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KU Alumni Association, Black Alumni Network honor alumni for achievements

Friday, September 22, 2017

LAWRENCE — Nine alumni are the 2017 recipients of the KU Black Alumni Network’s Mike and Joyce Shinn Leaders and Innovators Award. The network, sponsored by the KU Alumni Association, will honor them Friday, Oct. 6, during its biennial reunion. The award is named for the late Mike Shinn, a 1966 School of Engineering alumnus who helped found the KU Black Alumni Network and the Leaders and Innovators Project, and his wife, Joyce.

The nine recipients:

Nolen Ellison, Kansas City, Kansas, who received his bachelor’s degree in education in 1963;

William Fleming III, Houston, a 1967 graduate from the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences;

Zelema Harris, Tucson, Arizona, who completed her master’s degree in education in 1972 and her doctorate in higher education in 1976;

Dwayne James, Ferguson, Missouri, a 1994 civil engineering graduate;

Curtis McClinton, Kansas City, Missouri, who completed his bachelor’s degree in education in 1962;

Reggie Robinson, Lawrence, who earned his bachelor’s degree in political science in 1980 and his law degree in 1987;

Walt Wesley, Fort Myers, Florida, a 1979 graduate from the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences;

Andrew Williams, Lawrence, who completed his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1988 and doctorate in electrical engineering in 1999; and

Valdenia Winn, Kansas City, Kansas, who earned her bachelor’s degree in education in 1972 and her doctorate in history in 1994.

Ellison has had a long and distinguished career in education. After graduating from KU, where he was an All-American point guard on the men’s basketball team, he taught in the Kansas City, Kansas, school district before earning his doctoral degree in leadership and management from Michigan State University in 1971. The following year, at the age of 31, he became president of Seattle Community College in Washington. He also served as president of Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio, where a building is named in his honor. Most recently, he was an endowed professor of urban leadership, management and economic community development for the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

He was a member of the Alumni Association’s national Board of Directors from 1981 to 1986 and has served on several other university committees. In 1983, he received the Distinguished Service Citation from the Alumni Association and KU for his service to humanity. 

Fleming has served as a leader in the medical community for more than four decades. A physician and neurologist, he became the first and only African-American president of the Texas Medical Association, the Harris County Medical Society and the Texas Neurological Society. He also holds the distinction of being the first African-American president of the Federation of State Medical Boards of the United States. He is a Texas delegate for the American Medical Association.

In addition to practicing at Memorial Neurological Association for the past 36 years, he also travels more than 100 miles twice a month to provide much-needed medical care to patients in rural, underserved areas of the state.

Harris is a veteran educator with more than 30 years of leadership in community colleges nationwide. She began her career in higher education in 1980, serving a seven-year term as president of Pioneer Community College in Kansas City. She later became president of Penn Valley Community College in Kansas City and Parkland College in Champaign, Illinois, where she was recognized as president emerita in 2006. She served as chancellor of St. Louis Community College, and in 2013 she became acting provost and interim chancellor of Pima Community College District in Tucson. At each learning institution, she advanced campus growth, program development and educational opportunities for underrepresented students. She has received more than 20 national and local awards for her service in education.

Her educational impact is also evident at KU, where she designed, implemented and directed a supportive educational services program that inspired the development of the university’s TRIO SES program, a federally funded initiative that provides support to first-generation, low-income and disabled students. She was inducted in the KU Women’s Hall of Fame in 1988.

James developed a passion for local politics early in his career as an engineer. In 2007, he was elected to Ferguson’s city council, and for the next nine years, which included the tumultuous time following the shooting of Michael Brown in 2014, he was the only African-American city council member for Ward 2. He also served as mayor pro tem from 2010 to 2014. He spearheaded the Ferguson Youth Initiative, a program that encourages the city’s teenagers to become more engaged in their community, and he currently serves on its board of directors. He also is a board member of Live Well, a local initiative that promotes healthy living in Ferguson.

He is the St. Louis County program director for the Missouri University Extension and an adjunct professor of mathematics at St. Louis Community College.

