Campus News

Kentucky Distillers’ Association Establishes Scholars Fund With UK’s Distillation, Wine and Brewing Studies Program

Distillation, Wine and Brewing Studies KDA UK Scholars Program Fund logo
The KDA UK Scholars Program Fund will increase diversity in the spirits industry.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Sept. 3, 2020) — The Kentucky Distillers’ Association is establishing a scholars program to fund scholarships aimed at increasing diversity in the distilled spirits industry. The KDA UK Scholars Program Fund will annually support full tuition for up to four students in the University of Kentucky’s distillation, wine and brewing studies program.

“As there are too few diverse voices in our industry, the new KDA Scholars program is a vital part of our commitment to building a workforce that’s more reflective of our country’s population and culture,” said KDA President Eric Gregory. “To live our values as a signature industry, we must work harder to cultivate a culture of diversity, inclusivity and collaboration. We recognize that this historic change will not happen overnight. The KDA Scholars is a significant step that will create a permanent legacy, forging meaningful and lasting change in our industry and our craft.”

 Through its Lifting Spirits Foundation, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association will fund 27 credit hours for students enrolling in the distillation, wine and brewing studies program.

"As the University of, for and with Kentucky, we know we work better and smarter when there is a diverse group of perspectives around the table,” said UK President Eli Capilouto. “The KDA UK Scholars Program Fund offers intentional support to our students from underrepresented populations who aspire to be part of this robust industry. This program is an outstanding example of the kind of support we can provide when our colleges work together.”

Together, the UK College of Agriculture, Food and EnvironmentGatton College of Business and Economics and the UK College of Engineering will offer additional support of 18 credit hours, bringing the partnership to 45 total credit hours — enough to support four students per year.

“This kind of partnership is representative of how UK seeks to work with industry to remove barriers for underrepresented students to an impactful part of Kentucky’s economy,” said Nancy Cox, dean of the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. “The distillation, wine and brewing studies certificate program is a nontraditional offering, but it offers excellent preparation for careers in the spirits industry.”

Jessica Pendergrass, chairwoman of the KDA board of directors, said the association is committed to increasing diversity to create positive, long-term, sustainable change in Kentucky’s bourbon industry.

“One of the best ways to live that commitment is to support the diverse voices attending our universities and working towards a career in distilling,” said Pendergrass, who is also general counsel and chief compliance officer for Heaven Hill Distilleries Inc. “While we are supporting students’ education, our members will also be providing internship opportunities and hands-on experiences for these KDA scholars. We are engaging to build a better bourbon industry that is more creative, more productive, more inclusive and welcoming to everyone.”

“This kind of support is so important, because it lowers the barrier for students from diverse backgrounds to enter the university. And it has three-fold impact; it helps the university, helps students and helps the industry,” said Rudolph Buchheit, dean of the UK College of Engineering.

Bourbon is one of the Commonwealth’s most historic and treasured industries, a booming economic engine that generates more than 20,100 jobs with an annual payroll topping $1 billion each year.

In addition, the industry is in the middle of a $2.3 billion capital investment campaign, from innovative new tourism centers to expanded production facilities, new bottling lines, replacing aging warehouses and more, all to meet the growing global thirst for Kentucky bourbon.

“We are delighted to be a part of this effort. The KDA scholars program is perfectly in line with our mission of preparing leaders for a global economy,” said Simon Sheather, dean of the Gatton College of Business and Economics. “Investing in emerging talent, traditionally underrepresented within the distilled spirits industry, will bring diverse experiences, ideas, and perspectives to the program, thus significantly enhancing future business endeavors for our graduates.”

The UK distillation, wine and brewing studies program provides students with a knowledge of an $8.6 billion international industry with many dynamic career opportunities.

“The growth of the industry and potential for innovation requires a regional workforce to advance sustainability and innovation,” said Seth DeBolt, director of UK’s James B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits. “Career options are broad and range from business and marketing, to personnel technically trained in science, technology, engineering and math disciplines with backgrounds in distillation, wine and brewing. The generous support from Kentucky Distillers’ Association and UK will ensure that we can prepare underrepresented students for a dynamic career in the spirits industry or give them a foundation for deeper studies.”

UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, through its land-grant mission, reaches across the Commonwealth with teaching, research and extension to enhance the lives of Kentuckians.

Founded in 1880, the KDA is the state’s voice for bourbon and spirits issues. There are currently 39 members, the most since the repeal of Prohibition, and 37 distillery stops on its popular Kentucky Bourbon Trail® and Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour® experiences. Learn more at and Please drink responsibly.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.