KU Alumni Association, Black Alumni Network honors leaders and innovators

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LAWRENCE – Nine alumni will receive the Mike and Joyce Shinn Leaders and Innovators Award from the University of Kansas Alumni Network for their contribution to the university, their profession and their communities. The award is named after the late Mike Shinn, a 1966 School of Engineering alumnus who helped found the Black Alumni Network and the Leaders and Innovators Project, and his wife, Joyce.

Black Alumni Network Leaders and Innovators LogoThe nine recipients will be honored on October 14 during the first evening of the network’s biennial meeting, during the KU Homecoming weekend:

  • Luke Bobo, Shawnee, who received his BS in Electrical Engineering in 1982;
  • Phyllis Stevens Chase, Kansas City, Missouri, who received her BA in 1971 and her Doctorate in Educational Administration in 1987;
  • Patricia Weems Gaston, Lawrence, who obtained her BA in Journalism in 1981;
  • Denise White Gilmore, Hoover, Alabama, who received her BA in Accounting in 1977;
  • Darren James, Lewisville, Texas, who received his BA in Architecture in 1992;
  • Mark E. McCormick, Leawood, 1990 journalism graduate;
  • Clantha Carrigan McCurdy, Natick, Mass., Who received her doctorate in educational assessment in 1995;
  • Aaron Thomas, Overland Park, 2000 graduate of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; and
  • Irvetta Williams, St. Louis, who received her Bachelor of Architecture in 1987.

Luc Bobo is a nationally recognized speaker and writer on apologetics and public theology. He is vice president of strategic partnerships for Made to Flourish, an organization that provides resources and engagement opportunities to a national network of pastors. He is also a visiting professor at the Institute of Biblical Studies and a visiting instructor at Covenant Theological Seminary.

For his community, he sits on the boards of Carver Baptist Bible College, the Center for Public Justice and HustleUSA. For KU, he served on the School of Engineering‘s Diversity and Women Advisory Board and is a director of the Department of Religious Studies. He also served on the national board of the Alumni Association and led the KU Black Alumni Network as president.

In addition to his electrical engineering degree from KU, he earned a master’s degree in engineering, a master’s degree in divinity, and a doctorate in educational leadership.

Phyllis stevens chase is professor and coordinator of the PK-12 EdD program for Baker University. Over the course of her career, she has held many leadership positions, including superintendent of the public school districts of Topeka and the cities of Kansas City, Springfield, Columbia, and North Kansas City, Missouri.

She has also volunteered as a board member for numerous organizations including the Mercantile Bank, United Way of the Ozarks, and the Topeka Symphony.

Patricia Weems Gaston returned to KU in 2018 to become a Lacy C. Haynes journalism professor after her award-winning career as a journalist. She has held numerous editorial positions for The Washington Post, where she helped produce the domestic, foreign, editorial, editorial and opinion sections. Prior to the Post, she was an associate international editor for the Dallas Morning News and was part of a Pulitzer Prize-winning team reporting on violence against women.

Gaston advises the staff of the Daily Kansan University, mentors students in the Rising Scholars program, and sits on the KU Faculty Senate Executive Committee.

Denise White Gilmore is an advocate and leader on issues of social and racial justice and equitable community development. She is the Senior Director of the Social Justice and Racial Equity Division in the Office of Mayor Randall L. Woodfin in Birmingham, Alabama. She leads multidisciplinary efforts to serve marginalized communities and helps preserve, rehabilitate and share areas of cultural significance. Currently, she is leading the city’s efforts to further develop the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, which was established by former President Barack Obama in 2017.

She also serves on the strategic planning committee of the Alabama African American Civil Rights Heritage Consortium and has served on the board of directors of the Kansas City branch of the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Gilmore is also an active and proud member of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.

Darren james is president of KAI Enterprises, a design and construction services company with eight offices in six states. Prior to KAI, James was an architect and assistant director of construction at Texas Woman’s University.

In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, he is President of Fair Park First, a nonprofit group that oversees the equitable growth and development of a historic district in South Dallas. He also chairs the Dallas Black Chamber of Commerce, one of the oldest dark rooms in the United States. He has served on the Boards of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dallas and the Dallas Citizen’s Council and the Advisory Board of the KU School of Architecture & Design. He was recently named one of D CEO Magazine’s “500 Most Influential Business Leaders in North Texas”.

Mark McCormick is Director of Strategic Communications for the Kansas ACLU. He also serves on the Commission for Racial Equity and Justice of Governor of Kansas Laura Kelly, on the Board of Trustees of the African American Museum Association and as a Trustee of the William Allen White Foundation at the KU School of Journalism. He worked as a reporter for The Wichita Eagle, The Louisville Courier-Journal and the Springfield News-Leader. He is the author of “Barry Sanders: Now You See Him… His Story in His Own Words”. McCormick holds five Kansas City Press Club gold medals and was recognized as the club’s “top columnist” in 2009. He also served as executive director of the Kansas African American History Museum.

Clantha Carrigan McCurdy is the Senior Deputy Commissioner of Access and Student Financial Aid at the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, where she manages the legislative budget for scholarships, grants, tuition waivers and student loans for current and future students.

She is also president of the National Association of State Scholarship and Student Aid Programs and the Advisory Committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion of the KU School of Education & Human Sciences. His accolades include the Massachusetts Performance Recognition Award and the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators Service Award. The Eos Foundation recently named her one of the “50 Most Influential People of Color in Higher Education”.

Aaron thomas is executive producer and CEO of Wyandotte Entertainment Inc. and an assistant professor in the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. He is also the executive producer of the popular television show “SWAT”, which airs on CBS. He has written for many other shows including “Soul Food: The Series”, “Friday Night Lights” and “CSI: New York”.

He is a mentor to the next generation of writers and is a frequent guest speaker for the CBS Writers Program. He also helped create a mentoring program for color television writers in the Los Angeles area.

Irvetta Williams is the Founder and Senior Consultant of iJay Enterprises, a company that helps developers and municipalities navigate pre-construction and building code processes. She is also an expert in leveraging tax increase funding and community development block grants to develop residential and commercial projects in the Greater St. Louis area.

She has been involved in several professional organizations, including the Missouri Workforce Housing Association, the National Association of Minority Architects, the Missouri Association of Code Enforcement, and the National Association of Housing & Redevelopment Officials.

She is a consultant at the KU School of Architecture & Design and has served on the board of directors of the St. Louis Community Builders Network and the Foreclosure Intervention Taskforce of the Urban League of Metro St. Louis.

Since 2006, the Black Alumni Network has honored over 80 leaders and innovators. For more information on the network and the 2021 Reunion Island weekend from October 14 to 17, visit kualumni.org/ban.

About the KU Alumni Association

With the support of members and donors, the KU Alumni Association advocates for the University of Kansas, communicates with the Jayhawks in all media, recruits students and volunteers, serves the KU community, and unites the Jayhawks. For more information visit kualumni.org.


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