Our schedule and activities include guest speakers and panel discussions on topics such as expanding faculty roles in the business community, building program brand, and attracting international students. You will find that our speakers will add value for associate degree programs as well as bacc/grad schools. This site also contains the conference agenda and other links of interest for your visit to Kansas City.

Conference Speakers

Thought Leader Sessions - 

Rick Welch
River City Products, Inc.

Rick began his professional career in the corporate world with Honeywell and later the Kansas City based firm Western Forms.  He started River City Products, Inc. and has expanded it in many areas including food and spices, packaging, printing, eCommerce and infomercials, and barbeque.  Rick is active in business incubation and new product development and has found niche opportunities in a number of fields.

A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. He co-founded the Greater Kansas City Barbeque Society, which has spread our favorite home town export near and far.  He represents Kansas City Steak Company on the QVC channel and helped the firm become one of the top producers on national TV.

Active in the community he and his wife Tina participate in many charitable endeavors, one of which was JazzFeast for the reStart homeless shelter where he cooked barbeque for more than 500 patrons to raise money for the organization. He is also working with high school entrepreneurs in the Blue Valley School District.  Rick has been a guest lecturer for the Park Summer Business Academy for 9th and 10th graders from the Kansas City urban core, where he embodies the model of businesses partnering with students for success.

Rick will be our guest tour guide on the Kansas City BBQ Pilgrimage to Arthur Bryant's and will share stories on how he has helped to inspire and develop other entrepreneurs in the multi-billion dollar barbecue industry.

Richard W. Stilwell, CPA
President Emeritus
Insight Management Consultants 

Rick has over thirty years of experience in management consulting, corporate management and higher education. As a consulting partner with Touche Ross & Co., he held national and regional leadership positions. He has also held senior leadership positions in higher education and with privately held companies in the insurance and marketing services industries. He specializes in strategic analysis and planning, business process analysis, and profitability and performance improvement; with a focus on entrepreneurs and mid-scale companies, professional services and business-to-business services enterprises.

He holds a BS in Accounting from Pittsburg State University and an MBA from the University of Missouri – Kansas City.  From 1995 – 2000 Rick was the Assistant Dean and Director of Executive Education at the Henry Bloch School of Business and Public Administration at UMKC.  There he was responsible for the creation and development of the Executive MBA Program.

Active in the civic community, in 2009 he was presented with the Bernard Powell Award as the outstanding alumnus of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce Centurions leadership development program. He and his wife Connie are recently proud grandparents and live in Prairie Village, Kansas. Rick has also been a key figure in the development of the Park Summer Business Academy for 9th and 10th graders from the Kansas City urban core.

Dr. Prema Arasu, Ph.D., DVM
CEO and Vice Provost
Kansas State University Olathe

An infectious diseases researcher, veterinarian and leader in university international engagement, Prema Arasu heads Kansas State University's presence in Greater Kansas City as CEO and vice provost of Kansas State University Olathe.

The Olathe campus advances the mission of Kansas State University by integrating education, research and entrepreneurship focused on animal health, food safety and security.

Arasu joined K-State Olathe in September 2013 after serving as vice provost of international programs at Washington State University, with oversight of global services, global learning, international research and economic development. Before joining Washington State, she spent 15 years at North Carolina State University, where she served as director for global health initiatives, associate vice provost for international academics and professor in the department of comparative biomedical sciences.

She has published extensively in peer-reviewed and refereed journals like the Journal of Parasitology, and Molecular and Biochemical Parasitology. She conducted postdoctoral research at New England Biolabs Inc., Harvard Medical School/Massachusetts General Hospital and Cornell University. She was also a science and technology policy congressional fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and served on the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Health in 2002-2003.

Arasu earned a bachelor's degree in biology and diploma of education from the National University of Malaysia, a master’s degree in food science from the University of Wyoming, a Master of Business Administration from the University of North Carolina, a Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology from Hahnemann University — now Drexel University — and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Cornell University.

Dr. Arasu will be our luncheon keynote speaker and will discuss her recent Commentary Article, featured in the Kansas City Star Business Weekly (August 5, 2004), "Higher Ed, Business Need Teamwork."

