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'We reflect St. Louis': UMSL to receive diversity award

"It’s a corporate diversity award, that illustrates our entire mission – which is to transform lives."
Credit: KSDK

ST. LOUIS — The diligent work of University of Missouri-St. Louis as an institution of opportunity and empowerment through accessible higher learning and resources has made the region a better place over the past sixty years.

And as they commemorate six decades of service to the region, they have another reason to celebrate. UMSL is being honored with the 2023 Corporate Diversity Award at the St. Louis American Foundation’s 21st Annual Salute to Excellence in Business Awards luncheon next Thursday at The Ritz-Carlton St. Louis.

“It’s a corporate diversity award, that illustrates our entire mission – which is to transform lives,” said University of Missouri-St. Louis Chancellor Kristin D. Sobolik.

“We are an anchor institution here in St. Louis. So being recognized for everything that all of us are working hard and doing from a very diverse and inclusive perspective out in the broader St. Louis community – that is what I am excited about.”

UMSL has been active on all fronts in making sure that education and opportunity are within reach for all.  “We reflect St. Louis,” Sobolik said. “We are St. Louis and the broader region’s public research university – the largest in eastern Missouri. Our mission and our founding were to make sure that we serve this region and the diverse people and corporations and needs of the region.”

The positive impact of UMSL creates a ripple effect that starts with service to its students and stretches to every corner of industry within the St. Louis region. There is the acclaimed UMSL Bridge Program, which plants the seed of possibility for a college education in high school students in underserved zip codes through taking courses and earning college credits that can be applied towards their future college degree. 

“Bridge Program participants are able to take part in that transformative education and it is literally producing the most diverse workforce in the state of Missouri,” Sobolik said of the initiative that was founded in 1986.

“Which is what we do at UMSL.” Since 2003, the UMSL Bridge program has had an astonishing 100 percent matriculation rate. Many of the Bridge Program graduates are first-generation college students, and many of them matriculate to UMSL.

“The students that come here are St. Louis. They graduate and they tend to stay in St. Louis. In fact, we have the largest alumni base of any higher learning institution in the St. Louis region. Our diverse students and alumni are driving the workforce development of the region.”

Shawntelle L. Fisher, founder of The SoulFisher Ministries – an organization that works directly with women who have been incarcerated and aids them in the process of reentering society – and Steven Harris, who was recently promoted to managing partner at RubinBrown LLP are just two of countless UMSL alumni success stories. According to Sobolik, UMSL alumni have an annual economic impact of $15.4 billion dollars locally and for the state of Missouri.

That number is one that Sobolik sees rising to coincide with the astonishing leaps of UMSL’s national rankings. In the U.S. News and World report ranking of colleges and universities, UMSL has risen 69 slots in the past three years to their current standing as 107th in the nation for public universities. UMSL also ranks within the top 100 for social mobility – which is a source of pride for Sobolik and her team at UMSL.

“This particular metric reflects the institution’s effectiveness in taking a student where they are and making sure that they graduate and have a positive impact in the workforce and in society,” Sobolik said. “We are the only University in Missouri to be there. That is a game changer for their lives, the lives of their family and ultimately the St. Louis region.”

UMSL is also doing its part to aid new, diverse entrepreneurs through its UMSL Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Accelerator program. Now in its third year, the program gives $50,000 non-dilutive capital injection awards to diverse new business owners.

“It is an opportunity for underrepresented people to expand and grow their business,” said Michael Butler, director of operations for the UMSL DEI Accelerator.”

This year, six companies were selected as recipients. UMSL students operate as fellows to help the businesses thrive and they receive invaluable mentorship from the university’s connections.

But what Sobolik proclaims will provide UMSL’s biggest economic impact to the region is their leadership role in the St. Louis Anchor Action Network. Led by Stefani Weeden-Smith, it is a network they are co-leading with Edward Jones. The initiative brings together top educational institutions, healthcare institutions and corporations in the region to focus on hiring and contracting in the 21 most underserved zip codes in the St. Louis region. The Anchor Action Network has signed a pledge to increase their individual and collective hiring and contracting in those underserved zip codes by 10 percent annually.

“If each one of those institutions does that, the economic impact in our region – in the areas where we need it the most – is going to be huge,” Sobolik said.

The St. Louis American Foundation’s 21st Annual Salute to Excellence in Business Awards Luncheon will take place at 12 noon (11 a.m. reception) on Thursday, February 16 at Ritz-Carlton St. Louis, 100 Carondelet Plaza in Clayton. For tickets or additional information, visit www.stlamerican.com or call (314) 533-8000.

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