distinguished Alumni awards


Recognizing UCM's Best and Brightest

Since 1978, the UCM Alumni Foundation has presented the Distinguished Alumni Awards annually to recognize outstanding University of Central Missouri graduates who are esteemed by their peers as "the brightest and most distinguished" in their field.

Read the Criteria for the Distinguished Alumni Awards >>

Do you know an exceptional UCM graduate who should be considered for the Distinguished Alumni Award? Nominate them today!

Watch videos of past Distinguished Alumni Award recipients on YouTube.


2023 Distinguished Alumni

The following alumni will be honored as UCM Distinguished Alumni at the Distinguished Alumni Awards Dinner on Friday, Oct. 20, 2023: 

2023 honorees

Distinguished Alumni Award

David and Jerrilyn Hoffmann, both class of '74

Distinguished Alumni Award for Early Achievement
Marcela Rodriguez-Gonzalez, '17

Distinguished International Alumni Award
Srinija Amisthapur, '17

Distinguished Alumni Award for Service
Bill Keen, '91, and Major General Levon Cumpton, '92

Please save the date to help us celebrate these outstanding individuals during Homecoming 2023!


2022 Distinguished Alumni

The UCM Alumni Foundation presented the Distinguished Alumni Awards to the following exceptional alumni in 2022:

2022 honorees

Distinguished Alumni Award

Richard Wilson Bennet III, '74, and Beth Tankersley-Bankhead, '83

Distinguished Alumni Award for Early Achievement
Allison Jaslow, '04 

Distinguished Alumni Award for Service
Dred Scott, '00, and Barry, '84, and Diane, '77, Whitworth


Richard Wilson Bennet Ill, '74


After graduating from UCM with a degree in Business Administration in 1974, Richard Wilson Bennet III took a position at May Department Stores and worked his way to the top. After 20 years, he became the youngest CEO of Famous Barr, one of May’s flagship businesses. He then became CEO of Kaufmann’s Department Stores in Pittsburgh before returning to his home city of St. Louis as vice chairman of the May Department Stores Corporation.

When May reorganized in 2002, Rick took a personal inventory and decided to update his education, pursuing an MBA at Washington University in St. Louis. He graduated with honors and won the Emory Award for scholarship, character and leadership. He also re-engaged with Sigma Phi Epsilon, serving 12 years on the national board of directors, two years as grand president and now as president of the fraternity’s Educational Foundation.

For the past 15 years Rick has been CEO of CCA Global Partners, a cooperative of 3,000 independent family-owned retailers in the home improvement business. CCA provides strategy, services and scale to small family floor covering, lighting, countertops and cabinets businesses. Rick is an independent director at Ace Hardware, a cooperative of 5,000 family businesses, and is executive chairman of both Franklin Madison Group and International Designs LLC.

Rick and his wife, Lavonne, have been married 43 years. They have three children — Rick, Kate and Anne — who Rick says inspired his decision to go back to school at the age of 50. Apart from his family, Rick finds inspiration in the mountains and rivers of northwest Montana. He has served 20 years as director of the Glacier National Park Conservancy and is currently its chairman.


Beth Tankersley-Bankhead, '83


A first-generation UCM student, Beth Tankersley-Bankhead earned her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education with a minor in English Education in 1983, setting the stage for her life’s work of ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to earn a postsecondary education.

Beth went on to earn her master’s in Guidance and Counseling with an emphasis in College Student Personnel from Eastern Illinois University. She was then hired as assistant director and later director of residence life at the University of Nebraska-Kearney.

Beth’s next position was director of field services for Kappa Delta Pi, an international education honor society based in Indiana. She visited hundreds of college campuses nationwide, delivering programming and services for faculty and future educators.

In 1997 Beth returned to UCM as director of community engagement. Key achievements included expanding the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship, helping to create the Central Community Creed and helping to launch the Cesar Chavez Scholarship in 2004.

From 2004 to 2015 Beth served as executive director of the Associated Students of the University of Missouri. She earned her Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, with an emphasis in Higher and Continuing Education and a focus on Organizational Leadership and Change. She became executive director of the Missouri College Advising Corps, expanding the program from nine to 41 college advisors serving in 40 urban and rural high schools statewide.

