of study. When asked what he would say to current scholars, Russell said, “Make sure to soak up all the connections you can. Do not be afraid to ask for mentorship and help, because a lot of people are willing and wanting to help. Do not be afraid to advocate and put your name out there. Be your biggest cheerleader, and do not wait for opportunities to come to you because the next four years will go by so fast.”
Production of Idomeneo – Univ. of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music
Awards & Accolades
By: Mauricio Bernal, First-Year Scholar
Sponsor: UMKC Alumni Association
Taylor Trudell is pictured below with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden and U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona. The pair made the trip to Knob Noster to interview Taylor about her art and the importance of art in education. Taylor’s piece is currently on display in Cannon Hall in the Capitol Building, Washington DC. Taylor won the Congressional Art Competition, and her art will hang in the Capitol until June.
Elliott Smith is a recipient of the Park Hill South Citizenship Award. Elliott’s graduating class voted to recognize him as “the senior that best exhibits the qualities of exemplary citizenship to the school and community at large.” Elliott reflects and says, “It was a big honor to receive this and be recognized for my hard work over the past four years.” Another award Elliot received was the Park Hill South Symphonic Orchestra GOAT Award. Elliott described the accomplishment as “a fun award presented at our orchestral banquet.” Elliot said, “My ensemble voted to give me the GOAT (greatest of all time) distinction. | loved my orchestra program, and this was a perfect way to sum up the good times my friends and I had.”
Mauricio Bernal graduated in 2022 with both his high school diploma and his Associate degree from Kansas City, Kansas Community College. In addition, he petitioned for federal grant dollars to help his community. During the peak of the pandemic, he and fellow leaders in the K-12 Saturday Academy Initiative petitioned for a $9,000 federal grant for three projects to serve his Wyandotte County community. The first was for $3,000 towards PPE baskets with masks, hand sanitizers, disinfecting wipes, etc. The second was $3,000 for asynchronous learning supplies for middle/high school students, such as webcams, microphones, backdrops, earphones, etc. The third included $3,000 worth of gift cards to local grocery stores for families to combat food insecurity during the pandemic. Mauricio also started an internship with the K-12 Saturday Academy Initiative program where he serves as an instructor to middle and high school students, teaching them to make virtual apps from scratch, create virtual reality presentations, and the basics of how to code.
Incoming Freshmen Spotlight
By: Mauricio Bernal, First-Year Scholar
Sponsor: UMKC Alumni Association
Judy Batts is from Raytown, Missouri, and she graduated from Raytown High School. Judy is currently double majoring in Biology and Spanish. After graduation, she plans to attend graduate school for Genetic Counseling. One accomplishment Judy is proud of is earning three stackable credentials through the Bio-Science Core Il Skills Institute, which enabled her to work in a biological laboratory. Her favorite dining hall food item is chocolate chip cookies, and her favorite place to study is in the Miller Nichols Library on the second floor by the windows. The UMKC event she has enjoyed the most has been the kangaroo petting and photo opportunity event, and her current favorite class is Spanish 315.
Mauricio Bernal is from Kansas City, Kansas. He graduated from Wyandotte High School. Mauricio is majoring in Civil Engineering and pursuing a minor in Business. After graduation, he plans to stay in KC and give back by mentoring students in the area with similar backgrounds as his. An accomplishment Mauricio is proud of is completing his Associate degree before he graduated high school through KCK Community College. Mauricio currently likes studying in the Oak Street Hall honors annex lounge, his favorite dining hall food is chicken breast, and his favorite UMKC event was the pool party to kick off the semester. When asked about his favorite class, Mauricio said, “My favorite class so far has been my AutoCAD and Solid Works Design class. It is super interactive and has truly opened my eyes as to what I want to specialize in w hen it comes to a profession in engineering.”
Chinecherem lhenacho is from Raytown, Missouri and is a graduate of Raytown South High School. She is currently majoring in Nursing. After graduation, she plans to get her nursing license and a doctorate as an addiction psychiatrist. When asked about a recent accomplishment, she said, “I am proud of obtaining a full tuition scholarship and of my CNA certification.” She is currently involved in the African Student Association, Students for Justice, and the Professional Career Escalators.Chinecherem’s favorite dining hall items are carrot cake, the salad bar, chocolate chip cookies, and french fries. Her favorite study spot is in Scofield Hall, and her favorite UMKC events have been the block party and the showings of Black Panther and Twelfth Night at the Conservatory. Her favorite class is Kansas City as Text because she is learning about UMKC and Kansas City. “Going to UMKC has made me feel more connected to the city and also to the country. I feel as if I truly belong,” Chinecherem said. “I am excited to see what the future holds for me as I have been blessed with immense opportunities and wonderful people.”
