UK Engineering's Paducah Program Offers Western Kentucky Students an Education Closer to Home
LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan. 11, 2013) — The University of Kentucky College of Engineering is renowned for its outstanding faculty, research and students. In the past five years, its freshman enrollment has increased significantly, as students are realizing the value of a career in engineering, and the world-class education they can receive at UK. Students in far western Kentucky realize this as well, and are taking advantage of an opportunity to pursue a UK education while staying closer to home.
UK, in collaboration with Murray State University and West Kentucky Community and Technical College (WKCTC), has offered degree programs in mechanical and chemical engineering in Paducah since 1997, satisfying a regional need for professional engineers in this highly industrialized part of the Commonwealth. Located on the WKCTC campus, the program has a full UK faculty and staff and currently has 143 active students enrolled, the majority from McCracken, Marshall and Graves counties.
Jim Smart, UK associate professor of chemical engineering, has been with the Paducah program from the very beginning.
"Paducah is a wonderful place to live and study," Smart said. "When I heard about the proposal for UK Paducah, I wanted to get in on the ground floor. I thought it was very exciting. As it turned out, I was the first professor they hired."
Now in his 15th year with the program, Smart appreciates the opportunities to connect with students made possible by the small class sizes.
"Every class we offer has an experimental component. Students taking my fluid mechanics class will do fluid mechanics experiments during the semester — not two years later when they’ve forgotten most of the material. It enhances learning, and we wouldn’t be able to do that in classes of 40 or 50 students," he said.
Students in the Paducah program also have the opportunity to conduct research with faculty and make a difference on a global scale. Last year, seven students from the program traveled with Jeffrey Seay, assistant professor of chemical and materials engineering, to West Africa, where they helped design a project to develop low-cost, environmentally friendly technologies to produce biodiesel for rural villagers in Cameroon. They worked with the African Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology (ACREST) to design the process using resources and materials readily available in Cameroon. The 10-day trip to work with the local villagers in implementing and refining the design was the culmination of the year-long project. Christina Willett, a chemical engineering junior from Gilbertsville, said she did not realize the impact her career choice could make.
"Seeing first-hand what engineering has done — and can do — for our world made a huge impression on me," she said.
Matt Byrn, a mechanical engineering senior from Graves County, originally hoped to come to the main campus.
"I started thinking about engineering at UK in Lexington; but as I looked at the financial cost, it was clear that wasn’t going to happen," he said.
Fortunately, Byrn's father discovered UK's engineering program in Paducah, and they agreed that enrolling there would save money and allow Byrn to get started on his education. Byrn's father even said he could finish his degree in Lexington after two years.
But two years later, Byrn no longer wanted to move to Lexington.
"I love it here," he said. "I like the small community and small classes. I was a part of a tight group of fellow engineering students, and we would help each other through the tough times and I didn't want to leave them. I was getting the best of both worlds."
The program is benefiting non-traditional students as well. Lisa Drapeau has worked in the nuclear industry in the area for over 15 years, but did not have a mechanical engineering degree. She decided a few years ago she wanted to pursue one, but wasn't sure where to go. Established in her community, with two adult children attending college, it wasn't practical to travel very far.
"I heard there was a UK campus in Paducah, but I didn’t know what they offered," she said. "I was told I could do a whole mechanical engineering degree right there. I said, 'Great! Sign me up.'"
Not only is Drapeau excelling in the classroom, she also spent this past summer interning at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Knoxville, Tenn., for the Department of Energy. Assigned to the Global Nuclear Security Technology Division, she worked on a project designed to improve the tracking of nuclear materials. Set to graduate this May, she hopes to focus on advancing new technologies for the energy generation.
Amanda Anderson, a sophomore in the program, actually began college at Murray State University. When she decided she wanted to major in engineering, she transferred to the Paducah program, but was apprehensive at first.
"I thought I was going to miss traditional campus life because it was fun and exciting to be surrounded by so many people and to have numerous options for activities," she said. "However, this has really turned out to not be the case! The Paducah program has provided me with community, something that a larger, traditional campus usually can't quite achieve. Here, we build relationships with our professors and advisers. They know our names, our strengths and weaknesses, and are always more than willing to provide help."
She also didn't have any problem finding involvement at UK Paducah.
"I am, ironically, more involved now than I had been my freshman year! I am part of the Society of Women Engineers, American Institute of Chemical Engineers, and American Chemical Society. I am also a Student Ambassador for the Paducah Campus."
Anderson plans to finish her degree at UK Paducah, and hopes to work at a chemical plant or continue her education following graduation. She feels the Paducah program satisfies not only her degree, but her personal growth as well.
"We attend college to learn and to earn a degree, as well as to grow as a person and to help others grow. Attending the Paducah campus has fulfilled each of those categories and I can only expect it to get better as I continue to attend college here."
MEDIA CONTACT: Jenny Wells, (859) 257-5343; Jenny.Wells@uky.edu