Scholar Alumnus Feature
By: Taylor Trudell, Second-Year Scholar
Sponsor: Atterbury Family Foundation
Benjamin Rankin is currently a Redstone Fellow in Public Service, a fellowship sponsored by Harvard, at the Center for Biological Diversity. He graduated from UMKC in 2019 with a degree in political science. More recently, he graduated from Harvard with his juris doctor earlier this year. His passion for protecting the public’s right to a healthy and clean environment has led Rankin across the country, through two degrees and numerous internships at just as many organizations.
When first starting his undergraduate degree, Rankin was interested in the banking industry. Soon after, he began seriously considering law school. He determined the shift to a more collective and positive outlook after reading This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein for the first time. Rankin found this self-growth indispensable to his current success and position.
During his time at Harvard, Rankin spent over two years working pro bono for the Center of Biological Diversity, which earned him the Clinical Legal Education Association’s Outstanding Clinical Student Award. He interned at the Missouri Public Defenders office and has received two separate fellowships to work at the Center of Biological Diversity – the T.A. Barron Fellowship for Summer Work in Public Interest and Redstone Fellow in Public Service. Environmental law is an incredibly difficult field to break into due to the extraordinarily complex nature of the field and the small number of open positions. “I feel so lucky; it’s so hard to get where I am. It’s been a 3-year sprint to get where I am now,” he continues, detailing the over three years spent making deliberate efforts to form and maintain the relationships that he needed to succeed in this manner. The Center does not hire entry-level attorneys, so his level of commitment and dedication to the field and the organization speaks for itself.
Some of the most important skills Rankin took from his time as a Trustee’s Scholar included soft skills, which he mentions are often overlooked. He suggests current Scholars take advantage of the available network of professionals, colleagues, and mentors to grow themselves in both a professional and personal manner. Cultivating one’s ability to communicate professionally is the most crucial step for any Scholar, no matter what their prospective field.
Rankin is awaiting his bar examination results from California to practice law in the home state of the Center for Biological Diversity. His plans include continuing with the Center for Biological Diversity and fighting for environmental health. We cannot wait to see where Ben’s journey in legal advocacy and saving the planet takes him next.
Awards & Accolades
By: Lily Dang, Fourth-Year Scholar
Sponsor: UMKC Trustees
Over the summer, Maddie Kunz, a third-year scholar, took the Dental Admissions Test (DAT). With a score of 26, Maddie scored in the 99.5th percentile. She accomplished this score by studying five hours a day, five days a week, for ten weeks during the summer. She is thankful that her study efforts paid off. She “could not have done it without this program” and the continued support of UMKC and the Trustees.
A third-year scholar, Mary Gipson, scored in the 99th percentile on the Dental Admissions Test (DAT). To achieve this accomplishment, Mary studied 15-20 hours a week for about five months. She is ecstatic with her score and “even more excited that it was well above what I needed to reserve my seat” in the Reserved Admissions Program for UMKC School of Dentistry.
First-year scholar Yasmina Mokhtar earned the Gold Award—the highest honor within the Girl Scouts—and $10,000 by creating a sustainability solution to change the world. For Yasmina, her Gold Award is called “Embracing Cultures: Welcome to America,” which “focused on reading and literacy, specifically English as a Second Language, within the refugee community in Joplin, and a lower socioeconomic class in Cairo, Egypt.” In her hometown of Joplin, she spent her afternoons at a reading group, teaching third graders how to read, write, and speak English. She embarked to Egypt, where she created a six-week summer program that taught girls English and embroidery. She even started two free libraries in Joplin and one in Egypt. Even without her presence, she has ensured that these programs continue to thrive and open up opportunities for others.
Incoming Freshmen Spotlight
By: Lily Dang, Fourth-Year Scholar
Sponsor: UMKC Trustees
Laila Atkins is from Kansas City, Missouri, and attended Grandview High School. Laila is majoring in Political Science and minoring in Race, Ethnic, and Gender Studies (REGS). After graduation, she plans to attend a master’s program and find a “balance of a corporate career that also leaves space for [her] own business ventures, and also travel.” Her hobbies include baking, coloring, painting, watching movies and reality TV, and going out to eat. Jambalaya is her favorite food at the dining hall. Her favorite class this semester is Intro to Race, Gender, and Ethnic Studies because it challenges her on a different intellectual level. Laila’s favorite thing about Kansas City is the diverse cuisines and restaurants it has to offer.