Vari Patel is from Blue Springs, Missouri and graduated from Blue Springs South High School. Vari is majoring in Finance and Political Science on a pre-law track. After graduation, she plans to attend law school and become a politician. When asked about an accomplishment she is proud of, Vari said, “I am proud to be a certified attorney and presiding judge of the Eastern Jackson County Youth Court.” Her favorite dining hall food item is pasta, which she “eats pretty much every day.” Vari’’s favorite study spots are in the basement of Oak Street Hall and the Miller Nichols Library. Her favorite UMKC event has been the kangaroo petting, and her favorite class has been economics “because of the super interesting material.”
Elliott Smith is from Kansas City, Missouri, and graduated from Park Hill South High School. Elliot is majoring in Urban Planning and Design and Business Administration. His post-graduation plan is to work for one of the development firms in Kansas City to ensure our community is sustainable, livable, and enjoyable for all. He is currently a part of the Student Government Association’s First Year Council, Enactus, RooNews, Sigma Tau Delta English Honors Society, and the Planning and Design Students Organization. His current favorite dining hall item is the banana bread, which he says “is always amazing.” When asked about a good place to study, Elliott said: “I like working in Bloch Heritage Hall’s restored front lobby.” When asked about his favorite UMKC event, he said: “I loved going to KCRep’s Twelfth Night performance with the Honors Program.” Elliott’s current favorite class has been Kansas City As Text. “It’s great because it allows me to learn more about the university than I ever would have otherwise. It’s really interesting to know about our archives and our rich history as an institution,” Elliott says.
Larry Smith is from St. Louis, Missouri, and graduated from Lindbergh High School. Larry is majoring in Biology on the pre-dental track. After graduation he plans on going to dental school. An accomplishment he is proud of is being a certified dental assistant in the state of Missouri. Larry is a member of the Pre-Dental Society. His favorite dining hall food is & the gyros, his favorite study spot is the Miller Nichols Library, and his favorite UMKC event has been the kangaroo petting. When asked about his favorite class, Larry said, “My favorite class is my chemistry lab because of how hands-on it is.” A fun fact about Larry is that he was born on Halloween!
Taylor Trudell is from Knob Noster, Missouri. Taylor’s major is Environmental Science, and she plans to receive her certification in Geographic Information Systems. Taylor hopes to onboard with the EPA or the US Forest Service in the southwest region as an ecologist or natural resource manager. Taylor is currently a part of the Student Environmental Coalition, the Gardening Club, the Climbing Club, and Women in STEM. When asked what her favorite UMKC event Taylor said, “My favorite UMKC event was definitely Grocery BINGO.” It got heated and was so entertaining to watch everyone race to the table after a bingo.” When asked her favorite place to study, Taylor replied, “My favorite study spot is the Oak Street Hall common room, between the two pillars outside the laundry room. It provides just the right blend of background noise and personal space.” Taylor recently started a part-time job at Three Dog Bakery located in the Plaza, where she bakes and decorates treats for dogs three days a week.
By: Z Kemp, Second-Year Scholar
Sponsor: Don Wagner
Over the summer, I was fortunate to go on two amazing trips. The first one was with my roommate and best friend to the Greek islands of Santorini and Mykonos. We stayed for a total of nine days. While we were there, we explored the amazing food scene, beautiful scenery, and nightlife. It was truly the experience of a lifetime and has inspired me to want to see more of the world. The second trip was to Cancun, Mexico with my Chi Omega sorority pledge class. We stayed for five days at an all-inclusive resort. I had so much fun experiencing the culture of Mexico while strengthening my relationships with my sorority sisters. I would also like to thank the Trustees for the financial support. Without it, I would not have been able to go on these amazing trips.
Isabella Del Cid
I went to Honduras this summer to visit family. While I was there, I went scuba diving for the first time in Roatan. I also visited the Mayan Ruins in Copan. My family and I went to the family ranch where we worked with the cows and marked territory lines.
My dad and I went to Washington DC and Philadelphia over the summer and got to see all the cool landmarks —definitely a highlight.