In 2015 Beth became the first director of postsecondary initiatives at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. She facilitated planning of KC Scholars, via community stakeholder engagement, to serve a six-county, bistate region. By 2022 the program had provided scholarships to more than 6,100 low-income students, 77% of whom were the first in their family to earn a college degree. Beth retired this year knowing that she has made a lasting impact.


Allison Jaslow, '04


Allison Jaslow is nationally recognized as a leading voice on the military-civilian divide and the challenges faced by women in the military. A former Army captain and two-time Iraq War veteran, she is also a seasoned political and communications strategist who currently serves as a consultant and adjunct professor at Duke University.

Allison graduated in 2004 from UCM, which she attended on an ROTC scholarship before entering active duty in the U.S. Army. Her military awards include the Bronze Star Medal and the Army Commendation Medal with a Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster. She is a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a charter member of the National Parks Conservation Association’s Veterans Council and a member of the board of directors of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). When serving as executive director of IAVA, she led a national campaign to increase recognition of women veterans.

Prior to joining IAVA, Allison served as chief of staff to Illinois Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, as a communications aide in the White House and as press secretary for former Virginia Senator and decorated Vietnam veteran Jim Webb. She is a former executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and served on the board of directors for the Center for Law and Military Policy and the 2LT Richard W. Collins Foundation.

Allison has twice testified before Congress and appeared on national news programs, including NBC’s “Today Show,” CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360,” MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show” and the “CBS Evening News.” She has contributed to The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN Opinion and Marie Claire. Allison has also led impact partnerships with noteworthy films, including Warner Brothers’ “Dunkirk,” Netflix’s “War Machine” and “Blood Stripe,” an independent film that depicts a woman Marine’s transition from combat to civilian life.


Dred Scott, '00


Dred Scott is passionate about helping individuals who are disadvantaged or disenfranchised. He is inspired to prove that individuals from marginalized circumstances can achieve at high levels regardless of their past or present circumstance.

After earning his bachelor’s degree from Southwest Missouri State University in 1997, Dred earned his master’s in School Administration from UCM in 2000. He went on to achieve a doctorate in Educational Leadership from Baker University in Baldwin City, Kansas.

Dred worked for 11 years in the Raytown C-2 School District. He was honored as the district’s Teacher of the Year and became principal of the elementary school with the highest at-risk population, transforming the school from the lowest performing in the district to one of the highest.

Dred’s final position in Raytown was executive director of support services districtwide, overseeing the transportation, buildings and grounds, and food service departments. He supervised the construction of a new elementary school, early childhood center and additions to both of the district’s high schools.

Dred joined Independence School District in 2008 as the deputy superintendent responsible for all aspects of curriculum, instruction and assessment. He led several districtwide initiatives, including employee negotiations, leadership selection and development, and employee recognition.

In 2018 Dred became president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City. His experience, vision and leadership advanced the organization’s strategic priorities and positioned it for continued success. He joined the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City as president in August 2022. As a KC native, Dred is passionate about working with civic and business leaders across all sectors, including education, to address complex community challenges and build a more vibrant city.

Dred has been married to his wife, TuJuania, for 22 years. The couple has two sons, Antione and Quincy, and one daughter, Kayla.


Diane, '77, and Barry, '84, Whitworth


Making a difference in the community is a mission that Barry and Diane Whitworth adhere to by action and words. Both grew up in small communities where they enjoyed the country life. Barry grew up on a farm in Windsor, and Diane grew up on her family’s farm in Garden City. Both were the first in their family to attend college.

Diane graduated from Central Missouri State University with a degree in Criminal Justice in 1977, and Barry earned his degree in Agriculture in 1984. Both were involved in Greek Life where Diane was a member of Sigma Kappa serving as vice president and president, and Barry was a member of Phi Sigma Epsilon. They both fondly remember Greek Week, which then included canoe races at Pertle Springs.

After college Diane became employed with the United States Postal Service and was appointed as a postal inspector in 1978. She had a 33-year career with the USPS in various positions, retiring in 2010 as acting manager, human resources, for the Mid-America District. Barry began working in the insurance and auto industry in Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago and Washington, D.C. In 1986 he was promoted as regional manager for Universal Underwriters, and the couple moved to Houston.

