Mary Phillips Awarded A&S Distinguished Alumni Service Award

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Though an advocate for many campus programs, her heart is near and dear to the Truman School

Mary Phillips, managing partner and founder of TreecePhillips Public Affairs of Jefferson City, was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Service Award on March 11 by the University of Missouri’s College of Arts and Science. Phillips, who received her master’s degree in public affairs from MU in 1993, was nominated by the Harry S Truman School of Government and Public Affairs during the Arts and Science Week award celebrations. Of the 80,000 Mizzou A&S alumni worldwide, the alumni recognized were honored for their work in changing the lives of others and the world for the better.

A Worthy Award

The Distinguished Service Award recognizes one or more friends of the university whose efforts on behalf of the college have greatly enhanced the quality of its programs to the great benefit of students, faculty, and alumni.

“Mary has worked tirelessly in assisting and promoting the Truman School since its inception in 2001,” says Lael Keiser, director of the program. “She has been a booster of the Truman School, both before and after it joined the College of Arts and Science, including meeting regularly with the founding dean to discuss ways to support and promote the school. She has continued this close relationship with the school during my tenure as professor and director.”

Keiser continues, “when speaking of what alumni can do to support the school, Mary often speaks in terms of ‘time, talent, or treasure.’ In Mary’s case, she has generously given of all three. Mary contributes not only to the Truman School, but also the Columbia community. She was a stellar candidate for the award, and one worthy of the honor she received.”

“I am truly honored to receive the College’s Distinguished Service Award and for the nomination by the Truman School,” Phillips says. “I strongly believe in the importance of the work of both the College of Arts and Science and the Truman School of Government and Public Affairs and am proud to support their missions of developing principled and knowledgeable leaders in the public sphere and fields of art, humanities and sciences. In my opinion, few programs are as critical these days.”


Helping people reach their potential has always been important to Mary Phillips. She has lived and worked around the world, including in developing countries where resources are scarce.

“What is not scarce anywhere, however, is the capacity of the human heart for empathy or the ability to find ways to support each other and create a better world for all,” she says. “I also credit my parents who were both public school teachers and wonderful role models.”  

I strongly believe in the importance of the work of both the College of Arts and Science and the Truman School of Government and Public Affairs and am proud to support their missions of developing principled and knowledgeable leaders in the public sphere and fields of art, humanities and sciences. - Mary Phillips

Developing and Supporting Women Leaders

This year Phillips celebrated the 20th anniversary of the public affairs firm that she co-founded. “Twenty years ago, there were very few public affairs firms in Missouri led and founded by women. Over the years I have enjoyed mentoring young professionals and helping launch several women-led public affairs firms,” Phillips says.

Phillips also works with the BOLD Academy, a local nonprofit organization focusing on leadership training to empower and uplift Black and Brown girls in Columbia by teaching them effective communication and advocacy skills. She has served on the Board of the Greater Missouri Leadership Foundation, faculty of the Sue Shear Institute for Women in Public Life and advises women interested in running for public office.

Supporting the Truman School of Government and Public Affairs

Phillips is involved in numerous volunteer activities on behalf of students, faculty, and alumni at the Harry S Truman School of Government and Public Affairs (TSGPA) and other programs across campus. She has hosted international students in her home and welcomes them to Columbia along with the Director of International Student and Scholar Services. Phillips has worked with Afghan students to support their families’ relocation efforts, mentored dozens of Truman School students, met with visiting Fulbright scholars to discuss international policies and programs, helped alumni looking for career insight and opportunities as well as professionals seeking new ways to utilize their skills and experiences.

"I am proud to see the national recognition that the Truman School has attained," says Phillips. "It has been my privilege to honor our outstanding TSGPA faculty and staff by establishing the Truman School Faculty and Staff Recognition Fund, which has now celebrated the important work of more than a dozen faculty and staff.”

In addition, Phillips partnered with Leanne Tippett-Mosby, program manager for student support services for TSGPA, to create a network of alumni across the country who seek to support students and recent graduates.

“We helped raise the national profile of the program and create opportunities for faculty, alumni, and students to interact formally and informally,” Phillips says. “It is wonderful to see the pride of being a part of the Truman School, from Washington D.C. to Washington State, it is immense.”

She is also chair of the Truman School Alumni Advisory Council and has been for several years. “As such, the council and I seek to help the school navigate new challenges, support faculty and administration, look for ways to increase enrollment, and importantly, enhance the program’s national reputation and presence,” she says. “I’m proud to say, after a lot of hard work, we are well on our way to each of these goals.”

Ensuring a Strong and Welcoming Columbia

Phillips says another priority of hers is supporting Columbia’s creative and business community. She helped lead the $10 million fundraising campaign for the Missouri Theatre while also serving on the Missouri Symphony Society’s board of directors. In addition, she welcomes business leaders worldwide who are considering locating to Columbia to work with MU’s stellar scientific research community and has served on nearly a dozen boards of associations, including the MU Chancellor’s Residence Preservation Society.

“For the last six years as the First Lady of the city of Columbia I have prioritized making Columbia a welcoming city for all, especially for vulnerable populations including the city’s international students and scholars, refugees and immigrants, LGBTQ youth, and minorities,” Phillips adds. “I seek to give voice to those who might otherwise be overlooked in our community, marginalized, or underserved. Not only is it the right thing to do but I know that a welcoming community is also good for attracting and retaining the best businesses, students and scholars.”

Grateful for her Mizzou Experience

Reflecting back on her time at Mizzou, Phillips says: “The skills and perspectives that I learned in the Truman School’s MPA program serve me every day. And today, I have come to appreciate even more the significance and value of a strong liberal arts education as found in the College of Arts and Science.  We need more leaders and scholars who are trained to think critically, creatively, globally and across multiple disciplines.

“The public looks to us for context and understanding of how and why we are here at this moment in time and how to develop thoughtful and strategic solutions for avoiding and ending conflict and finding our common humanity. So, receiving this award from the college that I have so much respect for has a special significance for me and I am truly humbled.”