Maisy Blanton is from Wichita, Kansas, and graduated from Andover High School. She is majoring in Communications with a dual emphasis in Digital journalism and Professional Communication and minoring in Race, Ethnic, and Gender Studies (REGS). After she graduates, she hopes to find a career that involves both her love of writing and media. When she is not writing, she loves reading, watching movies and TV, eating new foods, singing, and dancing—specifically tap dancing. She likes the chicken tenders in the dining hall because “they are hard to mess up.” Her favorite course is Intro to Journalism because she gets to “work with such an experienced journalist [Professor Kraske] who is still active in the field.” Maisy’s favorite thing about Kansas City is the big city feel with lots of exploration and food options.
Andrew Custis is a graduate of Metro High School in St. Louis, Missouri. Andrew is majoring in Earth and Environment Science with a focus on earth science. Following graduation, he plans to go to graduate school and do research. He enjoys running, playing the guitar, and cooking. Biscuits and gravy are his favorite dining hall food item because “they remind [him] of home.” He likes to study in the special collections in the Miller Nichols Library. Andrew shares that his favorite thing about Kansas City is the exploring aspect of it. He has “enjoyed going on walks to get to know the city better.”
Atlas Mallams graduated from Liberty High School in Liberty, Missouri. Atlas is a Computer Science major and hopes to use his skills “to make drastic improvements in health equity by analyzing data trends that lead to bad health outcomes and using artificial intelligence to predict what areas will need extra support.” Once he settles in at UMKC, he hopes to be an active member of the Computer Science Club, Trans+, and the Neurodiverent Student Union. On top of his coding interests, he enjoys Star Wars, playing video games, reading, and hanging out with friends. Waffles are his favorite dining hall food. Social Justice and Cultural Awareness is his favorite class because of the course’s project-based learning and discussion structure. Because of its design, he has “more opportunities to not only talk to more people but also have a deep and intellectually stimulating conversation about society with them.” Atlas’s favorite thing about Kansas City is the small-town, homey feel.
Yasmina Mokhtar, a graduate of Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School in Joplin, Missouri, is a double major in Sociology and Spanish. Yasmina’s future plan is to go to law school with aspirations to pursue a career as a district attorney. At UMKC, she is involved with the Mock Trial Team and the KC Chakra team. During her free time, she enjoys listening to music, reading books, watching movies and shows, embroidering, and hanging out with cats. However, you won’t find her around butterflies because she has a legitimate fear of them! Her favorite dining hall food is the chicken tenders. Intro to Race, Gender, and Ethnic Studies is her favorite class because it introduces her to different perspectives. When asked about her favorite thing about Kansas City, Yasmina says that Kansas City has a lot of food options and that “there’s always something to cater to any craving.”
Alexis Reed is from Kansas City, Missouri, and graduated as class valedictorian of Center High School. She is majoring in Biology and minoring in Spanish. After graduation, she plans to get her master’s degree or attend medical school. Since coming to UMKC, she has joined Sigma Tau Delta, Honors Student Association, Pre-Medical Society, and Biological Sciences Society. She likes to read, travel, and hang out with her friends. Her favorite dining hall food is Alfredo because she “could literally eat pasta for every meal.” Her favorite spot to study on campus is the rooftop of the Student Union because of the peaceful outdoor environment. Alexis’s favorite thing about Kansas City is that it is the “perfect middle ground” for “big city vibes without the actual chaos of a big city.”
Micaela Richards graduated from Blue Springs South High School in Blue Springs, Missouri. Micaela is majoring in Business Administration with an emphasis in finance. She plans to earn a master’s degree with the ultimate goal of working in non-profit management or advocacy. At UMKC, she is a member of Enactus and Alpha Delta Pi. Her hobbies include baking, swimming, reading, and writing. Her favorite dining hall food is mac and cheese. She describes it as a “comfort food” and her “go-to order.” Her favorite study spot on campus is the lounge in Bloch Heritage Hall because “it’s just the right level of noise to be productive.” Micaela loves Kanas City for its energy. When she’s walking around the city, she “thinks and sees so many small things (the art, the food, the music) that celebrate being alive.”
By: Sydnee Flowers, Third-Year Scholar
Sponsor: Scott Boswell and Commerce Bank
I took a 16-day trip with my family. We flew to San Jose, CA, to stay with extended family on my mom’s side. This was my first time meeting them, and it was such a special moment! Each of the next four days was an invitation to someone’s house, where we would eat a whole Thanksgiving feast. Then, we spent a day in San Francisco, where we saw the Golden Gate Bridge, the pier, and the soft opening of my uncle’s hotpot restaurant.