In 1993 they had the opportunity to purchase Diane’s family farm in Garden City. Barry was promoted to vice president of national accounts for Universal Underwriters, then moved to Sentry Insurance where he retired as a regional manager in 2016.

Today they support sorority and fraternity members who are making a difference in their communities through the Blaine Whitworth Go Big or Go Home Foundation Scholarship. The scholarship, one of three they have endowed through the UCM Alumni Foundation, is named after their son Blaine, who was murdered in 2012. After his death, they chose to channel their grief as a family by establishing the nonprofit Blaine Whitworth Go Big or Go Home Foundation.

The foundation hosted a 5K Race/Walk for eight years during Greek Week in downtown Warrensburg. After the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to the race, they transitioned to a golf tournament in 2021 and held the second annual golf event during Homecoming 2022. All money raised in the past decade has been donated to further the organization’s three primary goals: helping entrepreneurs fulfill their dreams, promoting youth sports and recreation, and lending a hand up to those in need.

The couple has been active at UCM with the Harmon College of Business and Professional Studies. The Blaine Whitworth Speaker Series was established in 2014 and has brought more than 30 successful entrepreneurs to campus to share their stories. Through their foundation they have provided financial support to student veterans at UCM, a scholarship for a student veteran at the UCM Police Academy, summer tuition for a student veteran and financial assistance for emergency needs. They have also provided a paid internship to a UCM student, partnered with UCM’s Innovative Public Relations group, donated to the Student Hardship Fund and sponsored two business camps at UCM for high school students who aspire to be entrepreneurs.

Diane and Barry reside in Garden City, Missouri. They have installed lights on the T-ball field and donated toward the new fencing project at the Garden City Park. They have also provided funding for Eagle Scout projects and purchased a trailer and camping gear for Boy Scout Troop 244.

Diane was a member of the Sherwood Cass R-VIII School Board for 12 years, serving as president for three years. She is now a member of the newly formed Sherwood Public School Foundation, and the Blaine Whitworth Go Big or Go Home Foundation provides scholarships at Sherwood High School. In addition, Diane has been president of the Garden City Cemetery Association since 2011. Barry is finance chair for the United Methodist Church and a member of the Sherwood Community Center Board.

The Whitworths remain active in Warrensburg as members of Warrensburg Main Street, Warrensburg Chamber of Commerce and Whiteman Air Force Base Community Council. Diane serves as a member of the Warrensburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. The couple provides support for local charities including Big Brothers Big Sisters, Manna Harvest, Project Community Connect, RISE and Survival House.

Barry and Diane are the parents of Tucker Whitworth, ’14, and daughter-in-law Madison; Corby Suptic and son-in-law Jim Suptic; and daughter-in-law Melissa. They enjoy spending time with their five grandchildren, Chancey, Lane, Amelia, Talulah and Cameron. Their sons Blaine and Tyler are deceased.



2021 Distinguished Alumni

The UCM Alumni Foundation presented the Distinguished Alumni Awards to the following exceptional alumni in 2021:

2021 honorees

Russ Ball, '81
Distinguished Alumni Award

Joseph Dandurand, '77
Distinguished Alumni Award


Russ Ball, '81


Russ Ball, recipient of the 2021 Distinguished Alumni Award, has had a 32-year career in the National Football League. His diverse experience has brought him to the pinnacle of the sport as executive vice president and director of football operations for the Green Bay Packers.

Ball graduated in 1981 with a bachelor’s degree in physical education from what was then Central Missouri State University (CMSU). From there, he became a graduate assistant strength coach at the University of Missouri in his hometown of Columbia, where he also assisted with filming practice. When strength coach Dave Redding accepted a job with the Cleveland Browns in 1982, Ball was promoted to Mizzou’s head strength coach at age 22, and served for seven years while earning his master’s degree in human performance.

Redding and Ball reunited in 1988 as strength and conditioning coaches on Marty Schottenheimer’s inaugural staff with the Kansas City Chiefs. Ball worked for the Chiefs for 10 seasons, doing everything from operating the second end zone camera during home games to charting offensive personnel and signaling in defensive coverages.

