Eastern Kentucky University’s Manchester campus hosted more than 400 middle schoolers from Clay and Owsley counties on September 13 for a question-and-answer session with college athletes. The “Colonels for Education” event was a collaboration between Berea College’s GEAR UP program, Eastern Kentucky University, and Clay and Owsley County school districts.
Representatives from EKU’s men’s and women’s basketball teams, as well as baseball and softball teams, took the stage to answer students’ questions about college, and to encourage the seventh and eighth graders to start thinking about higher education while they’re still in middle school.
“Coming back to where you’re from, it’s humbling,” said John Wilson, a sophomore catcher for the Colonels from Manchester, on being up in front of the students as a mentor. Colette Cole, a native of Breathitt County, told the students that she was working on her third degree from EKU, and that the cost of her education so far totaled more than $100,000. “But do you know how much of that I had to pay for?” she asked. “Zero.”
The event is part of national GEAR UP Week, a week dedicated to celebrating the success of the national grant program. Developed in 1998, GEAR UP works to ensure that all students have the tools they need to apply for, attend and graduate from college.
Jason Stein, EKU’s baseball coach, reinforced the program’s mission in his comments to the students. Stein explained that on average, college graduates earn more money than high school graduates, and even live longer. He also recommended that the students begin the process of mastering a skill at a young age, since research shows that it takes roughly 10,000 hours, or ten years of work to do so.
Terry Gray, director of continuing education and educational outreach of the Manchester regional campus, and Kara Kovert, EKU athletic department director of athletic marketing, passed microphones around the auditorium to students. Their questions ranged from “How many hours a day do you practice and do homework?” to “How does it feel to dunk on somebody?”
The event ended with an autograph signing session where several students took the opportunity to pose for pictures with the athletes. The participating students also received complementary tickets to the next EKU home football game.