A reminder of why we work to advance Kentucky February 22, 2023
A little more than a year ago, tornadoes and straight-line winds cut a destructive path through much of Western Kentucky. A large swath of our Princeton Education and Research Center was caught in the storm’s rage.
Fortunately, no lives were lost at the farm or among our people who work there. But the storm caused millions of dollars in damage.
Earlier this week, I returned to the farm — nearly 1,500 acres — to check on the progress of rebuilding efforts.
I was reminded of what former Agriculture Dean Thomas Poe Cooper said a century ago at Princeton Station, that “this farm has in it the soul of these people.”
The soul of these people.
It reminds me, too, that the soul of our university is Kentucky.
A series of temporary structures now serve as makeshift centers for soil sampling, a molecular research lab and administrative offices. Posters line the walls of one structure, detailing research efforts into soil acidity, fescue hayfields and forage production.
Our information technology, facilities and risk management teams were onsite soon after the storms and have continued to help throughout the last year.
In each office, I was greeted with smiles and a steely sense of resolve that work would, and must, continue. “Most of us are choosing to see the rainbows,” said Dr. Carrie Knott, the research center’s director.
One staffer clutched a photo of a family member that had been on a wall in her office alongside other prized photos. It had been lost in the storm a year ago. Just this week, it had been returned in the mail. It was found in a park in Louisville, a couple hundred miles away.
A farmer from Henderson, whose 5,000 acres are powered completely through solar energy, talked to me about how fundamental the research center is to the agricultural economy, as it has innovated farming techniques for decades.
He recently helped our College of Agriculture, Food and Environment relocate a postdoctoral student from Afghanistan to secure a new position here, so he could continue his work.
A day earlier, I visited the corporate offices of Computer Services, Inc. (CSI), a long-time Paducah-based fintech and cybersecurity company that serves some of the world’s largest institutions. The company’s CEO is struggling to fill the company’s staffing needs. He also reminded several of us of how important a diverse workforce is to their operations.
A dedicated cadre of Paducah residents has raised several hundred thousand dollars to support a proposed program in Computer Engineering Technology. If approved, it will be housed at the College of Engineering Program we have in Paducah in partnership with Western Kentucky Community and Technical College.
That program may help address the needs at CSI. But even so, I was reminded that the pace of change in our economy is rapid. We must be even more nimble to keep up with it.
At the Hopkinsville Rotary Club — a half-hour drive or so from Princeton — members took pride in the six-day auction held each spring, which raises money for education and their community.
During my visit, several proudly told me of their connections to UK. One parent introduced his daughter, who will be a first-year student this fall. She’s been accepted into the Gatton College of Business and Economics and the Lewis Honors College. Her major will be marketing, but her passion is entrepreneurship, and her father proudly recounts for me that she already has initiated three start-up businesses.
In her eyes is the spark of all that’s possible, and I’m excited to see what she can do in our community, supported by talented faculty, staff and fellow students.
The soul of our people. The soul of our university.
It is — and always will be — Kentucky.