AIKCU Voices: Zaida Jones, Transylvania University

For 2020 we’re asking students and alumni of Kentucky’s independent colleges and universities to share stories about their college experiences in a new series we’re calling AIKCU Voices. If you’d like to share your story, email us at info@aikcu.org.

Transylvania student Zaida Jones outside on campus

Having the support of a scholarship has given me confidence and enabled me to stay focused on my academic goals of becoming a forensic pathologist. It has also created an opportunity for me to pursue my passion for environmental action on campus. As an active member of TEAL, the student environmental league, I have enjoyed making friendships and inspiring sustainable changes in my peers. This freedom to connect with my peers while solving issues that affect our environment has been the perfect way to grow as an individual.

Being pre-med and particularly interested in biology, I was very impressed with Transy’s science program as well as the rich tradition of preparing students for the trials and tribulations of medical school admittance. The one-on-one attention I have received in my first year of pre-med-focused courses have far exceeded my expectations. I have no doubt that I will continue to learn and grow as I prepare to apply for medical school my senior year.

Zaida Jones
Ashland, Ky.
William T. Young Scholar
Transylvania University ’22

(originally published on Transy’s 1780 Blog)

AIKCU Voices: Clara Arnold, University of the Cumberlands ’19

For 2020 we’re asking students and alumni of Kentucky’s independent colleges and universities to share stories about their college experiences in a new series we’re calling AIKCU Voices. If you’d like to share your story, email us at info@aikcu.org.

When I was looking into different colleges, I knew that I would stay in Kentucky because of KEES money, but that I wanted to spread my wings and not be within two hours of home. I wanted to go to a smaller, private, Christian school because I wanted a place where I would feel supported while growing in my faith as well as a place where I wouldn’t feel like a number.

After much prayer, two visits, and an amazing financial aid package, I packed my bags for Cumberlands. Since then, Cumberlands has helped me become the first out of my family to graduate college, and the aid and employment opportunities they provided me have allowed me to do so debt-free! The education that I have received here has set me up well for my future as I have entered the world of Graduate school, and the opportunity I was given to intern during my final semester paved the way for the Graduate Assistant position I now hold.

Clara Arnold
Murray, Kentucky
University of the Cumberlands ’19

AIKCU Voices: Dalton McCown, Alice Lloyd College

For 2020 we’re asking students and alumni of Kentucky’s independent colleges and universities to share stories about their college experiences in a new series we’re calling AIKCU Voices. If you’d like to share your story, email us at info@aikcu.org.

Photo of ALC student Dalton McCown

I knew Alice Lloyd College was for me when I took my first walk along the Purpose Road. I had toured other colleges and being a Governor’s Scholar would’ve given me full-tuition at almost every public university in Kentucky, but of all the places I went, ALC was different. The people here are cut from a different fabric, they breathe a different air, they want to know you and most importantly, they want to help you. My personal relationships with mentors, professors, and fellow students are reasons why I didn’t apply to any other college or university. I knew what I wanted for undergraduate education, and the Purpose Road Philosophy not only exemplifies that but also encourages it. I know they say it takes a village to raise a child, but I have so much more than that here in Pippa Passes; I have a home.

I want to be a rural physician and come back to the mountains to help the people who helped me. I believe it’s only right to support those who have assisted me this far. My ultimate goal is to research substance abuse treatment methods and aid in the fight against the opiate epidemic that Eastern Kentucky currently faces. I am majoring in Biology (Pre-Medicine) while also minoring in English and Chemistry. While I strongly focus on my studies, I also stay involved in campus affairs by serving as Vice President of the Allied Health Club, participating in the ALC Theatre Club, and working as a teaching assistant in the Natural Sciences and Mathematics department. My love for English has inspired me to begin authoring a novel, and I frequently enter writing competitions on campus.

I’ve managed to find a place where people want me to succeed, a college that wants to help me do it with little to no cost to me, and a family to inspire me. I can’t fully express my gratitude to donors, faculty, and staff, who make this experience possible. They invested in me and when I come back to the mountains after medical school, their investment will pay off. That is my goal — my purpose.