On the sixth day, we drove along California’s most scenic route (Highway 1), during which my appreciation for nature grew fonder. We spent two days in Anaheim at California Adventures and Disneyland, where we celebrated Disney’s 100th anniversary. I loved watching the ‘Magic Happens’ parade. We made our way to San Diego, where we spent two days visiting family, the San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, the Japanese Friendship Garden and Museum, and the USS Midway Museum.
The following days were spent reuniting with my dad’s side of the family in the Orange County area. I met family members I did not know (next time, I think there should be name tags). We celebrated my uncle’s ordination for the Catholic priesthood at Christ Cathedral. This was such a beautiful moment and such a blessing for my family. At the reception dinner, I met a popular Vietnamese singer I grew up listening to.
No words can describe what this trip meant to me. I will always cherish this memory. I am family-oriented, so the moments when I get to be around my family are the happiest things for me. It’s wonderful to see how big my family is and be reminded that I will never be alone.
Studying abroad has always been a dream of mine, but I couldn’t have imagined visiting two countries (Senegal and Scotland) during my first year of college. I traveled to Scotland alone, and I remember how excitedly anxious I was. The first place we traveled was to Glasgow, Scotland. I appreciated how easy it was to get around without needing a vehicle, as driving isn’t my favorite thing. While in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, I walked 40 minutes to enjoy Nigerian cuisine as I missed home-cooked meals. I also enjoyed the bus ride to our final destination in Musselburgh.
Throughout our lectures, I learned about remarkable poets such as Robert Burns and the lasting impact his style of poetry has had. We also learned about the Scottish individuals who pioneered modern economics, medicine, sociology, geology, and philosophy. It was interesting to learn that Scottish society was among the first to advocate for the separation of Church and state, allowing individuals to receive education from their universities, regardless of their religious beliefs or social status. I appreciate that the Scottish strongly believe in preserving history and making it easily accessible for others to learn about via their free museums and other free sites. I was also impressed by Scotland’s commitment to environmental friendliness, such as charging for single-use bags!
I had the opportunity to visit the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery, the National Museum of Scotland, Skara Brae Prehistoric Village, The Kelpies Sculptures, Dunvegan Castle and Garden, Halkirk Highland Games, Edinburgh Castle, the Ring of Brodgar Stone Circle, Stone of Stenness, Glenfinnan Viaduct, The Battle of Culloden sights, and many other thrilling sites.
I allowed myself to be open to the changes that came with life in another country, as that was the only way I could fully immerse myself in their culture and way of life. I hope the experiences I shared help you understand how important it is to be open to learning about others and places that are unfamiliar to you. This is the only way we can grow and come to appreciate our differences more.
I got married on August 5, 2023, in Lee Summit, MO. My now husband, Michael, and I met in my first week of college at UMKC. He is studying Mechanical Engineering and is planning to attend law school and go to Army BOLC post-graduation. We got married at Oakwood Church, where my dad has been a pastor since I was two weeks old. I had a busy summer planning and prepping for the wedding. I traveled the entire month of June while taking two courses at UMKC. Michael was away at military training for two months, which made it even more chaotic! In the end, it was a wonderful time and such a blessing to be surrounded by friends and family.
By: Grace Yu, Fourth-Year Scholar
Sponsor: KC Southern
Mauricio Bernal (Second-Year Scholar) | Burns & McDonnell
Mauricio interned at the Burns & McDonnell headquarters here in Kansas City, Missouri as a Civil Engineering Intern with the Transmission & Distribution department, specializing in the Underground & Submarine Cables (UGSC) group. Within UGSC, Mauricio took on a variety of responsibilities, with day-to-day tasks consisting of creating project civil/electrical specifications, completing underground cable routing and splice vault placement studies, completing civil/electrical project cost estimates, completing cable pulling/ampacity calculations, marking up plan and profile drawings, sitting in on client meetings, attending vendor presentations, and creating presentations to share to clients. Outside of the workday, there were many opportunities to get involved as well. Mauricio was part of an intern soccer team, volunteered at Harvesters, learned how to golf, and went on a site visit to a substation. Having the opportunity to intern with Burns & McDonnell not only gave Mauricio valuable exposure to the engineering, consulting, and construction industry but also highlighted the great company culture. The office and the people he interacted with radiated positive energy, and Mauricio felt like a valued part of the work community throughout the summer.
