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Women Trailblazers Award

The Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion is proud to host the annual Women Trailblazers Award.

In recognition of Women’s History Month, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion proudly host the annual Women Trailblazers Ceremony honoring UMSL women—who continue to “blaze trails” at UMSL and in the greater community that we serve. The Trailblazer Award is presented to women who have worked to forge new pathways for women and/or women who have contributed significantly to the University and/or the greater St. Louis community.

This year's theme, "Women Who Advocate for All," celebrates women who have not only demonstrated outstanding leadership but have also dedicated themselves to advocating for the well-being and advancement of everyone around them. It highlights the tireless efforts of those who go above and beyond, fostering positive change in our community.

Thank you to all who joined us for the 2024 Women Trailblazer Award Ceremony 

Riisa Rawlins, Interim Chief Executive Officer of the St. Louis Regional Health Commission inspired us as this year's keynote speaker. 

Katy Mike Smaistrla, 2022 Trailblazer Award recipient and Sustainability Coordinator, led us as the Mistress of Ceremony.

Please join us in continuing to celebrate and recognize this year's amazing line up of Trailblazers:
Dr. Kimberly BaldusAssociate Dean of the Honors College & Teaching Professor
Dr. Kimberly WernerAssociate Dean of Research, Associate Professor, College of Nursing
Dr. Channon PeoplesExecutive Director, Precollegiate Student Services
Dr. Patricia ZahnDirector of Community Engagement & Outreach
Maria A. EllisArtistic Director of The Sheldon’s All-Star Chorus and the UMSL Voices of Jubilation Ensemble
Nora StithArchivist for the Pierre Laclede Honors College Student Association, Student Trailblazer 

Learn More About Our 2024 Trailblazers

Kim Baldus is the Associate Dean of the Honors College and has served as an Honors faculty member teaching literature and composition courses since 1997. She led the development of the Honors College first-year experience (FYE) courses, its living and learning community, and its peer mentor program. The peer mentor program launched in Fall 2014 and has impacted the learning of hundreds of Honors students who have benefitted from the work of over 60 talented peer mentors. These peer mentors have helped shape the Honors FYE courses into innovative and engaging learning experiences. This distinctive peer mentor program will be included in an upcoming monograph published by the National Collegiate Honors Council.

Her current role includes supervising Honors faculty and staff, who constantly give her reasons to feel proud of their dedication and accomplishments. She also teaches students, primarily in the senior Honors Portfolio class as they reflect on their Honors education and develop application materials for graduate schools or careers. She loves to hear the stories of their successes, and especially treasures hearing from alumni about how much they enjoyed being in Honors.

Beyond her work in the Honors College, Kim has been proud to serve the UMSL community through roles such as chairing the Affordable & Open Educational Resources committee and the Teaching Effectiveness Taskforce.

Dr. Patricia Zahn, Director of Community Engagement & Outreach for the University of Missouri—St. Louis, has worked in education and nonprofit organizations for decades. She came to UMSL to support the Des Lee Collaborative Vision and help develop and strengthen community engagement efforts and partnerships. At UMSL, she has supported several collaborative initiatives with amazing colleagues. This year, Patricia has had the privilege of chairing the UMSL Association for Women Faculty and Staff. In recent years, she facilitated the launch of a Community Engaged Research workshop series and initiated a Service-Learning Community of Practice. She represents UMSL on the UM System Engagement team and leads the UMSL Community Engagement Liaison delegation. Passionate about the importance of civic life and social responsibility, she spearheaded the UMSL Civic Engagement Coalition—a group of faculty, staff and student members assuring voter registration access and civic learning opportunities on campus. Due to these efforts, UMSL is proud to be recognized for the past 7 years as an ALL IN for Democracy higher education leader and designated as a Voter Friendly campus.

Patricia is an active member of the United Way Women’s Leadership Society (WLS). She was on the steering committee that designed and launched the new WLS mentor program encouraging connection and helping women reach personal and professional goals. Last year she completed 12 years on the Affton School District Board of Education, serving for three years as President. During that time, she helped establish the St. Louis Area School Boards’ Learning Community.

A proud UMSL alumna, Patricia completed her doctorate in Education with a focus in Heritage Leadership. She holds a master’s degree in public policy administration with an emphasis in nonprofit management & leadership. Her undergraduate degree is in American Studies from St. Louis University. She is also a FOCUS Leadership St. Louis Class of 2012-2013 alumna.

Dr. Kim Werner possesses interdisciplinary expertise in behavioral neuroscience psychology and addiction epidemiology. She earned her doctoral degree in Behavioral Neuroscience Psychology from UMSL and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in transdisciplinary addiction research at Washington University in St. Louis. Currently, she serves as an Associate Professor and Associate Dean of Research at the College of Nursing, committed to advancing knowledge, fostering ethics, and promoting inclusivity within the UMSL and St. Louis communities. 

Dr. Werner's research explores biopsychosocial alterations associated with intimate partner violence, posttraumatic stress disorder, and trauma-related psychopathology, elucidating the roots of substance use disorder and other risky behaviors across gender and race. Her collaborative efforts to investigate the impact of brain injury and PTSD on survivors of intimate partner violence have gained national recognition. 