Dalton McCown
Letcher County, Kentucky
Alice Lloyd College ’21

AIKCU Voices: Maisie Nelson, Union College ’12

For 2020 we’re asking students and alumni of Kentucky’s independent colleges and universities to share stories about their college experiences in a new series we’re calling AIKCU Voices. If you’d like to share your story, email us at info@aikcu.org.

Photo of Maisie Nelson

I grew up in the least populous county in Kentucky. I knew everyone at my high school, and they knew me. It was imperative that I receive that same personal education in college where, ‘you in the back,’ would never be my name. I knew that would be achieved by attending a private institution. 

My college experience at Union was everything I dreamed and more. I discovered who I was and what I wanted to be but most importantly I had the support of faculty and staff who made sure I was on the path that I desired. When I graduated in 2012, I knew that I had been equipped with the skills necessary not just to have a successful career but a successful life. 

I now have the privilege of working at Union where I can provide the same support to current students. I am honored with this responsibility.

Maisie (Insko) Nelson
Union College ’12
Senior Director of Communications, Union College

AIKCU Voices: Nyah Mattison, Transylvania University

Photo of Transy student Nyah Mattison

For 2020 we’re asking students and alumni of Kentucky’s independent colleges and universities to share stories about their college experiences in a new series we’re calling AIKCU Voices. If you’d like to share your story, email us at info@aikcu.org.

I chose to focus on these paths [computer science and digital arts and media] because I believe that STEM fields cannot exist without an understanding of humanities also. I wanted to be able to build programs and write code that will better the lives of other people, and be able to connect with them through multimedia. I think both of my majors serve me well in engendering a good understanding of not only the technology that powers our world, but also the people who help make that possible. 

It is important to me to get an education at Transy because I am constantly surrounded by people who have the potential to change the world. A liberal arts education instills a sense of compassion and understanding about all sectors of the workforce, not just the one you end up going into. The connections that I make here I know will serve me well both now, as I study with my peers, and in the future.

I feel so grateful and humbled to be a William T. Young scholar. This scholarship allows me the freedom to study uninhibited.

Through the generosity of Transy donors, I have gained the ability to see myself as a scholar and leader on Transylvania’s campus. Without the stress of student loans and other debt, I am able to give 100 percent to my academic pursuits and to take on opportunities like unpaid internships that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to take advantage of.

Nyah Mattison
Louisville, Kentucky
William T. Young Scholar
Transylvania University

(originally published on Transy’s 1780 Blog)

AIKCU Voices: Taylor Anne Walz, Thomas More University ’19

For 2020 we’re asking students and alumni of Kentucky’s independent colleges and universities to share stories about their college experiences in a new series we’re calling AIKCU Voices. If you’d like to share your story, email us at info@aikcu.org.

While most of my friends were going on numerous college visits, I planned one visit to Thomas More University in December of my senior year of high school and never went on another, because I had found where I fit. There was no doubt in my mind that going to Thomas More was going to open doors for me. While I was a student, I was given the most incredible opportunities to lead, gained life-long friendships, and was blessed by numerous scholarships and support from the University’s faculty and staff. 

After graduating in May of 2019, I realized that I was not quite ready to leave my Thomas More family. I was offered a position as the events manager for the Advancement Office that I accepted with tremendous excitement. During the past nine months, I have been able to plan President Chillo’s inauguration, connect with fellow alumni during our annual Homecoming Week festivities, plan and execute two of the university’s largest fundraising events, and begin the planning for our grand centennial celebration that will be taking place in September of 2021, all while working on my Masters of Ethical Leadership in the Thomas More TAP Program.

It is true what they say – and I know from experience – that you can do more at Thomas More. 

Taylor Anne Walz
Bellevue, Kentucky
Thomas More University
Class of 2019 (and current TMU employee and graduate student)

AIKCU Voices: Samuel Golden, University of the Cumberlands

For 2020 we’re asking students and alumni of Kentucky’s independent colleges and universities to share stories about their college experiences in a new series we’re calling AIKCU Voices. If you’d like to share your story, email us at info@aikcu.org.

