Campus News

UK Announces ‘UK Engage’ Initiative to Support Innovation in Land-grant Engagement


LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 22, 2022) — Recognizing its integral role as Kentucky’s flagship and land-grant research institution, the University of Kentucky is launching the “UK Engage” initiative to envision and support innovation in land-grant engagement.

The effort, led by Nancy Cox, vice president for land-grant engagement and dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, and Executive-in-Residence Mary Shelman, will identify strategies and priorities for enhancing land-grant engagement across the campus and in Kentucky communities.

“The UK Engage effort is intended to embrace and think anew about our more than 150-year legacy of service to our state,” Cox said. “Throughout its history, the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment has been embedded in communities, working hand-in-glove with county partners who share a special trust with our people on the ground. UK Engage will leverage this foundation and bring more of the university into Kentucky communities.”

The role of vice president for land-grant engagement was established in August 2020 to help facilitate more purposeful collaboration across the campus. One year later, the UK Board of Trustees adopted the university’s new strategic plan — the UK Plan for Unprecedented Research, Purposeful and Optimal Service and Education (UK-PURPOSE) — which recognizes the important role of engagement in the areas of student success, health and well-being, innovation and diversity. Together, these shared goals represent a firm commitment to expanding and enhancing our service to the state.

“The University of Kentucky is of, for and with the state we serve. We are strengthening this commitment through our new UK-PURPOSE strategic plan, which more thoughtfully challenges us to expand, enhance and extend our land-grant mission throughout our campus,” said President Eli Capilouto. “Advancing Kentucky means ensuring health and well-being, in all aspects, for Kentucky — a strong workforce, an engaged and educated citizenry, and physically and mentally healthy people. Through UK Engage, we’ll identify key priorities and strategies that help us achieve the goals of our strategic plan.”  

The initiative and visioning partners group will engage with and be led by executive-in-residence, Mary Shelman. An alumna and current president of the UK Alumni Association, Shelman is an internationally renowned expert in agribusiness and agtech innovation who has worked with the agri-food industry and advised governments, companies and investors around the world.

“As an alumna, I’m excited to help lead this important effort as the university creatively strategizes and prioritizes new opportunities to serve our state,” Shelman said. “The visioning partners assembled by President Capilouto and Dean Cox bring a diverse set of backgrounds and ideas that will help the university set a direction for new engagement opportunities.”

Over the next several months, under the leadership of Shelman, UK Engage will solicit input from and involve several groups of university and external stakeholders. The effort builds on the first year of engagement planning. “As Kentucky’s land-grant university, all parts of our campus are working in and with counties and communities — engagement is a foundational pillar of the entire university,” Cox said.

Building on past success and early cross-campus partnerships, UK Engage will:

  • Review existing programs, gather data and collect community feedback on engagement to plan best practice models and strategic priorities for future success;
  • Examine other land-grant universities similarly structured with robust engagement models;
  • Identify opportunities, structure and processes to secure and distribute funding for engagement pilot programs;
  • And create a means for evaluating the success for land-grant engagement and community-based programs in alignment with the evaluation of other strategic plan priorities.

The visioning partners supporting UK Engage will serve as a “think tank” for the planning process; bringing support, expertise and guidance to frame the future of land-grant engagement. The visioning partners include:

  • Nancy Cox (Convener) — Vice President for Land-grant Engagement and Dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment
  • Al Cross — Professor and Director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues
  • Alison Davis — Professor and Director of the Community and Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky
  • Seth Debolt — Professor and Director of the James B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits
  • Jeff Fugate — Associate Extension Professor, School of Architecture and Associate Dean for Administration in the College of Design
  • Kim Henken — Director of Extension Engagement and Administrative Initiatives
  • Clint Hardy — Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Agent, Daviess County
  • Brooke Hudspeth — Associate Dean of Pharmacy Practice/Chief Practice Officer in the College of Pharmacy
  • Jennifer Hunter — Assistant Director of Family and Consumer Sciences and Extension Professor
  • Brad Lee — Associate Professor and Extension Specialist in Plant and Soil Sciences
  • Trudi Matthews — Senior Director of Quality and Value Strategy for UK HealthCare
  • Ian McClure — Associate Vice President for Research, Innovation and Economic Impact
  • Brad Olson — Assistant Professor of Community and Leadership Development
  • Melynda Price — Director of the Gaines Center for the Humanities and Professor
  • Quentin Tyler — Director of Michigan State University Extension
  • George Ward — Executive Director for Coldstream Research Park and Real Estate
  • Laura Stephenson — Associate Dean and Director of the Cooperative Extension Service

Leadership and Facilitation    

  • Mary Shelman (Executive-in-Residence) — Founder and Partner of the Shelman Group; chair of Visioning Partners discussions
  • Chris Crumrine — Director of State and Federal Relations, College of Agriculture, Food and Environment  

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.