He joined the Minnesota Vikings in 1999 as senior football administrator, and after learning the nuances of the salary cap and player contracts, he honed those skills for a season in Washington before joining the New Orleans Saints in 2002. He was the Saints’ vice president of football administration, and after six seasons was hired in 2008 as the Green Bay Packers’ vice president of football administration/player finance.

Now in his 14th season, he is responsible for negotiating player contracts, managing the salary cap and supervising numerous departments.



Joseph Dandurand, '77


Joseph Dandurand, recipient of the 2021 Distinguished Alumni Award, lived in a suburb of Chicago before moving with his parents and six siblings to Missouri the summer before seventh grade. The family first resided in Holden, then moved to Warrensburg in 1970.


He enrolled in St. John’s Diocesan Seminary School in Kansas City, but ultimately decided to pursue an accounting degree at CMSU, after which he completed his juris doctorate from the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. Shortly after graduating from UMKC, Dandurand joined Warrensburg lawyer Kirk Rahm’s legal firm, where he practiced law until he was recruited to run for a circuit judge seat serving Cass and Johnson counties. At age 30, the minimum age for the position, he became the youngest circuit judge in Missouri history, and was re-elected in 1992, 1998 and 2004.


Dandurand presided over many tough cases, including that of serial killer John Robinson and approximately 50 death penalty cases — all but one of which he helped resolve by guilty plea without a death sentence. In 2007 he was appointed to the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District, where he also chaired the Supreme Court Judicial Education Committee.


After two years as an appellate judge, Dandurand became chief deputy to then-Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster. He retired this year as executive director of Legal Aid of Western Missouri, a nonprofit providing free civil law services to underprivileged clients. He now devotes his time to mediations and arbitrations with the Jay Daugherty Mediation Firm in Kansas City.  



2020 Distinguished Alumni

The UCM Alumni Foundation presented the Distinguished Alumni Awards to the following exceptional alumni in 2020:

2020 honorees

Faruk Capan, '92
Distinguished International Alumni Award

John Culp, '69, '75
Distinguished Alumni Award for Service

Donna Lake, '92
Distinguished Alumni Award

Melissa Willis, '92
Distinguished Alumni Award

Derek Wiseman, '11
Distinguished Alumni Award for Early Achievement


Faruk Capan, '92


Faruk Capan, recipient of the 2020 Distinguished International Alumni Award, took a risk leaving his native Istanbul, Turkey, to pursue an MBA at CMSU. Moving from a city with a population of 15 million to the small town of Warrensburg was a culture shock — but a decision he said he will never regret.

After graduating with a Business Administration degree in 1992, Capan took a position at a major pharmaceutical company. In the late 1990s, he took another risk, launching his own business with little more than a big-picture vision and a single employee to manage the details. Intouch Group has since grown to become one of the leading independent health care marketing networks in the world, with eight offices across the globe and more than 1,300 employees.

As founder and CEO of this full-service agency network based in Overland Park, Kansas, Capan describes his leadership style as “very growth-oriented … if I grow, everybody will grow with me.”

As part of their 20th anniversary celebration in 2019, Intouch developed hygiene kits for the Ronald McDonald House and Heart to Heart International (HHI). When the pandemic began impacting the region, Intouch employees stepped up to support HHI with similar kits and contributions. As a result, Intouch donated $100,000 to HHI programs focused on training nonprofits in coronavirus infection prevention and control.


John Culp, '69, '75


John Culp, recipient of the 2020 Distinguished Alumni Award for Service, earned his entire education on the Warrensburg campus. A lifelong Warrensburg resident, Culp attended College Elementary School and College High School, graduating in 1965. He then enrolled at Central Missouri State College and earned his bachelor’s degree in physical education in 1969.


He went on to complete a master’s degree in secondary administration in 1975 from what was then CMSU. Culp has lived his life with the three F’s in mind — Faith, Family and Friends — while also having a love for football. Shortly after leaving CMSU with his undergraduate degree, he began his education career at Warrensburg Middle School, where he was affectionately known by students and faculty as “Coach Culp.”


