Meet the Class of 2023 Alumni Award Winners

Sixteen alumni and one family will be honored March 10

The University of Missouri-Kansas City Class of 2023 Alumni Achievement Award recipients includes a criminal defense lawyer who has argued (and won) before the United States Supreme Court, a civil rights activist, a national CEO and a legacy family whose name is well-recognized in the Kansas City legal community.

Each year, UMKC recognizes a select group of alumni for their amazing and inspirational accomplishments. The event offers a chance to share the achievements and successes of graduates UMKC sends out into the world each year at Commencement.

The Alumni Awards ceremony is one of the university's largest events to support student scholarships. In the last decade, the Alumni Awards event has garnered more than $1 million in scholarships and immediate aid for UMKC students.

Join us in honoring the Class of 2023 awardees at a celebration at 5 p.m. on March 10 at the Westport Commons. Visit UMKC's Alumni Association website to learn more about this year's event. If you are unable to attend the event but would like to donate to student scholarships, contributions can be made online.

University-Wide Alumni Awardees

Alumnus of the Year: Sean O'Brien (JD '80)

O'Brien is a nationally recognized criminal defense lawyer, with successes in the United States Supreme Court and federal and state courts across the country. At least 17 innocent and wrongfully convicted individuals have been exonerated largely due to his efforts, and he has personally been responsible for at least 24 individuals being removed from death row.

Prior to returning to UMKC to teach in the early 2000s, he served as the chief public defender in Kansas City, Missouri. From 1985 through 1989, he served as executive director of the Missouri Capital Punishment Resource Center, now the Public Interest Litigation Clinic.

In addition to teaching Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure and Wrongful convictions at the UMKC School of Law, O'Brien is the director of various pro bono criminal defense clinics, including the Death Penalty Representation Clinic, Public Defender Appeals Clinic and the Public Defender Trial Clinic. He continues his work in criminal defense through these clinics.

Spotlight Award: Bruce Bubacz

This year, Bubacz will celebrate his 50th year of teaching at UMKC. He has touched the lives of more than 5,000 students over the course of his tenure.

He is a Curators' Teaching Professor of Philosophy and professor of Philosophy and Law. He joined UMKC in 1973 and served as founding director of the College Honors Program, a program for academically talented undergraduates, from 1979 until 1985. He chaired the Philosophy Department from 1987 until 2000 and served as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences between 2000 and 2002, served as chair of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics from 2004-2005 and as provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs from 2005 until 2007. He was also the chair of the Philosophy Department to UMKC Forward academic realignment in 2022.

The Bill French Alumni Service Award: Patricia Macdonald (BLA)

Macdonald has a long history in nonprofit management, research, strategic planning and resources development. She is the Director of Strategic Ventures and Operations for the Healthcare Institute for Innovations and Quality at UMKC, the past president of the Mid-American chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, chair of the UMKC Alumni Association Multicultural and Community Affairs Committee and a past president of the UMKC Alumni Association.

She has participated in numerous campus activities, from search and selection committees to gala planning. In 2016, she was awarded the CASE VI Volunteer Service Award given to those who have demonstrated tremendous service for higher education institutions in the Midwest.

Defying the Odds Award: Rev. Carl Moore (BME '68)

While attending college at Alabama State in the spring of 1960, Rev. Moore was arrested for protesting racial inequality. As a result, he could not return to the university in the fall -- so his mother put him on a train to Kansas City, where he began attending UMKC.

After graduating with a degree in music education, Rev. Moore taught high school music for three years before taking a job as a sales representative for IBM, where he stayed for the next 24 years. At the age of 40, Rev. Moore felt called to ministry and began taking courses at the New Orleans Seminary and the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta and accepted his first pastorate at a small church. Rev. Moore continues in ministry today at Allen Temple AME Church in Woodstock, Georgia, where he has consistently grown his congregation yearly.

Legacy Award: The Accurso Family

The Accurso Family's legacy at UMKC dates back generations. Joseph C. Accurso attended what was then Kansas City University and laid the path for many generations that followed to become Roos.

Family members include Louis Accurso, who earned his BA from UMKC in 1978 and his JD in 1981. Just seven years later, he founded one of Kansas City's most well-recognized law firms: the Accurso Law Firm. His sons, Christopher (BA '11, JD '17), Anthony (BLA '12, MD '12), and Patrick Accurso (JD '18) went on to continue the legacy.

Countless other family members have also attended including Joe Accurso (BA '72), Mike Accurso (BBA '82), Melissa Accurso (BA '88), Tammy Dickinson (JD '98), Terri Accurso (BA '02, MA '12), Danielle Roy (MS '09), Alex Vigola (BSM '16), Chad Vigola (BS '14), and Chad Vigola (BS '14).

Members of the family have graduated from nearly every program on campus, including the College of Arts and Sciences, Henry W. Bloch School of Management, School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, School of Computing and Engineering, School of Education, School of Law, School of Nursing and Health Sciences and School of Medicine.

School Alumni Achievement Awardees *

College of Arts and Sciences: Mike Marusarz (BA '04) and Rhiannon Ally (BA '05)

Marusarz: Reporter and weekend morning anchor, Channel 7 Eyewitness News

Ally: Anchor/Correspondent, ABC News

School of Biological and Chemical Sciences: Beth Harville (Ph.D. '95)

Senior Executive Vice President and Provost, Drury University

Henry W. Bloch School of Management: Ramin Cherafat (MBA '02)

CEO, McCownGordon Construction

School of Computing and Engineering: Ken Gerling (BSCE '91)

Vice President Transmission & Distribution, Burns and McDonnell

Conservatory: Charlie Corcoran (MFA '01)

Award-winning scenic designer

School of Dentistry: Cesar Sabates (DDS '87, AEGD '88)

Former President, American Dental Association. Dental Practice, Solo General Dentistry

School of Dentistry- Dental Hygiene: Heather Samuel (BSDH '90, MSDH '91)

Retired Professor of Dental Hygiene, Johnson County Community College

School of Education: Chris Brown (Ph.D. '93)

Chair, Division of Counseling and Psychology, UMKC

School of Law: Scott Bethune (JD '88)

Founding member, Davis, Bethune & Jones, LLC

School of Medicine: Arif Kamal (MD '05)

Chief Patient Officer, American Cancer Society

School of Nursing and Health Studies: Shweta Palakkode (BHS '15)

Health Policy Analyst, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

School of Pharmacy: Craig Norman (BS '83)

Senior Vice President of Pharmacy, H-E-B

*Nominations were collected before UMKC Forward realigned academic units. Next year, some awardees will be named in their new academic units: School of Science and Engineering, School of Humanities and Social Sciences and School of Education, Social Work and Psychological Sciences.

Published: Oct 27, 2022

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