McClinton has pursued careers in athletics, public service and entrepreneurship. He distinguished himself as an All-American football player at KU, winning honors in the Big Eight, and he played professionally in the NFL as a running back for the Kansas City Chiefs. He later earned a master’s degree from Michigan State University and an honorary doctorate of Humane Letters from Miles College in Fairfield, Alabama.

He served as deputy mayor for economic development in Washington, D.C., before founding Swope Parkway National Bank in Kansas City. He launched McClinton Development Company, a construction firm that built affordable housing in several municipalities in Kansas, and he is currently chairman and CEO of Central Contracting Company. He also served as an adjunct professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. His papers are housed in the Spencer Research Library at KU. He served two terms on the Alumni Association’s national Board of Directors, from 1969 to 1972 and 2006 to 2011.

Robinson laid the groundwork for an eminent career in leadership as a student at KU, where he served as student body vice president and president of the Memorial Unions board of directors. In law school, he was editor-in-chief of the Kansas Law Review, and he graduated in the top 10 percent of his class.

He was an associate professor of law at KU, where he was twice awarded the Frederick Moreau Award for Student Counseling and Advising. He also served as chief of staff to Chancellor Robert Hemenway. From 1993 to 1998 he worked at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., where he was deputy associate attorney general and acting director of the Office for Victims of Crime. In 1999, he was appointed by President Clinton to the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships. Robinson also served as president and chief executive officer of the Kansas Board of Regents, overseeing the state’s six universities and its public postsecondary institutions. In 2014, he became director of the KU School of Public Affairs & Administration. He was named interim vice chancellor for public affairs in August.  

Wesley set the stage for his career in the NBA at KU, where he played basketball from 1962 to 1966 under coaches Dick Harp and Ted Owens, who recruited him from Dunbar High School in Fort Myers during a time when many talented African-American athletes were not recruited to play at major universities. He led the Jayhawks in scoring and rebounding as a junior in 1965 and was named to All-Big 8 and All-America teams. He is currently ranked 29th on the university’s all-time scoring list with 1,315 points.

He was selected in the first round of the 1966 NBA draft by the Cincinnati Royals, and for the next 10 years he played professionally for several NBA teams. He retired from the Los Angeles Lakers in 1976 and began a 25-year career as a Division I basketball coach at KU, Western Michigan University and the United States Military Academy at West Point. He also served as executive director of the Police Athletic League. He was inducted into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame, Kansas Athletics Hall of Fame and the National Negro High School Basketball Hall of Fame, and in 2010 he received the Jessie Owens Award of Excellence from Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. His jersey has been retired by KU and Dunbar High School.

Williams is recognized as a leader in the field of robotics. He has received awards from the National Academy of Engineering, Google, Microsoft Research and GEM, and he has been named among the Top 50 African-Americans in technology. He has a distinguished record of funding and has received grants from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and NASA, as well as several corporations, including Apple, Google, General Electric, Boeing and General Motors.

He is a former professor of electrical & computer engineering at Marquette University in Milwaukee, where he also directed the Humanoid Engineering & Intelligent Robotics Lab, and he is known for his work on programs for advancing diversity, equity and inclusion at universities nationwide, including the formation of the Spelbots, a competitive, all-female robotics team at Spelman College in Atlanta. In July, he became associate dean for diversity, equity & inclusion at the KU School of Engineering.

Winn has devoted her career to education and public service. She has served more than four decades as a professor of U.S. history and political science at Kansas City Kansas Community College. She has worked internationally with the Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad Program and has traveled to Senegal in West Africa, where she developed curriculum units, created guides and a website, and coordinated workshops on African studies. She also has served as project director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Strengthening Institutions Planning Grant, which focuses on multicultural education, student retention and student advising.

She has served in the Kansas House of Representatives since 2001 and is a ranking member of the House Education and Education Budget Committee. She also serves on several other legislative committees and commissions, and she is a member of Jayhawks for Higher Education. In 2015, she was elected to the USD 500 Board of Education in Kansas City, Kansas.

The KU Black Alumni Network has honored 68 African-American Leaders and Innovators since 2006. For information on previous winners and details of the Black Alumni Network Reunion Oct. 6-8, visit kualumni.org/blackalumni.


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