Once he completed his graduate coursework, he went on to teach in Pleasant Hill and Harrisonville, Missouri. In 1986 he returned to the Warrensburg R-VI School District, retiring from the district in 1999. He continued to coach at Raytown South High School and then Blue Springs High School. He has also assisted the Warrensburg High School Tigers.


In 2003 Culp was named student-athlete retention coordinator at UCM. He also served the university as coordinator of secondary field experience and student-teacher supervision and as an instructor in the Master of Arts Teaching Certificate program. Culp has further exemplified “Education for Service” by sponsoring Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity and the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, and serving on the Survival House board since 2012. 


Donna Lake, '92


Donna Lake, recipient of the 2020 Distinguished Alumni Award, is the first female fire chief in the more than 150-year history of the Kansas City Fire Department (KCFD) and a role model for young women pioneering this male-dominated field.

Lake, who chose to attend CMSU partly because it was close to home, graduated in 1992 with a public relations degree and graphic arts minor. She earned her Master of Public Administration from the University of Kansas and completed the National Fire Academy Executive Fire Officer Program.

Lake has worked for the city of Kansas City for nearly 30 years, including a stint as assistant city manager for public safety. She oversaw nearly $40 million in upgrades to replace outdated fire trucks and ambulances and also upgraded three fire department facilities to gender-neutral standards.

Before becoming fire chief in 2019, Lake progressed through the ranks of KCFD. She started as a firefighter, then became a training instructor and equipment officer. She went on to serve as division chief of hazardous materials, deputy chief of special operations, and incident commander in the joint command structure for the 2012 All-Star Game in Kansas City.

In 2014 she was named assistant fire chief in command of the Technical Services Bureau.


Melissa Willis, '92


Melissa Willis, recipient of the 2020 Distinguished Alumni Award, earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from CMSU while working at Cripps Pharmacy in downtown Warrensburg and Marion Merrell Dow in Kansas City. This experience, coupled with a strong lab component in her biology and chemistry coursework, set her on the path to a career fighting infectious diseases.

After graduating in 1992 with UCM’s Distinguished Scholar Award, Willis earned her doctorate in pharmacology from Yale University and completed her postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University’s Immune Disease Institute. She served as a senior research scientist specializing in bacterial toxins before signing on with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) in 2010. There she helped develop the only available treatment for patients suffering from botulism and a drug for patients infected with anthrax.

Willis was promoted to influenza therapeutics chief at BARDA and partnered with Regeneron Pharmaceuticals to develop a multi-antibody cocktail against Ebola. In 2018 there was an outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the drug, now part of the standard treatment for Ebola patients, reduced the mortality rate from approximately 70 percent in untreated individuals to less than 6 percent.

These accomplishments influenced Willis’ decision to become a teacher at the Academies of Loudoun High School in Leesburg, Virginia, where she hopes her story will inspire young women to pursue science as a career.


Derek Wiseman, '11


Derek Wiseman, recipient of the 2020 Distinguished Alumni Award for Early Achievement, is a federal prosecutor for the U.S. Department of Justice, leading his office’s response to large-scale financial crimes. He formed the foundation for his career at UCM.

Growing up in Jefferson City, Missouri, Wiseman played a variety of sports and earned a track and field scholarship to UCM. He ran for the Mules until an injury during his sophomore year put an end to his days on the track but paved the way for greater civic engagement. Wiseman joined the Pre-Law Students Association and Mock Trial team. He also served the university as Student Government Association president.

After earning his degree in political science with a philosophy minor, Wiseman continued his education at the Washington University School of Law. He graduated near the top of his class and landed a position at Husch Blackwell, where he learned from some of the best lawyers in the region and logged a record number of pro bono hours.

In 2016 Wiseman became an assistant U.S. attorney, using the trial advocacy skills that he first developed at UCM to prosecute and ultimately dismantle some of the nation’s largest criminal organizations.




