Providing students with access to quality educational opportunities is essential to improving the quality of life in southern and eastern Kentucky. In today’s modern world, we must ensure students not only have the fundamental building blocks of an education – such as reading, writing, and arithmetic – but also have the technological skills to compete for jobs in the future. Over the years, I have worked hard to provide better educational opportunities for our youth. Below are some organizations that strive to meet that goal.
The Center for Rural Development in Somerset is home to a host of programs and organizations that seek to foster educational opportunities for youth and adults throughout the region. The Rogers Scholars Program, which launched in 1998, provides enhanced educational opportunities for students throughout the Fifth Congressional District. The program offers an intensive week-long summer session for rising high school juniors that emphasizes development of technological skills and fosters an entrepreneurial spirit, leadership skills, and commitment to rural Kentucky. Similarly, the Rogers Explorers program focuses on math and science skills for rising ninth graders. Each of these programs opens doors to learning for our region’s youth, promotes higher education achievement, and gives students a great summer experience they will keep with them for their entire lives.
Through the Eastern Kentucky PRIDE program, students are helping clean up our region’s land and waterways and are also learning to take care of the environment. Schools, teachers, and students in southern and eastern Kentucky are partnering with PRIDE to measure water quality at lakes, rivers, and streams near their schools and in their communities. They are also participating in service projects and unique environmental classroom activities.
To break the devastating cycle of drug abuse that afflicts many of our young people, Operation UNITE is working with students and schools on education and mentoring programs. UNITE funds substance abuse counselors who provide intervention services for students in schools throughout our region who may be struggling with substance abuse. UNITE has also partnered with the Future Fisherman Foundation and the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources to offer the Hooked on Fishing-Not on Drugs program, which promotes angling abilities, positive life skills, aquatic education and stewardship. UK basketball star Jeff Sheppard also collaborates with UNITE’s Shoot Hoops Not Drugs program, which shows youth there are healthy alternatives to drug abuse.
In today’s economy, higher education is often a necessary component to being competitive and successful. Throughout southern and eastern Kentucky, several colleges and universities have developed outstanding regional and national reputations, and are opening the doors of the world to students of all ages in Appalachia. From Morehead State University’s space science students putting satellites into orbit, to the University of Pikeville’s osteopathic doctors, southern and eastern Kentuckians are receiving quality education for jobs that are in demand. Furthermore, Alice Lloyd College, University of the Cumberlands, Union College, and the twenty Kentucky Community and Technical College System campuses in the Fifth District are churning out educated workers, eager and ready for today’s marketplace. I am proud of everyone in our region who has taken advantage of the many educational opportunities available in our backyard.
In 2019, I helped launch the University Center of Southern Kentucky (UCSK), a “multi-versity” that provides several pathways and delivery methods for students to earn a four-year degree from partnering Kentucky universities while being able to remain on the campus of Somerset Community College (SCC). After completing a two-year degree at SCC, students can choose from the partnering universities to complete a four-year bachelor’s degree at the Somerset campus. Students also have full access to student support services at the partnering university. This “multi-versity” allows students to choose the best degree for their career path without leaving southern Kentucky, opening doors of opportunity for education here at home and ending the out-migration of our best and brightest students.