My family went to Fort Morgan, Alabama in mid-June. After a long haul from St. Louis, we arrived at our quaint little house we rented on Vrbo. The following week we had our fair share of throwing around the frisbee on sandy beaches and swimming out in the waves. My brother, being an avid fisherman, acted as our own personal guide and found all the best secret fishing spots from online forums — the mackerel, trout, and bass were plentiful! Busy days with relaxing evenings were capped off with good food and ice cream. While there, I had the best fried shrimp and hush puppies imaginable, followed by a nice scoop of butter toffee for dessert. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and after a few days we loaded up and drove back to STL, waiting for our next beach adventure!
By: Z Kemp, Second-Year Scholar | Sponsor: Don Wagner
Judy Batts, First-Year Scholar | Sponsor: UMKC Trustees
This past summer, I completed a rotational internship with KPMG in the Kansas City office. I had the opportunity to learn from panels and network with firm leadership, and gain hands-on experience in public accounting. It was a fantastic introductory experience to the tax, audit, and advisory practices, and I hope to continue expanding my network during my practice internship at the firm next summer. I also had Ra the incredible opportunity to present my final Capstone project with my team members at Lakehouse, KPMG’s state-of-the-art training facility in Orlando. Then, I wrapped up my summer and took a trip to Chicago with some friends for my 21st birthday!
Grace Yu (center) with fellow Trustees’ Scholars Whitney Schweiger (left) and Isabella de Cid (right).
I worked at IPFS, a premium finance company, over the summer as a marketing intern. I spent most of my time writing articles for their website, creating promotional graphics, and working on marketing plans. I also got to shadow their general counsel for a week. IPFS partnered with Americo Life Insurance for their internship program. We went to Royals games, played an Intern vs. Intern softball game, and had professional enrichment sessions every two weeks. I worked at IPFS for eight weeks, and I had a great experience with the marketing and legal teams.
This summer, I interned at NorthPoint Development with the help of Trustees’ Scholar alumnus Gavin Ott, 2022. NorthPoint Development is a private real estate development firm specializing in the development of top-tier real estate facilities. I created cash flow models, summarized waterfall distributions, and navigated legal documents. NorthPoint fosters a positive work environment and operates by its core values. This created a space where I could grow and learn ethically. My coworkers are always supporting and uplifting one another.
Dr. Leigh Anne Taylor Knight, the executive director of the DeBruce Foundation, helped me secure an internship with the Foundation this past summer. Some day-to-day responsibilities involved providing a youth perspective on how the Foundation can appeal to younger audiences looking to expand their career pathways. I also helped plan and assist with events, Agility coach training, data entry, and organized information into spreadsheets. I really enjoyed how caring the staff is at the Foundation. Not only did they help me achieve my career goals, but they also | helped me grow as a person and not doubt my abilities. They ensured that I was an essential part of their team, not just as the intern for the Foundation.
Last summer, I interned at the Fenton Family Dentistry in Fenton, Missouri. I enjoyed the exposure to a dental office and being able to work and learn alongside professionals. It was so much fun learning about the day-to-day of offices. Being there for the morning meetings and a part of meetings with representatives of products. I helped out in the office by sterilizing dental equipment and reorganizing the office. I also had the opportunity to shadow professionals and observe their work during my free time.
Larry Smith with Dr. Jessica Nieva, owner of Fenton Family Dentistry.
Trustee Mentor/Mentee Relationships
By: Judy Batts, First-Year Scholar
Sponsor: UMKC Trustees
First-year Scholar Elliott Smith is pursuing dual degrees in Urban Planning and Design and Business Administration. His mentor, Dr. Bob Strom, is a Senior Fellow at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and previously served as its director of research and policy in entrepreneurship. During his time at the Foundation, he wrote grant applications, served underprivileged communities, and improved economic sustainability. He was also a professor of economics at UMKC. He now serves as a visiting professor at the Bloch School.
Dr. Strom and Elliott’s first meeting was at Minsky’s Pizza. Although Elliott was nervous meeting Dr. Strom and unsure of what they would discuss, he enthusiastically reflects on the experience, describing as “a walking encyclopedia” and “incredibly 8 easy to talk to.” The two bonded over their Elliott Smith shared experiences traveling to Australia, passion for the community, and great pizza! Not only was their first meeting a fun experience, but it was also educational. From recommending literature that relates to Elliott’s studies to discussing Kansas City’s changing economy, the conversation seamlessly highlighted the intersectionality of their different educational and professional disciplines.