2019 Distinguished Alumni

The UCM Alumni Foundation presented the Distinguished Alumni Awards to the following exceptional alumni in 2019:

Debby Ballard, Class of 1974
Distinguished Alumni Award

Maj. Gen. Pat Cavanaugh, Class of 1970
Distinguished Alumni Award

Dr. Paul Hsu, Class of 1978 
Distinguished International Alumni Award

Larry W. Jennings, Class of 1981
Distinguished Alumni Award for Service  



Debby Ballard, '74


Debby Ballard is the director of community affairs at Sprint, leading the Overland Park, Kansas-based company’s local and national outreach programs. She also serves as president of the Sprint Foundation, prioritizing causes that include "making lives better for kids, particularly urban kids, and for women.”


Ballard earned her bachelor’s degree from UCM in home economics and has received an honorary doctorate from William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri. Growing up as the child of a minister and a kindergarten teacher helped instill in her an appreciation of lifelong learning and shape what she describes as her fearless attitude toward life.


In 2016, Debby Ballard received the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce's highest honor, the Athena Leadership award. She is a trustee of the University of Missouri-Kansas City and has served as chair of the board of both the Kansas City Zoo and the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey. She is a past president of the Jackson County chapter of Links Inc. and has been a board member of the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, Central Exchange, Francis Family Foundation, Truman Foundation and CTIA The Wireless Foundation.



Maj. Gen. Pat Cavanaugh, '70


After graduating from the University of Central Missouri with a bachelor’s degree in political science, Pat Cavanaugh was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Signal Corps through UCM’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), where he was a charter member. He served 11 years in Germany, three years in Korea and completed several war zone assignments in Iraq, Bosnia and Kosovo. Cavanaugh later earned a master’s degree in communications from the University of Northern Colorado and pursued extensive additional officer training in the military.


Major General Pat Cavanaugh retired from active duty from the U.S. Army in 2002 with many decorations and awards, concluding his military career as the commanding general of both Fort Gordon in Georgia and the U.S. Army Signal Center. He then worked as a consultant and project manager before fully retiring in 2013.



Paul Hsu, '78


Born in Taiwan, Paul Hsu came to the University of Central Missouri on a scholarship to earn his master’s degree in industrial management and system engineering. Education has been one of the keys to his success, and Hsu went on to complete a Ph.D. (1992, LaSalle University) and Harvard Business School’s Executive Educational Program (1995).

Hsu’s entrepreneurial story begins in 1984 with his first business, Manufacturing Technology Inc., a supplier of electronics to the U.S. military. Hsu built three successful companies following MTI beginning with Total Parts Plus Inc., an internet-based data content company providing electronic component obsolescence management and engineering services; ActiGraph LLC, an electronic medical device manufacturer of a product that collects biometric data; and Crestview Technology Air Park, an airport development providing infrastructure for aerospace and technology-driven solutions in Northwest Florida.

Hsu is the Chairman and Founder of the HSU Educational Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preparing K-20 students in the high-demand career fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics with a mission to encourage excellence in teaching and innovation in the classroom.

Hsu has served in multiple presidential appointments for each administration since President George W. Bush and was recently named by President Donald Trump as Chairman of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). Hsu's entrepreneurial principles include: “Stay curious – Never say no before you say maybe – Be bold – Strive to understand what makes people tick – Build relationships – Build wisely – Welcome new ideas, even from unlikely sources – Adhere to strong values.”


Larry W. Jennings, '81


Larry Jennings, a Warrensburg native, earned his bachelor’s degree in broadcast media with a minor in safety. He cites his family’s involvement in the community as “probably the biggest influence” on his decision to pursue a career in service.


Jennings started as a volunteer firefighter in 1976 for the Johnson County Fire Protection District. He was a fire scene investigator from 1987 to 1992 for Missouri’s Fire Safety Division. He then spent 15 years as an investigator for American Family Insurance’s special investigations unit. Jennings has been the fire chief of the Johnson County Fire Protection District 1 in Warrensburg since 2007. In 2009, the Fire Fighters Association of Missouri named him Chief of the Year, and he currently serves as the organization’s first vice president. Jennings also serves as director for the Professional Fire and Fraud Investigators Association.


Top priorities throughout his career have included fire suppression and fire safety training for firefighters and residents, resulting in a Johnson County Training and Safety Division and the purchase of a fire and weather safety trailer used for community education. Jennings makes numerous presentations for UCM and has trained and mentored students, volunteers, interns and student residents for decades.



