In this new series called “Advancing Kentucky,” UKNow is spotlighting the achievements of University of Kentucky alumni making impacts in the Kentucky communities they call home.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 8, 2023) — When Colby Hall graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in biology and biological sciences, he had no idea his career path would lead him to his current position as executive director at Shaping our Appalachian Region Inc. (SOAR), a position he has held since 2020. SOAR is a regional nonprofit focused on economic revitalization in Kentucky's 54 Appalachian counties through local projects and programs.
However, every step of Hall’s journey so far has prepared him for the career he believes he was destined for, and that destiny is to bring hope and real-life solutions to the people in his Appalachian Kentucky home following the decline of the coal industry.
A native of Somerset, Kentucky, Hall credits his parents for shaping the person he is today by instilling in him a strong work ethic and living by the golden rule. These core values followed him to UK where he excelled as a student in the Honors program. He was also active in student organizations like DanceBlue, the Student Government Association, Alpha Tau Omega and Sigma Delta Pi Fraternities and Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bluegrass. He held leadership positions in several of these organizations.
Hall specifically recalls some of his experiences while participating in DanceBlue. Learning how to look outside himself at the challenges that other people face, in this case, young children, no doubt only strengthened his innate ability to empathize with other people as he does on a daily basis at SOAR.
“I participated in DanceBlue all four years and at the time, it had a large impact on my world view. It showed me that this life, outside my life as a student, is so much bigger than mine. I thought I had challenges as a college student but those challenges don’t compare to what children dealing with serious illness deal with,” Hall said.
While at UK, Hall was awarded the Highest GPA Award given to a UK fraternity male from the entire fraternity community. He was also the recipient of the Education Abroad Scholarship, that he used the summer between his junior and senior year at UK at Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile where he focused on Spanish/Chilean health care. Additionally, Hall was awarded a Singletary Scholar in 2011, the most prestigious scholarship available at UK.
Hall initially considered using his degrees in biology to go into medicine but began to imagine a different future after spending his first year after graduation in Spain teaching English. Once he returned home, he reconnected to someone at UK who dramatically impacted his career path.
“I met Nate Morris, the first Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Gatton College of Business and Economics, when I was a student,” Hall said. “I had never met a high performing entrepreneur like him. He was creative, fascinating, and he challenged me. I gravitated toward him. He became a friend and a mentor. He gave me a job at Rubicon Technologies in Atlanta, a company he founded. I was part of a sales team in what was a growing startup culture. He taught me that it’s ok to not know how it’s all going to work out.”
After five years in Atlanta, Hall left Georgia to be closer to his family and to start his own family with the woman he was soon to wed. His experience in business and technology became the steppingstones that would lead him to SOAR.
In 2020, the position to lead SOAR opened up and Hall didn’t hesitate to accept what he considered the opportunity of a lifetime. It was through the initial interview phase with SOAR that he met Jim Host, another mentor that Hall says impacted his life and still does to this day.
“Jim Host is one of Kentucky's most renowned and successful entrepreneurs and leaders. Even with all his accolades and accomplishments, he has always taken my calls and given me helpful, honest and valuable guidance. Jim always talks about how your reputation and integrity are more important than anything else in life including money. He's full of wisdom and always shoots you straight. Because of these characteristics, I've grown to have a deep respect and admiration for Jim,” Hall said.
Now in his fourth year with SOAR, Hall describes much of his mission as “battling for the hearts and minds in Eastern Kentucky.” He further explains that many people in the region believe that they’ve faced more than their fair share of battles.
“This can lead to communities believing that good things won’t happen or aren’t supposed to happen in Eastern Kentucky,” he said. “To me SOAR's No. 1 job has to be always counteracting these phenomena by consistently injecting positivity, creativity, vision and belief into places where wins may be hard to come by. We have to control the narrative and talk about the good things happening inside this region and not focus only on the problems.”
The coal industry has both direct and indirect benefits on Eastern Kentucky, and with the decline, coal miners and employees of businesses in the community that support coal mining, were lost. In his position at SOAR, Hall wants to inspire people to not be afraid to try new things, and he wants to be a consistent source of ideas and creativity to overcome negativity.
Hall’s seemingly tireless drive to help make Eastern Kentucky stronger and better than ever before comes from deep within himself. He notes how his strong faith and belief system, his upbringing, and his years as a UK student have shaped the person he is today.
“I have a deep sense of gratitude to UK for believing in me,” Hall said. “They invested in me as a student and gave me a calling to take what I have been given as an opportunity to give back. I’ve been given the best opportunity in the world at SOAR and I owe it to UK and to my parents to be the best I can possibly be and the best representation of UK.”
Hall continues to have strong ties to UK. His wife Lindsey is a nurse practitioner inside the neurosurgery division at UK Chandler Hospital, where they spent a great deal of time in the NICU when their son Hayden was born prematurely. Weighing only 13.8 oz, Hayden was one of the smallest babies born at UK at the time. After recently celebrating his 1st birthday, Hayden thrives and weighs in at a healthy 18 pounds. Hayden has been honored by the March of Dimes and the Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Bluegrass.
"We went through a lot this past year with Hayden but we are so grateful for the exceptional care he received at the Kentucky Children’s Hospital," Hall said. “UK is in our blood. We love the university, Lexington, and being from Kentucky.”
What you may not know about Colby Hall
If you spend any time at all with Hall, it quickly becomes apparent how his desire to help others motivates him in his professional life. That spirit of “do unto others as you would have done to you” pours over into his personal life as well. When Hall lived in Georgia, he volunteered several days a week after work to deliver meals to the less fortunate. The feeling of wanting to make a difference in the world or make a difference in someone else’s life took a new turn when a co-worker told him her mother had cancer and needed blood platelets. “This really convicted me. There was something important I could do to help. It didn’t matter that this woman was a stranger to me. The gift was free to her.”
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