Dr. Fred Snow
Symphony Education International, Inc.

Dr. Snow is a college trustee and three-time college president with extensive turnaround experience for small, traditional, residential liberal arts, and religiously affiliated institutions.  In addition, Fred has founded some of the most successful adult online programs in the nation, built large revenue streams for multiple universities, and is considered an expert in online pedagogical design and retention.  His education includes Ph.D., International Economic form the Kent State University - Graduate School of Management; an MBA from Penn State University; and a BA in Accounting and Spanish from Grove City College.

Michael Hernandez
Executive Vice President
Symphony Education International, Inc.

Michael is the  former Director of International Student Admissions and Services at Park University, where he built one of the most successful international student programs in the nation.  Under his leadership the University averaged more that 700 students from 75 different countries on an annual basis.  Michael helps Symphony clients to build successful international programs from the ground up.

From marketing to recruiting to ESL to programming, Michael builds large, sustainable programs. A major area of emphasis in consulting with colleges and universities to help recruit international business students.  Michael is a graduate of Graceland University with a Bachelor of Arts (BA), Psychology.  Their presentation will focus on  how Symphony consults with colleges and universities to help build student enrollments, both domestic and international, within business programs and schools using innovative and successful solutions.

William S. Parrott
Director of Strategic Alliances
Peregrine Academic Services 

For over 30 years, William (Bill) Parrott has worked in quality assurance and academic program development. Bill is an expert in the implementation of continuous improvement including program assessment. Before joining our team, Bill spent 13 years with International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education (IACBE).Bill has traveled to over 250 institutions of higher learning and reviewed 1000+ degree programs in more than 20 countries and within the US. Bill has reviewed accreditation documents, developed new academic programs, updated existing programs, and consulted with program administrators to enhance their ability to accomplish their goals.

Business and Industry Panel Members - 

Robert Mayer
MR Capital Advisors LLC

Bob is President of MR Capital Advisors LLC, an independent company which works in the origination and placement of commercial loans, development strategies, and financial incentives for real estate projects.

Prior to MR Capital, Mr. Mayer served as Vice President, Commercial Loan Office for the national GMAC Commercial Mortgage Corporation for more than five years in the Kansas City region.  He successfully originated and funded $200 million in loans for office, multifamily, retail, and industrial products.

Mr. Mayer is the founding President of The First Step Fund, a successful micro-enterprise loan and education organization for disadvantaged entrepreneurs.  This Kansas City based nonprofit has been recognized nationally for its success. Bob is a founding member of the Park University School of Business Advisory Board. He has facilitated internship and independent study opportunities for undergrad and grad students from several local colleges and universities including Park, Rockhurst, UMKC, and Avila.

From 1992 to 1996, Robert led the Kansas City, Missouri Tax Increment Finance Commission as Chairman.  He also served for four years on the Executive Committee for the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City.  In 1994, he was named one of Kansas City’s Top 25 “Up and Comers." In 1995, he was designated by The Kansas City Business Journal as one of the top economic development professionals in the Greater Kansas City area.  From 1995-1996, Mr. Mayer served as President of the Missouri Tax Increment Financing Association. He still serves on the board, and works with the Missouri Legislature to promote economic development incentives.

Kurtis Ruf
Ruf Strategic Solutions

Kurtis Ruf is a Partner at Ruf Strategic Solutions, a pioneering firm in analytic database marketing, and one of the first service bureaus that incorporated proprietary tools to assist firms in measuring return on marketing investment across all communication channels. Kurt graduated from the University of Kansas with a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science.  He is also certified as Professional in Direct Marketing (PDM) from the University of Missouri at Kansas City. Early in his career he served as an adjunct instructor at George Washington University in the area of analytics for database marketing in the tourism industry.

Long recognized as an industry expert in market segmentation, Kurt has been published in a multitude of industry trade magazines. In addition, he co-authored, along with Martin Baier one of the industry’s leading resource and training books, “Contemporary Database Marketing: Concepts and Applications.”