2018 Distinguished Alumni  


Randall Harbert

Randall Harbert is the chief agency sales and marketing officer for State Farm Insurance and has been recognized by Business Insider as one the 50 Most Innovative Chief Marketing Officers in the World.

At UCM, he pursued leadership experiences as a member of Alpha Kappa Lambda, had an exciting career as a collegiate golfer, and was the male recipient of the Charno Award. Harbert said it was the mentors at UCM, like graphic arts professor Jim Hoisington, who helped him excel.

After graduation, he started his professional career with positions in both pharmaceutical sales and branding. In 1992, he left his marketing position at H.J. Heinz to become an agent for State Farm, where he quickly rose through the ranks. Harbert and his wife, Kelly, have served on the UCM Alumni Foundation Board, helped create UCM's State Farm Marketing and Sales labs and helped bring the State Farm Marketing and Sales Competition to UCM. They also have endowed the Randall and Kelly Harbert Marketing Professorship.

“I learned to be a good student at the University of Central Missouri,” Harbert said. “What I learned here is that if you work hard, the rewards can be great, and that’s my biggest takeaway.”

Rebecca Morlando

Rebecca Morlando is the Lean Six Sigma Manufacturing and Supply Chain director for 3M’s Safety and Graphics Division. She oversees operations in more than 20 countries, with revenues in excess of $4.5 billion.

“I fell in love with 3M,” Morlando said. “How can you not? As a chemist, as a natural scientist? We take great scientists, we solve big problems, and we impact lives around the world.”

A Warrensburg native whose educator parents helped develop her love of learning, Morlando earned her undergraduate degree in chemistry from UCM in 1993, then attended the University of Missouri to earn a doctoral degree in chemistry in 1997. She then launched her professional career with 3M, a company where she had worked part time during her dissertation. She became a plant manager in 2003. Since then, she has climbed the professional career ladder with positions continually increasing in responsibility and scope. Her work takes her to countries across the globe, and in 2018 she had worked on every continent except Antarctica.

As Morlando travels the globe, she recognizes that the roots of her leadership reach back to lessons learned in her Warrensburg home and on the UCM campus. 


Richard Phillips

Richard Phillips has been honored for his 50-plus years of service in education with the Missouri Pioneer in Education award and the Friend of Education award. He completed his undergraduate degree at UCM and started his career as a teacher and coach at Odessa High School, followed by three years in Pleasant Hill. After earning a master’s degree, he returned to UCM in 1970 to obtain an education specialist degree.

Phillips had moved to a superintendent position when the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) asked him to be assistant director for supervision of instruction. He accepted the role with DESE and began a 14-year journey as the main architect of the state’s classification and accreditation effort. In 1993, he accepted a position as the assistant superintendent at Fort Osage High School. Then, in 2010, he was invited back to Jefferson City as the interim deputy commissioner of DESE.

When Phillips became president of the UCM Alumni Board of Directors in 2004, he said he was able to view the university through a different lens. He then served two terms as president of UCM's Board of Governors. Phillips is also a past president of the UCM Alumni Foundation Board and was inducted into the UCM Athletics Hall of Fame in 2013.

Rafie Hamidpour

Rafie Hamidpour, originally from Iran, earned undergraduate degrees at Arizona State University and the University of Missouri – Kansas City in mathematics and engineering. While working as an engineer in Kansas City, he commuted to UCM to pursue a master’s degree in industrial management, which prepared him for additional graduate study.  He went on to earn doctoral degrees in engineering and bioscience.

Hamidpour, who is also a prolific author, has engineering specialty offices in California, Kansas, Missouri and Virginia. In addition to engineering, he is a medical researcher and herbal medicine investigator through his company, Pars Bioscience. The company conducts pharmacological studies exploring the benefits of herbal medicines such as sage, saffron and camphor as anti-cancer agents. Hamidpour now holds nine certificates of registration from the Library of Congress and a number of patent registrations in the United States and Canada. His first patent was for developing a motion control system.

“I liked the courses at UCM,” Hamidpour said. “It is a good state university. I really enjoyed the research, and the master’s program set me up for my Ph.D.”

