At the end of July, I traveled throughout Central and Western Kentucky, meeting with extension agents, legislators and civic leaders.
My goal was simply to tell the UK story – the profoundly important ways in which this remarkable institution is impacting and changing our Commonwealth for the better.
But as is typically the case when I travel across our Commonwealth, I learned much more than I could ever impart.
In Grayson County, I heard extension agents – those trusted UK ambassadors to our state – talk about the economic transformation they’ve helped engineer in a transition from burley to beef cattle.
I heard stories about the lives of disabled children changed because of their participation in 4-H camps or the impact of literacy and food assistance programs.
I listened in a hushed room as one agent told me how he was looked to from families in their darkest hour, to serve as a pallbearer at funerals or to hear the needs of husbands and wives as they struggled through personal crisis.
In Princeton, on the research farm we operate, I saw firsthand the work we are doing in horticulture, livestock and other research – practical research applied directly to the challenges associated with agriculture, a multi-billion dollar enterprise in Western Kentucky.
I sat around a kitchen table over dinner with legislators at a home in Paducah, as they told me about the ripple effects of hundreds of jobs potentially leaving because the threat of closure of the Gaseous Diffusion Plan looms like a dark cloud over this community.
But I also heard their hope, in part stirred by the promise of the engineering students we educate in Paducah in cooperation with West Kentucky Community and Technical College and Murray State University. Bright, incredible kids – many of whom can’t afford to travel for college – earn a first-rate education, close to home.
And I heard their pride in this university as we discussed the progress we are making, with the authority they granted UK earlier this year, to self-finance $275 million in the construction of new classrooms, research facilities and athletics space that will continue our campus revitalization. They understood the impact of our efforts to construct thousands of new residence hall beds and how that will make it easier for our students to be more successful. And they lauded our resolve – made possible because of the efforts of the UK family – to hold down tuition increases and better compensate the faculty and staff who make a sophisticated educational experience possible.
They know what the UK family is making possible – a university that has tremendous momentum; that is as committed to transformation today as it was nearly 150 years ago at its birth.
That was our promise then. It is our promise today.
And it is a story I am deeply privileged to tell in every corner of our state.