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Award recipient Stephanie Meyer celebrates with donor Lucinda Rice-Petrie.

A vital legacy recognized - and renewed

UMKC Women's Council Graduate Assistance Fund awards support today's scholars, and salute a founding pioneer

When she became the first woman to serve on the board of trustees of the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 1963, Martha Jane Starr’s male peers suggested she focus on campus beautification.

She had other ideas. She is quoted as saying “We were going to do more than plant flowers … I love flowers, but what we really needed to do was create opportunities for women.” A vision was born – a vision that continues today through the UMKC Women's Council annual Graduate Assistance Fund awards.

Starr was the driving force behind the creation of the fund in 1971. Since then, more than 1,600 exceptional women graduate students at UMKC have received Graduate Assistance Fund fellowships or immediate aid awards totaling close to $1.2 million.

The 2012 award recipients were announced at the annual Graduate Assistance Fund luncheon March 13, which also served as a special tribute to Starr, who died last year at the age of 104. Attendees received a plantable paper butterfly embedded with flower seeds, symbolizing the way that Starr’s vision has taken flight. At the luncheon, the fund awarded 67 recipients a total of $50,631 in fellowships.

The mistress of ceremonies for this year’s event was Angela Bennett, two-time alumna of UMKC, an alumni award recipient, former president of both the Alumni Association Governing Board and the Women’s Council and former president of the University of Missouri Board of Curators.

“This year’s luncheon is special because in addition to the phenomenal women who are receiving fellowships this year, we will be remembering Mrs. Martha Jane Starr, without whom neither the Women’s Council nor the GAF would exist,” Bennett said. “Mrs. Starr and her contemporaries in the 1960s and 1970s saw that women students in particular struggled to pay for research costs, travel to conferences, childcare – so this special fund was established to fill in the gaps that otherwise made a graduate degree an impossibility for so many.”

Bennett also announced the latest addition to the list of more than 100 named awards included in the fund.

“This year, the Women’s Council board of directors made the significant commitment that they would personally come together and fund a new named award in the name of the Women’s Council board. This new named award will be the 2011-12 Women’s Council Board of Directors Award in memory of Martha Jane Starr,” Bennett said. “Like the others we’ll celebrate today, this award will have a permanent home in the GAF endowment to support a worthy student.”

Curt Crespino, vice chancellor for university advancement at UMKC, called the Graduate Assistance Fund “a program unlike almost any other in the nation.”

“This fund, totaling more than $1 million today, was not the result of a large gift or bequest,” Crespino said.” It is the result of the thousands of gifts small and large from a community-wide pool of donors who came together to support the more than 1,600 women who have received assistance over the years.”

Kelli Wright, who served as chair of the UMKC Starr Symposium in November, was recognized as the Women’s Council Volunteer of the Year.

Of the 67 awardees for 2012, nine were cited with “outstanding merit” ratings. They are:

  • Alivia Allison, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Barbara Varanka, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Kristin Ziech, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Ze Liu, School of Biological Sciences
  • Jouliana Sadek, School of Biological Sciences
  • Surbhi Verma, School of Biological Sciences
  • Yun Lu, Conservatory of Music and Dance
  • Tricia Hager, School of Education
  • Divya Teja Vavilala, School of Pharmacy

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“This year’s luncheon is special because in addition to the phenomenal women who are receiving fellowships this year, we will be remembering Mrs. Martha Jane Starr, without whom neither the Women’s Council nor the GAF would exist."

Angela Bennett

Above, UMKC Chancellor Leo Morton visits with GAF Award recipient Divya Teja Vavilala. Below, GAF Award recipeint Keron Hopkins and Toya Like enjoy the festivities.