Opening Doors for the Next Generation

UMKC Law Foundation executive director Marie Dispenza helps position students to succeed by increasing their access to financial support
Marie Dispenza portrait

Marie Dispenza, J.D. ('05), enrolled in law school with the dream of becoming an entertainment lawyer – but now enjoys helping law students achieve their dreams through philanthropy and mentoring.

“I had no idea what it took to become an entertainment lawyer,” Dispenza said. “I knew about networking, but I didn't know how to do it. I just didn't know what I was doing.”

Instead of practicing law, Dispenza found a new calling close to home.

“I am kind of a do-gooder deep down,” Dispenza said. “That is what ultimately led to me to the non-profit sector.”

Dispenza found the most value in the personal connections made at UMKC. Many School of Law alumni with practices nearby are willing to mentor the next generation. It’s a tight-knit community in the big city. She didn’t need legacy connections to build her success. She could build them with the help of the UMKC family.

“Whether I actually know someone, or someone who can introduce me, it's very helpful in fundraising activities simply because relationship building is so important,” she said.

Dispenza returned to her alma mater in 2020 as the director of major gifts and now also executive director for the UMKC Law Foundation. She saw first-hand that additional resources and support are necessary for students to be positioned to succeed, and she is determined to make sure UMKC students, especially first-generation students, have access to both.

“People often come to law school because they want to make a difference,” Dispenza said. “I want to support the person who wants to do good work but maybe doesn't come from a privileged family or one with a legacy in the legal community.”

Barbara Glesner Fines, dean of the law school, was one of Dispenza’s professors when she was a student. Both expressed joy at the opportunity to work together again.

"Marie is leading the law school’s effort to expand scholarships that open the doors to a legal education, especially for the nearly one-third of our students who are first-generation college graduates. For our many students who dedicate their careers to public service, these scholarships permit them to follow that career path free of crushing student loan debt,” said Glesner Fines. “Marie’s talent and passion is engaging donors and volunteers to realize their own visions for making our community more compassionate and inclusive.”

Even all this time after earning her law degree, Dispenza still has her sights set high. She wants to see the non-profit sector flourish and innovate to see greater gains for their causes. She’s excited to continue with the Law Foundation to bring a diverse group of difference-making lawyers into the fold.

“I think that it's really important to me to be a part of changing that narrative — to build foundations for nonprofits that need a little bit more stability and efficiency,” she said. “Tying up loose business ends like that is the boring stuff that nobody really wants to talk about, but that is what jazzes me up.”

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Published: Jun 30, 2022

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