Women’s Council honors founder, female grad students with awards

Lindsay Adams

The UMKC Women’s Council named the 2012 recipients of the Graduate Assistance Fund (GAF) on March 13, paying homage to one of its founders, Martha Jane Starr.

Starr passed away last year just before her 105th birthday.

The annual awards have been distributed since 1971, when Starr helped create the fund.

At this year’s GAF luncheon, the fund awarded 67 recipients a total of $50,631 in fellowships.

Angela Bennett was the mistress of ceremonies for this year’s luncheon, a UMKC alumna and former president of the University of Missouri Board of Curators. Bennett is also the former president of the Alumni Association Governing Board and of the Women’s Council.

“This year’s luncheon is special because in addition to the phenomenal women who are receiving fellowships this year, we will be remembering Mrs. Martha Jane Starr, without whom neither the Women’s Council nor the GAF would exist,” Bennett said. “This special fund was established to fill in the gaps that otherwise made a graduate degree an impossibility for so many.”

Starr became the first woman to serve on the UMKC Board of Trustees in 1963. However, she was treated skeptically by some of her fellow trustees. She soon proved them wrong. Instead of focusing on campus beautification and planting flowers, as they suggested she spend her time, she became a visionary and powerful leader. Her determination and drive was funneled into different charitable organizations like the UMKC Women’s Council and the Graduate Assistance Fund awards.

Karen Bartz, a former faculty member at the Family Study Center when Starr was the president of the Board, praised Starr’s accomplishments.

“She was part of a group of women volunteers in the community who were the driving force behind so many of Kansas City’s successful nonprofit initiatives,” Bartz said. “She and her many friends worked tirelessly to draw attention and financial support to issues of women and families, long before these issues were in mainstream conversation. She was a mentor and inspiration to me and so many other women in this community.”

Starr caused many waves at the time, but friction was not her goal. “I didn’t do these things because they were controversial,” Starr said. “I did them because they were right.”

Starr’s legacy lives on. Like the symbolic paper butterflies with seeds that can be planted that were given out at the luncheon, projects Starr set in motion are now starting to blossom.

At the awards ceremony, Bennett announced a new addition to the 100 awards included in the fund.

“This new named award will be the 2011-12 Women’s Council Board of Directors Award in memory of Martha Jane Starr,” Bennett said. “Like the others we’ll celebrate today, this award will have a permanent home in the GAF endowment to support a worthy student.”

More than 1,600 female graduate students at UMKC have been awarded the Graduate Assistance Fund fellowships with immediate aid awards totaling about $1.2 million.

According to Curt Crespino, Vice Chancellor for University Advancement, the GAF is “a program unlike almost any other in the nation. This fund, totaling more than $1 million today, was not the result of a large gift or bequest. It is the result of the thousands of gifts small and large from a community-wide pool of donors who came together to support the more than 1,600 women who have received assistance over the years.”

The awardees are too numerous to list. However, out of the 67, nine were mentioned as receiving the award because of what was cited as “outstanding merit”: Alivia Allison, Barbara Varanka, Kristin Ziech, Ze Liu, Jouliana Sadek, Surbhi Verma, Yun Lu, Tricia Hager and Divya Teja Vavilala.

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