Z Kemp (Third-Year Scholar) | Kansas City Explores Earth and Environment
Z interned with Kansas City Explores Earth and Environment (KC E3) from January to July, a program hosted on UMKC’s campus and founded by the National Science Foundation. They served as a mentor for middle and high school students by hosting events that covered how to collect temperature data, in addition to studying the urban heat island effect and working collaboratively to present data that was researched and collected. One of Z’s most memorable activities was collecting surface temperature using temperature guns of t-shirts outside—as expected, the black and red shirts were the hottest, while white and pink were cooler. The activity demonstrated how different colors reflected different amounts of the visible light spectrum, and Z helped teach this concept to the students and kept them engaged throughout the activity. Overall, Z had a fantastic experience, enjoyed mentoring the students, and hopes to continue with them next year!
Maddy Bremer (Fourth-Year Scholar) | Environmental Protection Agency
Maddy worked at the Environmental Protection Agency in the Office of Public Affairs as a Pathways Intern this summer. The Pathways internship program allows students to work in the federal government as they finish school and makes them eligible for non-competitive employment following graduation. Working in the EPA’s Office of Public Affairs has allowed Maddy to combine her interests and passions into her dream job. In the Office of Public Affairs, Maddy writes press releases and provides statements to the media, creates graphics, manages social media, and informs the public about environmental issues and advancements. Throughout the summer and continuing into the school year, Maddy has learned so much and worked on some monumental projects which have made her internship the most amazing experience.
Whitney Schweiger (Fourth-Year Scholar) | Blue Springs South Marching Band
Whitney spent the summer as a tech for the Blue Springs South High School Jaguar Pride Marching Band. The Jaguar Pride is an award-winning marching band that competes at many highly competitive festivals throughout the Midwest, including the Bands of America St. Louis Regional, which Whitney will be joining at the end of October. Additionally, the Jaguar Pride performs at all the school’s home football games, marches in two parades, competes at four competitions, and hosts their own invitational—the KC Championships. As a staff member, Whitney was responsible for assisting with visual instruction during field rehearsals and leading musical sectionals for the alto saxophones throughout the summer. Whitney will continue working with Blue Springs South as a student teacher in Spring 2024. Therefore, this role has not only been a great opportunity to gain more teaching experience but also a valuable investment in getting to know the students and directors of the program she will soon be with full-time. Whitney feels very fortunate to get to work on staff with such a highly accomplished program that has a great team of teachers and very hardworking students and is looking forward to seeing all that the students are going to achieve this season!
Trustee Mentor/Mentee Relationships
By: Sydnee Flowers, Third-Year Scholar
Sponsor: Scott Boswell and Commerce Bank
As a third-year Trustees’ Scholar, I have engaged in the numerous benefits of the Trustees’ Scholars program. Nevertheless, my favorite part of the program is undoubtedly my relationship with my mentor, Madeleine McDonough. Madeleine has been the chair of Shook, Hardy & Bacon and a member of the Board of Trustees for seven years. Shook, Hardy & Bacon has nineteen offices and over 500 attorneys.
Moreover, Madeleine is more than a successful professional. She also strives to better others and her community. In fact, Madeleine serves as the chair of the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City. Madeleine says her favorite aspect of serving on the Board of Trustees is “forming relationships with good, fun, and engaged individuals who want to improve the Kansas City community.”
I have had the opportunity to witness Madeleine’s dedication to her profession and community first-hand. I aspire to be a corporate lawyer, and it is inspiring to learn from such a driven, kind, and talented individual in the legal field. Regarding my career, Madeleine has enlightened me about her experience in the profession and connected me to several lawyers and law school students. However, the relationship Madeleine and I have formed over the last two years is also one of friendship. Whether we are catching up over lunch, walking the Plaza, or connecting via text (amid our busy seasons), I am thankful the Trustees’ Scholars Program paired me with such an admirable mentor. She has helped me grow closer to the Kansas City community and excel in my career endeavors.
When Madeleine initially accepted Joe’s offer to serve as a mentor, she was worried about not having enough time to do it well. However, after our first Zoom call, Madeleine was confident in her decision. She shared that “it’s about taking the leap” and that “it’s easy to find time to meet with someone you care about.” Throughout her time as a mentor, she has enjoyed introducing me to other legal professionals and helping me explore the legal field. She says it’s an opportunity not only to teach but to learn from her mentee as well. In my experience, the Trustees’ Scholars mentorship program emphasizes professional development, personal relationships, and fun.
Fourth-Year Scholar Starts
By: Maisy Blanton, First-Year Scholar
Mouada Allan, a fourth-year scholar and Biology major, is starting her own student organization. With a passion for advocating for justice, Mouada teamed up with co-founder and UMKC law student Yara Salamed to start “Students for Justice in Palestine.” She took the initiative to start the group due to the many misconceptions about the Palestinian community. She strives to utilize the club to promote truthful Palestinian narratives and experiences. Mouada describes her mission statement, “SJP was started at UMKC with a vision to create a comfortable space for uncensored dialogue and advocacy for Palestine in the hopes that students will gain awareness and be inspired to proactively engage in initiatives set out to uphold human rights causes like Palestine.”