UC student Samuel Golden in lab

Having come from a small Christian high school, University of the Cumberlands seemed like a perfect fit for me! The small class sizes and tight-knit community feel among the students and faculty drew me in and made me feel right at home. The success of UC graduates in being placed in medical schools and other graduate programs reinforced my decision strongly, and makes me feel confident that Cumberlands is preparing me for a bright future. The education I am receiving at the University of the Cumberlands is immensely valuable to me. My experience here has given me the knowledge and confidence I need to pursue the big goals I have in life. I have also been encouraged to give back to the community, a practice that I plan to continue for the rest of my life especially as a medical professional here in Kentucky. 

Cumberlands has given me valuable experience, especially in the lab setting. By being given the opportunity to be a lab TA, I have improved my knowledge of lab techniques and will be able to separate myself from the crowd through my proficiency and confidence in the lab. Likewise, the relationships I have built with professors in my department have given me confidence that any of them could write me a solid recommendation and help me make the next steps towards my career. State aid such as KEES not only helped me cover college expenses but encouraged me to stay in Kentucky for my education.

Samuel Golden
Somerset, Kentucky
University of the Cumberlands

AIKCU Voices: Princess Lyons, Lindsey Wilson College ’19

For 2020 we’re asking students and alumni of Kentucky’s independent colleges and universities to share stories about their college experiences in a new series we’re calling AIKCU Voices. If you’d like to share your story, email us at info@aikcu.org.

LWC Online graduate Princess Lyons with LWC President Bill Luckey at commencement

I am a 37-year-old, divorced mother of three. I’ve worked in the human service field for 10 years. However, I wanted to set an example for my children that they can accomplish anything they set their minds to and at any age! More importantly, I wanted to finish my education to prove to myself that I could do it!

Lindsey Wilson’s online Human Services and Counseling Program has changed the quality of my life, and the future for myself and my children. I was already working at DCBS for Protection and Permanency and upon completion of my degree, I hope to obtain a position with the state as a Social Services Worker. I’m very grateful!

Princess Lyons
Paintsville, Kentucky

Big Sandy Community and Technical College transfer
Lindsey Wilson College Online
December 2019 Graduate

AIKCU Voices: Don Trowell, Lindsey Wilson College

For 2020 we’re asking students and alumni of Kentucky’s independent colleges and universities to share stories about their college experiences in a new series we’re calling AIKCU Voices. If you’d like to share your story, email us at info@aikcu.org.

Portrait of Lindsey Wilson student Don Trowell

My name is Don Trowell, and I am currently a Sophomore attending Lindsey Wilson College. I study Business Administration with an emphasis in Entrepreneurship, and Journalism. LWC is located in Adair Co., Columbia, KY, which is a ways from my hometown in Louisville. I went to school at Fern Creek High and graduated in June of 2018.

My goal in life is to become an entertainer and entrepreneur. Singing, acting, performing and etc. In my spare time (which isn’t much), I make YouTube videos that showcase my life, skill, and love for people and positivity. Aside from that, being under the wing of my grandparents in my mid-teen years, I gained such an overwhelming love for business and entrepreneurship. As they are both entrepreneurs, I learned that “…no one can be your boss, better than you can.” Both of these areas of passion have helped direct me to the pinnacle that I am at now in life, at my wonderful college and home in Columbia-Adair County, Lindsey Wilson College. 

In deciding on a plan for my postsecondary success, I knew exactly what I didn’t want. I didn’t want to be a number. I didn’t want to be voiceless. I didn’t want to make less of a difference. Lastly, I didn’t want to be ridiculously stressed. The one thing I knew that I wanted was to go and get some form of education. A huge issue I faced was whether I would be financially capable to pursue that education. Whenever I stumbled upon LWC, it captivated me. No, it isn’t huge or extravagantly glamorous. No, we don’t live in the most affluent area. But that’s what added to the character of the place I would one day call “home.” 

Lindsey Wilson has some of the best faculty, staff, and students ever! We treat everyone like family, and recognize the bond we all have with one another. The Blue Raider bond is something I knew I wanted to be a part of after I concluded my first campus visit. Every aspect of the school reflected back some part of me. It has allowed me to grow and develop as a person and connect with some of the most authentic people I’ve ever encountered. I was financially capable to attend the school that was meant for me with academic-merit scholarships as well as state financial aid that left me with little to no worries at all in terms of costliness. Moreover, the educational value was there, in the most intimate and meaningful way. It feels good to know that your professors know your name and care about what you’re going through every single day. 