For Elliott, Dr. Strom acts as a mentor and academic advisor. His immense knowledge of the city and its tight-knit communities, current events, and professional connections are some key components of what will help Elliott apply classroom learning to the real world. They discussed the different career options Elliott will have in the future and the versatility of the degree programs he plans to pursue. Dr. Strom’s unique perspective of Kansas City as an executive and former professor helped reassure Elliott that he is exactly where he belongs in Kansas City and UMKC.
Although they have only known each other for a brief period, Elliott is eager to learn more and gain a deeper appreciation for Kansas City through Dr. Strom’s mentorship. His connections in the city run deep, and his value-based actions align with some of Elliott’s highest career aspirations. For instance, while writing grant applications at the Kauffman Foundation, Dr. Strom was able to allocate funding for charitable causes and take steps to assist a variety of communities throughout the city.
When describing the motivation for his career goals, Elliott explains that he wants to be able to serve others and help shape communities so that they are not only sustainable and well thought-out, but inclusive and equitable. From understanding and reinventing the way cities are constructed to making necessary resources available for residents, the knowledge of Dr. Strom and lessons in urban planning and business will enable him to achieve these goals.
By: Taylor Hamilton, Fourth-Year Scholar
Sponsor: Woman’s City Club of Kansas City
Lanisha Stevens, fourth-year Scholar, and Dr. Leigh Anne Taylor Knight (UMKC Trustee) have built a lasting relationship that began at the Spring 2022 luncheon. At the luncheon, Dr. Taylor Knight prompted the scholars with the question “is there anything the Trustees can do for you?” Lanisha used the opportunity to ask for help finding an internship that could help her validate her goal of becoming a career counselor. Dr. Taylor Knight offered her an opportunity at the DeBruce Foundation.
Lanisha engaged in her internship at the DeBruce Foundation from early June through mid-August. She made such an impact that they decided to extend her internship, which resumed in mid-September 2022. Dr. Taylor Knight said, “Our team at The DeBruce Foundation has been thrilled to work with Lanisha, as she has brought her talents to planning events and facilitating Agility Coach sessions. She will be a valuable addition to the career services profession because she is already making a positive difference before she has graduated.”
Lanisha and Dr. Taylor Knight were formally introduced as mentor and mentee in August of 2022. Dr. Taylor Knight displayed a tremendous amount of care in taking Lanisha under her wing. She went the extra mile in ensuring that Lanisha’s internship and schooling have been going well and always making the effort to check on her and ensure that she was prospering mentally, physically, and emotionally.
Despite the non-stop schedule of being a college student heavily involved on campus, and the constant go of being a professional, Dr. Taylor Knight and Lanisha always make it a point to remain in contact and regularly meet. The consistency of their relationship shows how much they both care. “With the motive of being comfortable with being uncomfortable and building the courage to ask the Trustees for help, the opportunities that | thought | would never gain became an achievable task,” says Lanisha. “I am grateful for the Trustees providing us with mentors because, without this, | would not be able to have encounters with amazing people who strive to further our school and career opportunities, just like how Dr. Taylor Knight has for me.”
First-Year Scholar Starts
By: Jaeden Johnson, Second-Year Scholar
Sponsor: Copaken Family
Vari Patel (center) with other executive members
Vari Patel is a first-year scholar studying Finance and Political Science on the pre-law track. Patel started a chapter of Phi Beta Lambda, the collegiate division of FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America). FBLA-PBL’s mission is their dedication to inspiring and developing the next generation of leaders by preparing members for careers in business and business-related fields.
Patel has had multiple leadership roles in high school, which made her feel very confident about starting an organization as a first-year student. FBLA at the college level is referred to as PBL- Phi Beta Lambda because it is a professional fraternity that teaches the importance of resources rather than creating business leaders. She wanted to start a chapter to broaden the perspective of entrepreneurship. Patel’s goal with this chapter is to remove the misconception that entrepreneurship has to be associated with business because entrepreneurship is about having the ability to think critically and focus on human-centered design. She also strives to provide an organization to help students grow their network connections.
There are monthly meetings with the chapter where they discuss a variety of topics. The chapter also participates in annual competitions. This year, the competition will be a hybrid model where only a certain number of students can go and compete in person. In this competition, the students take exams about material provided through chapter resources.
Although this chapter focuses on business-related majors and studies, Patel encourages anyone to join this organization. “We want all students of all majors. FBLA is not the name we refer to ourselves as it is more of PBL, a professional fraternity that strives to create alumni networks for students,” Patel said.