With SJP, Mouada wishes to make connections with students and keep the dialogue going about the issues Palestinians are facing while keeping people active and informed in the conversation. She hopes this organization will be a new venue for students and professors alike to explore these ideas. In four years, Mouada aspires to see a large student body participating in SJP. Some of the organization’s goals are to have guest speakers, grow political involvement, and maintain subcommittees for different projects. She would also like to see SJP expand into community organizations to spread more awareness of Palestinian advocacy. “The vision is really just to do what we can to support Palestine in the best ways accessible to our board, our student body, and the KC community.”
Scholars Running Businesses
By: Maisy Blanton, First-Year Scholar
Fourth-year scholar Emma Schilling is in her second year of operating a graphic design business. “Studio Em” is a brand that sells stickers, keychains, posters, and many more products, all designed by Emma. She has amassed over 1,000 sales on her Etsy shop and over 25 pages of great reviews. Emma has also expanded her business to over 25 retail locations throughout Kansas City.
When asked what she has learned throughout the process, Emma says, “Running my own business has taught me so much about business and marketing. It has helped me to put into practice some of the skills I am learning in my courses here at UMKC.” As a business marketing major with a minor in graphic design, Emma enjoys incorporating her classes with her business. She found Marketing 442, a social media marketing class, to provide great insight into how social media works and how one can utilize it for their business. She is grateful to her mentor for helping her think differently about graphic design, “I have utilized what I have learned in our conversations in my business.” Overall, Emma is eager to expand to more locations outside of Kansas City and run her business full-time once she graduates.
First-year scholar Yasmina Mokhtar started her embroidery business in 2022. After taking up the hobby during COVID-19, she discovered it was a useful outlet for her creativity. Yasmina runs the account through @sillyy.stitches on Instagram. She takes commissions for sweatshirts, tote bags, hats, or anything that customers can think of! While she is versatile with her products, she often gets commissioned to do floral designs for college merchandise.
Yasmina says that the venture has taught her patience as well as marketing skills, “My business has allowed me to share the artistic side of me that people don’t always get to see.” She plans to continue the account throughout college as a hobby on the side but does not plan to make it into her career. As a Sociology and Spanish major, Yasmina doesn’t always see art as a top priority. However, she sees it as good for mental health because it is not related to academics, and it is on her own terms. Yasmina is excited to see where she takes her business throughout her college career.
Taylor Trudell’s Artwork in the White House
By: Larry Smith, Second-Year Scholar
Sponsor: UMKC Trustees
During Taylor’s senior year of high school, she created a 16 x 12-inch watercolor piece of a photo they took in early October of a brick house in her hometown of Knob Noster, Missouri. The high school that Taylor attended is military-affiliated, and this aided in getting the attention of First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, due to her initiative called Joining Forces. The initiative supports military families, which includes families of service members and veterans, caregivers and survivors. Dr. Biden was scheduled to stop by Taylor’s high school, and her security team checked out the school to make sure it was safe for the First Lady. It was at this time that a Secret Service agent noticed some of Taylor’s work and talked to Taylor’s art teacher about showing their work to Dr. Biden because she loves art. This led to Taylor getting a meeting with the First Lady, where they talked about the importance of art in education.
When recalling the experience of meeting Dr. Biden, Taylor said that she was nervous meeting someone so high ranking and that the presence [of photographers and Secret Service] was intimidating. However, Dr. Biden knew where she wanted the conversation to go and helped calm her nerves. Toward the end of the meeting, Dr. Biden told Taylor, “We will be in touch and that one of your pieces would look great in the White House.” Taylor initially didn’t think much of it until about a year later, when she got a call from her old art teacher, who told Taylor that the White House had called her and wanted some of Taylor’s work for their new exhibit. Dr. Biden’s visit with Taylor inspired them to make a permanent installation in the White House for military children.
Two of Taylor’s artworks had been submitted to the Congressional Art Competition, in which they placed first, and the piece sat in Cannon Hall for a year, from June 2022 to June 2023. After that, it was sent to the White House, where they currently reside. Although it is unclear exactly how long the pieces will remain, it is expected to be there at least until the end of the Biden Administration. Taylor has also been interviewed by People magazine. Click Here to read the article. If you would like more of Taylor’s art, here is their website: http://taylortrudell.crevado.com