Sarah Osborne


Sarah Osborne has been recognized as a Next Generation Leader by the Kansas City Business Journal and a Felllow of the Society of Actuaries. She began work as an actuary at Assurant Employee Benefits, and in 2010 she advanced to the vice president position with Lockton Companies. Since 2016, she has served as the senior vice president and chief actuary and analytics officer for GEHA.

Osborne entered college at the University of Central Missouri in the late 1990s, where she was an outstanding student of actuarial science. She was involved with the Student Government Association, the Actuarial Organization, Kappa Mu Epsilon and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. She was also a UCM cheerleader and a Charno Award winner. She credits the late Sherralyn Craven, professor of actuarial science, as a strong influence in her successful academic and professional careers.

Osborne volunteers with the United Way of Greater Kansas City and serves on the Phoenix House Board of Directors, assisting women and children in need.



Watch videos of past Distinguished Alumni Award recipients on YouTube.




Barry Davis is a regional managing partner for BKD, one of the nation’s largest certified public accounting and advisory firms with 35 offices in 16 states, more than 2,700 employees including 270 partners, and more than $550 million in annual revenues. Davis joined BKD two years after earning an undergraduate accounting degree from Central Missouri in 1981. He was honored this fall at the 2017 Distinguished Alumni Dinner during Homecoming. READ MORE

Karen LeDoux is a retired major general in the U.S. Army. Her last assignment was as the commanding general of the 88th Regional Support Command at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, overseeing base operations for the Army Reserve across 19 states. As a civilian, she is a program vice president at the Logistics Management Institute with an ERP business modernization portfolio. She was honored this fall at the 2017 Distinguished Alumni Dinner during Homecoming. READ MORE

Rob Ruth keeps busy between his family, career, community, church and alma mater. This 1975 alumnus grew up in Warrensburg, graduating from WHS in 1971. At UCM, he pledged Sigma Phi Epsilon and was president of the Physical Education Club. He also was a four-year starter for Mules Baseball and all-MIAA player in 1974-75, helping the team win the MIAA title and make their first appearance in the World Series. That 1974 team, including Ruth, is now a member of the UCM Athletic Hall of Fame. Rob was honored this fall at the Distinguished Alumni Award Dinner during Homecoming. READ MORE

Chang Bin Yim is the retired vice president of Textile Rubber and Chemical, a chemical and technology company with manufacturing and distribution facilities throughout the world. He came to Warrensburg from Seoul, South Korea, and earned degrees in math and chemistry in 1963. After earning a master’s degree in statistics from the University of Missouri, he started his career with Textile Rubber. This fall, Chang was honored at the Distinguished Alumni Award Dinner during Homecoming. READ MORE 

LaTanya Buck is the first person appointed as dean of diversity and inclusion at Princeton University, an Ivy League school considered one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious. She holds two degrees from Central Missouri: a bachelor’s in public relations in 2002 and a master’s in college student personnel administration in 2004. She earned a Ph.D. in higher education administration from Saint Louis University. LaTanya was honored this fall at the Distinguished Alumni Award Dinner during Homecoming. READ MORE




Adrian Andrews has lived on high alert during his 28 years with the U.S. Secret Service, leading federal and state undercover stings and providing protection detail for presidents, vice presidents and foreign dignitaries. He was honored by the UCM Alumni Foundation in October as a 2016 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient.  READ MORE 


Rick Mustion’s extraordinary professionalism, competence, commitment and character are credited with his military achievement becoming a major general. The two-star designation is the highest permanent rank given during peacetime in the uniformed services, requiring final approval by both the Senate and President. He was honored by the UCM Alumni Foundation in October as a 2016 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient. READ MORE 


Dan Power has succeeded in three career paths – education, real estate and finance – and along the way, has helped every community where he and his wife, alumna Shirley Barr, lived and raised their family. He was honored by the UCM Alumni Foundation in October as a 2016 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient for Service.  READ MORE


read about our 2015 da winners

Watch videos of past Distinguished Alumni Award recipients on YouTube.



If you know of alumni deserving of such recognition, please contact us for a nomination form at alumni@ucmo.edu. Suggestions will be reviewed by a committee and those individuals selected for formal nomination will be contacted for additional information.

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