UK Honors Students Named Finalists in Knight Cities Challenge

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan. 14, 2015) — A group of University of Kentucky freshman Honors students have been selected as finalists in the first Knight Cities Challenge, a national call for new ideas to make 26 communities around the country more vibrant places to live and work. The program is funded by the Knight Foundation, and the 26 communities are all locations where the Knight family once owned newspapers, including Lexington, home of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Abigail Shelton, a computer science major in the UK College of Engineering, submitted the proposal on behalf of her UK Honors class, "Citizen Kentucky", taught by associate professor Buck Ryan. They are one of 126 finalists out of more than 7,000 submissions from many public and government organizations, design experts, urban planning organizations, and individuals.

The challenge asked applicants to answer the question: what's your best idea to make cities more successful?

The students' idea is "Fancy Lex," which aims to inspire Lexington residents to become involved in the city by hosting an event similar to the annual Fancy Farm picnic in Western Kentucky. "Fancy Lex" would give Lexington residents an opportunity to meet local leaders while enjoying the city's finest food, music and local goods.

Shelton said that recent election research has made her and her peers question their generation's apathy toward civic engagement.

"What happened to old-fashioned parades, stump speeches, community picnics, and city gatherings at the courthouse?" Shelton said. "We hope to inspire younger generations to follow the steps of their grandparents and great-grandparents by doing civically engaged things, such as meeting their representatives, attending public forums, or donating time to charities. We hope to learn and foster growth to our generation’s unseen capacity to understand and engage in public life; ultimately, building a greater sense of community, a dying virtue."

Shelton and her fellow students Courtney Eaton, Clay Thornton and Scotty Reams, helped to develop the idea.

"I have never attended our inspiration for the event (Fancy Farm), but Clay has, and he has lived in Lexington his entire life, so he was a huge contributor to the development of our idea and writing of the proposal," Shelton said. "After we had a better idea of what 'Fancy Lex' would be, we got in touch with Lexington Mayor Jim Gray and his staff, including senior advisor Scott Shapiro. He loved our idea, and was able to help us with the details of it."

Winners of the Knight Cities Challenge, who will receive a share of $5 million, will be announced this spring.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts.