Campus News

Longtime UK Leader Looks Forward to New Student Center


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LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 4, 2015)  With the $175 million University of Kentucky Student Center transformation well underway, all eyes are focused on Facility Manager and Student Center Executive Director John Herbst. He's in charge of piloting and managing all moving parts of the transformation. He works directly with the capital project manager, construction managers and a university-wide team that involves players from numerous university areas.

Although Herbst thrives on managing budgets, personnel, maintenance and construction projects, his real passion lies within the success of the students at the university.


Herbst has established the university as his home community for more than 40 years. In addition to serving as the Student Center executive director, he also chairs the UK Commencement Committee and works with the UK chapter of Omicron Delta Kappa, the national leadership honor society.

Eager to see the finished product of the state-of-the-art Student Center, Herbst takes pride in what this facility will mean to the UK campus. But, more than anything, he is most excited to see how it will foster community among students. Herbst wishes the new Student Center to be a living and breathing facility, full of dynamic interaction, services and opportunities that the UK community has never seen before.

"Personally, the new Student Center is important because it's for the students,"  Herbst said. "This is something students will have full use of and it will mold the future of UK."

Herbst took great consideration to the needs voiced by the students in regard to the new Student Center. First, he conducted a web-based program to gain feedback from students about what they need in a student center. From there, he conducted focus groups with student leaders, who shared design options and ideas they had for the facility and then placed students on an active steering committee as well as on the executive committee.

Throughout the process, students have been extremely engaged. Herbst made sure to pull students from all disciplines of campus, from architecture to kinesiology students and undergraduate to graduate students. This cross section of participants was decided upon by the results of the web-based survey to see what variety of students was needed to collaborate ideas in order to ensure the new Student Center upholds students' standards.  At every point along the way, he has made sure the new Student Center designs reflect what the students actually want and need.

When first arriving at UK, Herbst planned on staying for five years. That short-term vision dissolved as he began to work with enthusiastic UK student leaders. 

"Originally in my undergraduate education I planned to be a high school teacher," Herbst said. "After I got engaged in activities at the university level I found out that I was teaching one-on-one by working in the Student Center, from supervising other students, to being actively engaged with them by providing information and doing countless other tasks."

Herbst has traveled to more than 100 different universities across the United States, meeting with many students, yet he still stacks UK students as a class of their own. And Herbst's passion for student success does not go unnoticed. 

"John Herbst has given me opportunities that I would have never had at this university if it weren't for his kindness and his strong belief that I am more than just a student," said Dorothy Prather.  "When he picked me to be on the steering committee for the design of the new Student Center, I knew he saw potential in me that I didn't even see in myself."

The number of hours Herbst has spent in the Student Center as director over the years is immeasurable. He has touched numerous student lives at UK — past, present and future.

"The Student Center is John Herbst," said Zach Lamb, graduate assistant for the Late Night Film Series.  "I'm lucky to count myself among the many students John has imparted opportunities and wisdom upon. His institutional knowledge and personal advice make him one of the greatest assets not only at the Student Center, but in all of UK Student Affairs."

Herbst sees the Student Center as a beacon for the university that will draw the university community to the facility. This will be a place where people will thrive, where they will be inspired and where they will want to engage with other members of the community in conversation. He believes that is what UK is about — providing a community that really embraces and values everyone.

"John Herbst is one of the most driven and well-rounded people I know," Prather said. "When he sets his mind to accomplish something, he is definitely going to do it."

"My academic and professional trajectory would not be the same without John's mentorship," Lamb said. "His devotion to student success informs every practice at the Student Center and will undoubtedly influence the ambitions of the new building."

Watch the video above to discover how Herbst’s leadership is guiding the direction of UK’s new Student Center.

MEDIA CONTACT: Rebecca Stratton,, (859) 323-2395