Student Success Stories Ahead of 2022 Mid-Year Commencement

Students reflect on their hard work and achievements during their time at UMKC.
Blue and yellow confetti falls from the ceiling of the T-Mobile Center during UMKC Commencement

On Sunday, December 18, UMKC’s newest graduating class will walk across the stage, receiving their diplomas after years of hard work and dedication.

Each grad embarked on an individual journey full of professional and personal growth, culminating in a commencement celebration in front of family, friends and peers. Here’s an overview of two such journeys.

Headshot of UMKC graduate Amelia Hess

Amelia Hess – Master of Arts in Counseling – School of Education, Social Work & Psychological Sciences

Amelia Hess began her collegiate journey at another school, but didn’t find her place among that university community.

She switched to UMKC for her sophomore year and earned her undergrad and, eventually, her master’s degree.

“It’s a microcosm of the Kansas City community. You have all these different people coming here, different majors, different programs,” Hess said. “I was very, very much involved in high school and so I knew when I got to college, I wanted to continue that.”

She found her place at UMKC through involvement with campus organizations, including the Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA), serving as president and the student MC for the Pride Breakfast; the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI); and Roos for Mental Health. She also worked as a residential life coordinator at the Hospital Hill apartments.

“I found places where I could be my different selves,” Hess said. “I found places where I could really enjoy studying psychology and the professional world, but I also found the SAGA council where I could have a leadership position on a queer organization which is hard to find in other places.”

Throughout her career at UMKC, she met with professors, leaders and fellow classmates who have helped her set up her post-graduation plans at an area mental health facility as a therapist associate.

“I’m going to help them implement what they call a psychedelic assisted therapy program, which is kind of a new area of mental health and therapy where people are being administered medicinal treatments for depression, anxiety, PTSD,” Hess said. “I get to take leadership and apply some of those other skills I developed along the years to help create a program and hopefully get it to the point where hopefully one day new grads will come and work there with us.”

Hess credits her willingness to get involved in different groups at UMKC with helping her feel prepared for the next steps in her career.

“I think UMKC, since it is in the metropolitan area and it is a bigger school with more opportunities and connections to the city, is a great opportunity for someone who wants to change schools because you’re supported, but you’re also treated like an adult,” Hess said.

Headshot of UMKC graduate Christian Dang

Christian Dang – Bachelor of Science in Biology – School of Science and Engineering

Originally from about 2.5 hours away in Springfield, Missouri, Christian Dang landed at UMKC after looking for an affordable education that also allowed for a change of environment.

“I love Kansas City because of the diversity and everything it provides,” Dang said. “I really like the size of UMKC. It’s like a medium sized institution so it’s not too small or too large and I feel like you can really make more meaningful connections with faculty members that way.”

Dang’s interest in biology started in high school, but when he got to UMKC, he gained a passion for research.

“I still am interested in medicine, but I’m also interested in research, which I’ve been involved a lot with at UMKC,” Dang said. “And I really do think UMKC provides a lot of ways to get involved in research no matter what discipline you are in.”

A four-year Honors Program student, Dang presented his project, “A Self-Directed Mutagenesis Approach for Examining the Drosophila Tribbles Recognition Degron in the C/EBP Transcription Factor SIBO,” at the Summer Undergraduate Research Opportunities (SUROP) Poster Symposium. He also served as a student reviewer and marketing and design coordinator for UMKC’s undergraduate research journal, Lucerna.

He said commencement “is going to be a surreal moment for me having spent these last four years here at UMKC and knowing what a difference it has made in my personal career and personal development.”

After graduation, Dang will travel to Bethesda, Maryland, where he will take part in fellowship at the National Institute of Health (NIH) where he will conduct biomedical research in the Muscle Energetics Laboratory. Only 24 percent of applicants were selected over the past year, according to the NIH.

“It’s definitely humbling, knowing that you’ve been given this opportunity that not everyone has been able to receive,” Dang said. “Knowing to acknowledge the work you’ve done to get this part of your life and knowing people have trust in you that you’re doing to do great things in your life, and you continue to put in the work and effort to be the best you can.”

Dang credits the opportunities provided by UMKC for setting him up to succeed after receiving his diploma and believes others can achieve the same whether they are from the area or from farther away.

“Even from outside Kansas City I would recommend going here for college just because of the community here and the ease of meeting faculty members and peer mentors who will help you and the wide range of student organizations that are available here,” Dang said. “There’s really a lot to offer at UMKC that I feel not a whole lot of people know about.”

Top Stories