LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 5, 2021) — When Catrena Bowman-Thomas received her diploma from the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, she knew she was prepared for the road ahead. With a desire to help the underprivileged, the education and experiences she gained while a student at UK would come in perfectly.
Since graduation day 21 years ago, Bowman-Thomas has distinguished herself as an advocate and leader for racial justice, community diversity and those in poverty, and she has been a driving force promoting equality throughout the Commonwealth.
“I love the work and love to see the progression that a family in need makes when you just give them a little bit of help,” she said. “My degree and the internships I had while at UK really set the groundwork for helping develop really strong plans with families. It taught me how to have conversations with those in need and how to navigate those conversations. My family sciences degree helped me put resources together to help people transition out of poverty. It was foundational in my success and, even today, just having that background and knowledge of how to work with families has been a big asset.”
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in family studies (now family sciences) and a master's degree in public administration, Bowman-Thomas began her career at Lexington’s Community Action Council, which serves eight counties in the Bluegrass region. After a 19-year stint, the Hopkins County native moved upstate to become the executive director of the Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission in 2018. Located in Covington, Kentucky, the nonprofit was created to help low-income individuals and families develop their opportunities and resources to become self-reliant and capable of helping themselves and their neighbors. The organization has especially been important to the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The past two years we’ve really struggled as a nation and as a community, especially when it comes to race and equality,” she said. “We were able to create a platform for people to have conversations about these topics and really get information out there about some of the inequalities right here in our community. We had instances where Black businesses were struggling to get access to the Paycheck Protection Program and loans, so we were able to get them in contact with the right resources.”
She said the COVID-19 pandemic pushed her organization into new territory.
“Our community work was in the form of face-to-face meetings, we had to basically flip how we did things. People began getting immediately laid off, and we had to do some things we weren’t in the business of doing. We had to get back to the basics of providing food and making sure people had the basic supplies to live. It has been a very challenging time.”
Though time has passed since her graduation, Bowman-Thomas is still involved in the lives of UK students by participating in panels created to assist students with internships and offer career advice to those getting ready to graduate.
“As an alum, Catrena is always helpful in providing advice to our current family sciences students,” said Pamela McFarland, academic coordinator in family sciences. “I so appreciate her wisdom and mentorship.”
The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers." We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.