Beyond research, Dr. Werner leads initiatives to combat gender-based violence as the Principal Investigator of the Tritons United: Against Gender-based Violence grant from the Department of Justice, Office of Violence Against Women. Through this program, she and her team deliver gender-based violence prevention and education programming for the UMSL community since 2019. Dr. Werner is actively engaged in various University committees and community organizations dedicated to promoting ethical research, advancing social justice, and ensuring educational access for all. She chairs the UMSL Institutional Review Board and contributes to organizations such as the St. Louis Children’s Museum Educational Advisory Committee, St. Vincent DePaul Society - St. Ambrose Conference, and Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice.

Channon believes that each of us possesses incredible gifts and unique abilities. She believes that hope, faith, a spirit of joy, optimism, and perseverance are keys to a productive life. Each day brings a commitment for Channon to utilize her expertise to empower young people to reach their fullest potential.

Channon joined the UMSL Office of Precollegiate Student Services in 2003, where she began as a volunteer and currently serves as Executive Director. While the number of high school students under-prepared for the transition to postsecondary opportunities continues to rise, the office she oversees remains committed to providing educational opportunities and resources that fortify students academically and prepare them for the next phase of their life's journey. She feels extremely fortunate to be a part of a team dedicated to the educational empowerment and success of St. Louis area students and parents. Channon counts it a privilege to serve others in the St. Louis community by providing the tools necessary for successful postsecondary enrollment and degree attainment.

Channon is a proud graduate of Harris-Stowe State University with a Bachelor's degree in Business Administration. She also holds a Master's degree in Public Policy and Administration, Certification in Nonprofit Management and Leadership, and a Doctor of Education in Educational Practice from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She is a member of the Missouri Association for College Admissions Counseling (MOACAC), the National College Access Network (NCAN), and the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA). Channon serves on the MOCAN St. Louis Graduates Professional Development Committee, the Postsecondary Equity Network (PEN), and as the UMSL Women's Empowerment Network (WEN) Chair. 

As a native St. Louisan, Channon's fervency for student growth and development continues to engage her in efforts to address community needs. Channon serves as a mentor for secondary, college, and career-aged women. She has also volunteered at local churches and women's ministries, providing workshops on empowerment, self-awareness, and professional presence.

She is the devoted wife of Mike Peoples and proud mother of Breion, Isaiah, Maggie, Essence, Ehress, and Michael, II, and a grandmother to three baby boys. Of all that Channon has accomplished or could ever hope to, she is most thankful for her family. "The love of a family is life's greatest blessing." Eva Burrows

Internationally known as "The Girl Conductor", Maria A. Ellis is a passionate music educator and conductor. She is the owner of Girl Conductor LLC, which specializes in diverse music education resources and serves as the Artistic Director of The Sheldon’s All-Star Chorus and the University of Missouri-St. Louis Voices of Jubilation Ensemble. 

Maria is a highly sought after clinician, adjudicator and presenter throughout the United States and abroad. She holds a B.M. in Music Education emphasis on Voice (K-12 Certified) Degree from the University of Missouri- St. Louis, Level 3 Certification from the CME Institute for Choral Teacher Education and is currently pursuing her Masters of Arts Degree with emphasis on Choral Conducting from Webster University. 

Maria is the host of the Award-Winning Radio Show "Bach and Beyoncé" and "American Gospel with Maria A. Ellis" on Classic 107.3, The Voice for the Arts in St. Louis. This past June Maria made her Carnegie Hall Debut as a conductor and was awarded The St. Louis Arts and Education 2023 Arts Innovator Award as well as the St. Louis Suburban Music Educators Association 2023 Merit Award Winner. Maria is an active member of the American Choral Directors Association, National Association for Music Education where she is the Chair Elect for the Choral Music Education Council, and a member of the Chorus America Board. 

Maria is the wife of Marion Ellis and the mother of Aria, Kendal and Noah Ellis.

Nora Stith, who will be attending UMKC School of Dentistry next year, is a dedicated advocate for students at the Pierre Laclede Honors College and for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Nora has been a leading voice in the Pierre Laclede Honors College. She is currently a member of the Student Mentor Advisory and Recruitment Team and a Peer Mentor in the Opportunity Scholars Program and has previously held the roles of Student Representative and Archivist in the Student Association (PLHCSA).

During her time at UMSL, Nora has served in leadership roles for multiple student organizations, such as the Pre-Dental Society, Biological Society, UMSL Sustainability, and in the co-ed Service Fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega.

Nora is also an active volunteer with St. Louis Arc, an organization that provides support for individuals with disabilities. She currently leads a weekly book club group and volunteers on an as needed basis at the organization’s advocacy clinics. Nora enjoys the opportunity to be a member of the warm and welcoming community of clients, volunteers, and coordinators that is St. Louis Arc.

Nora is also employed as a Special Needs Facilitator at Fairmount Elementary School, in the Francis Howell School District.

In each of her roles, she has worked to empower those around her and to foster a community spirit.

Watch our 2024 UMSL Women Trailblazers Award Ceremony Below!

Enjoy the 25th Annual Women Trailblazers Award Ceremony from our 2021 Live Broadcast.

Note: Due to the Covid Pandemic, the UMSL Women Trailblazer Award Ceremony that would have marked our 25th anniversary was postponed until 2021. As such, our 2020 honorees are acknowledged along with 2021's honorees. Enjoy!

Join the live discussion

Please explore the past Trailblazer recipients.

For additional information, please contact the Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at odei@umsl.edu.