A Season of Gratitude

Mahatma Ghandi said that the best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others. This Thanksgiving, as I reflect upon all that we’ve accomplished this year, I’m humbled and inspired by the UK community.

As Kentucky’s indispensable institution, we transform the lives of our students and advance the Commonwealth we serve – and beyond – through our teaching and learning, diversity and inclusion, discovery, research and creativity, promotion of health, and deep community engagement.

Each iteration of that mission speaks to why we are here: to serve.

Our Strategic Plan charts an ambitious course for our institution to continue this work.

This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for the progress we’ve made, and for the progress that we’ll continue to make together, across our five objectives: undergraduate education; graduate education; diversity and inclusivity; research and scholarship; and outreach and community engagement.

Undergraduate Education
Our goals for undergraduate education reflect our deep commitment to our students’ success. This year, we made dramatic, aggressive steps to better match money to mission—to align resources in a way that best supports students.

To further improve retention and graduation rates, we will begin to shift the balance of institutional scholarships to be more aware of – and focused on – need-based aid. We know that one of the biggest barriers to student success is unmet financial need. At as little as $5,000 in unmet need, retention rates drop by 5 percent or more, and last year, one-third of those students who left UK had GPAs of 3.0 or higher.

This program, which Provost Tracy has termed The UK LEADS initiative, will help us meet our ambitious goals for student success.

Graduate Education
UK’s graduate programs transform our students into accomplished scholars and professionals who contribute to the Commonwealth, the nation, and the world through their research and discovery, creative endeavors, teaching, and service.

One way we’ve been able to build upon our momentum is by piloting five block stipend programs. These funding programs commit graduate students stipend support earlier in the recruiting season. As a result of these programs, we experienced higher than usual success rates in recruiting and enrolling students, with special attention to high-quality and under-represented minority students.

Our scholarship, creative endeavors, and research across the full range of disciplines offer the brightest hope to address the challenges of the Commonwealth, our nation, and the world. This year, we’ve had the opportunity to recognize the strong creative writing legacy at UK, with a number of faculty from our English department receiving national accolades for their work. At the same time, we’ve celebrated ground-breaking advances in the sciences, with real impact on our communities.

In October, our Center for Clinical and Translational Science announced that it received a four-year, $19.8 million Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) from the National Institutes of Health. CTSA grants support innovative solutions to improve the efficiency, quality, and impact of translating scientific discoveries into interventions or applications that improve the health of individuals and communities.

Diversity and Inclusivity
This year, we’ve continued our efforts to create and sustain an environment of openness and acceptance. Across our campus and our country, there is much that unites us; but deep divisions exist. We must continue our endeavors to be a community that embraces diversity and expression—a family that welcomes all people of every race and religion, identity and perspective, and party and ideology.

Our Office for Institutional Diversity leads our efforts to increase diversity and sense of belonging our campus. As part of that work, this year the office launched the Inclusive Excellence Program, which is a grant program that will fund (up to $25,000) creative proposals for diversity programming and partnerships among groups, centers, registered student organizations and/or initiatives.

Outreach and Community Engagement
Our service extends across the breadth of our land-grant institution – from evolving Extension Service efforts that touch every county of the Commonwealth to high-tech, high- touch healing that is expanding access to quality, complex care.

For example, the Kentucky Valley Education Cooperative (KVEC), two years ago, funded a winter garden at Pikeville Elementary School, after students conducted a community problem-solving project that identified the need for fresh, affordable vegetables in the winter. The impact of this garden at Pikeville Elementary School prompted an expansion of the program with funding and training through the Community Leadership Institute of Kentucky (CLIK), a program offered by the UK Center of Excellence in Rural Health, the Kentucky Office of Rural Health, and the CCTS community engagement and research core.

These are just a few examples among many of the important, defining work our community has conducted this year. As we continue to make progress, in line with our Strategic Plan, we do so knowing that our ultimate objective is service. Service to our students, our community, our state, our country and our world.

I’m continuously grateful for your dedication on behalf of that honorable calling.