The firm which was founded by his father Jacob Ruf has built a data store via strategic relationships with many of the largest consumer and business data compilers in the world to resell Ruf’s unique segmentation solutions.  The Sr. Ruf was a pioneer in the database sector and developed IMPRS, the first relational database query tool that was commercially marketed.  Kurt and his brothers have a long history of creating internship opportunities for marketing, computer science, and engineering students to gain first-hand experience with data warehousing and marketing transaction data. Many of these students have joined their firm or other industry leaders including Experian, Dun & Bradstreet, FICO, and SAS.

Student interns learn to apply statistical modeling, demographic data, and thousands of behavioral and attitudinal overlays. The resulting intelligence allows prospecting via their managed multi-source databank of over 230 Million individuals and 18 million businesses. Their client base includes many Fortune 500 companies who benefit from their common sense approach to creative uses of “Big Data.”

Christine Murray
Director, Public Policy and Programming
Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce

Christine Murray is the Director of Entrepreneurship and Centurions Leadership for the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. She manages startup and emerging business initiatives within the Greater Kansas City community reinforcing the Chamber’s Big 5 initiative to make “Kansas City America’s Most Entrepreneurial City” including an annual innovation conference connecting entrepreneurs, innovators, and startups.  In addition, Christine is responsible for the direction of 80 current and 1,300 alumni Centurions. Centurions is a two-year leadership program for selected candidates from various business and professional backgrounds intended to offer avenues to become more civically involved through projects and other educational opportunities.  She has been active in various community organizations including Launch KC, InvestMidwest, Arts KC Fund, CASA, and held leadership positions with Hello Art, Debate KC, and The Nelson-Atkins Young Friends of Art. Christine has been honored with The American Chamber of Commerce Executives “40 under 40” and the Women’s Foundation of Greater Kansas City Celebration of Women. 

Joseph Kessinger
Vice President - Corporate Finance and Commercial Banking
Bank of Kansas City

Joe Kessinger is a business advisor with more than 30 years of experience in business development, corporate value enhancement, family business transitions and merger/acquisition advisory services.

He served as a principal of Capitus Group, where he provided expertise as a CPA, investor, business owner and financial/operations/exit consultant. Over the last five years he has concentrated his practice on the issues facing family businesses. He is currently a candidate for the Certified Business Exit Consultant™ designation.

He has been employed by two Big 4 accounting firms (KPMG and Ernst & Young), managed venture capital/private equity portfolios, consulted with family offices and has started, owned, operated and sold several different businesses, including an electronics manufacturing company and a medical device manufacturer. He also currently serves on the Advisory Board of 6 privately-held businesses.

He was the founding member of the Bi-State Investment Group, the co-founder of the Kansas Women’s Business Center and on the founding boards of both KC Catalyst and KC Sourcelink. He has served on a wide variety of civic and charitable organizations. He is a member of the Kansas City Country Club where he has served on the board.

He holds a BSBA from the University of Missouri in Accountancy and is a licensed CPA in the State of Kansas. He is a graduate of the Center for Creative Leadership and the Centurions Leadership Program. A 4th generation Kansas Citian, he is the father of a son and two daughters and resides in Prairie Village, KS.

Katie Lewis
IT Training and Recruitment Specialist 
Commerce Bank

A graduate of Missouri State University, Katie is an recruitment specialist in IT and training for Commerce Banks, and knows first hand how to identify key prospects from schools throughout the region.  Her academic background is in marketing and advertising and she spent several years as a working journalist in production at KYTV in Springfield.  At Commerce she has worked to develop, expand, and retained client relationships in our heavily regulated environment of the financial services industry. There she served to advise clients on federal programs, complex technical situations/software, and lending services to maximize efficiency with their day-to-day operations.

Christie Nanninga
Recruiting Supervisor
Farmers Insurance Talent Acquisition

Christie is a proud Bearcat from NWMSU where she earned both her BS and MBA from the Booth College of Business.  She has been in HR and Talent Acquisition with Farmers Insurance since 2000, and brings great insight to our panel on matching student expectations with their entry to the work force.   Christie supervises and coaches a recruiting team of ten recruiters, who service Centralized Auto Claims, Inside Property Claims and First Notice of Loss groups in Olathe, Kansas, Oklahoma City, and Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her group managed more than 700 employment requisitions in first half of this year, on is on pace to handle over 1400 by the end of 2014.

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