Education means the world to my family and me. When I was very young, my grandmother considered anything to be a “teachable moment,” which always rung very ironic because that’s what she was, a teacher! She would take the smallest moment and yield some lessons from it. From there, I always learned that knowledge truly is power and it is the key to success. My family has always held me accountable for the type of student I wanted to be. If I wanted to get A’s and B’s on a report card, I was expected to come home with straight A’s. In all, education is an opportunity that can transform your life, and my family hasn’t let me waste it.

LWC has granted so many bright opportunities to me during my time here. None of which I take lightly. I have had the chance to represent my fellow Blue Raiders as a member of the Student Government Association, becoming the 2018-19 Freshman Class President and 2019-20 Chief-of-Staff. Additionally, I became the new host for LWC Snapshot which is a current events clip on all convenings and happenings that airs bimonthly on Sundays via LWC social media. Currently, I am heading the collaboration between Lindsey Wilson College and the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, in aiming for the first ever collegiate level school climate audit under the organization. Additionally, I have opportunities like this…to share what education means to me, and why my college is the perfect embodiment for it.

OJ Oleka named President of Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities

OJ Oleka will assume the role of AIKCU President on December 1, 2019

FRANKFORT, Ky. (November 7, 2019) — After an extensive search, the Board of Directors of the Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities (AIKCU) has named OJ Oleka as its next president. Oleka, who currently serves as Chief of Staff for Kentucky State Treasurer Allison Ball, will assume his duties as AIKCU president on December 1. Oleka succeeds Gary S. Cox, Ph.D., who is retiring after serving as AIKCU president since 1997.

“The search process was a difficult one that included several outstanding candidates,” said University of Pikeville president Dr. Burton Webb, who co-chaired the search process. “OJ’s passion for higher education, his work advocating for those things in which he believes, and his strong relationships within the legislature will be incredible assets for AIKCU in the years to come.”

Oleka brings a deep understanding of higher education and workforce issues to his new role at AIKCU. Earlier this year Oleka was appointed by Governor Bevin to the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education and he has served on a number of state and local workgroups, boards, and committees focused on education and workforce issues. 

“I am honored to have been selected to serve as president of AIKCU and work alongside our member institutions to create a new vision for independent higher education in Kentucky,” Oleka said in a statement. “Expanding access to higher education, advocating affordability for every student, and communicating to the legislature and business community how our institutions are essential to Kentucky’s economic and workforce needs will be the foundation of our success. I am fully prepared to lead that effort.”

Oleka is slated to earn a Ph.D. in Leadership in Higher Education in 2020 from Bellarmine University, where he previously earned an MBA. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Louisville, where he served as student body president and chaired the Kentucky Board of Student Body Presidents. 

In addition to his experience working with policymakers as Chief of Staff in the Kentucky State Treasurer’s office, Oleka has directed campaign operations for a statewide gubernatorial campaign. He has served as an adjunct professor and published in peer-reviewed and popular publications. His education experience extends to the K-12 level, where he served Teach for America first as a corps member teaching in an under-resourced public school and later as a regional recruiter.

“The search committee selected OJ from a strong pool of candidates, and I am confident he will provide exceptional leadership to AIKCU and our members during these challenging times,” said outgoing AIKCU President Cox. “I feel good about the fact that I’m leaving the organization in capable hands.” 

Oleka takes over a strong member organization representing the interests of Kentucky’s 18 four-year nonprofit private colleges and universities. During Dr. Cox’s 22-year tenure AIKCU merged the operations of its two precursor organizations, the Kentucky Independent College Foundation and the Council for Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities; enhanced the role of private colleges in Kentucky’s education policy arena; substantially increased collaborative activities among members; and saw Kentucky Lottery-funded financial aid distributions to private college students grow from just over $10 million to more than $60 million per year.

“Dr. Gary Cox has been the consummate professional in leading our association of private higher education institutions in Kentucky for more than two decades. He has faithfully represented the diversity of our private colleges and universities while helping us to collectively tell our story of the role we play in enriching the quality of life in Kentucky and beyond,” said Dr. Michael V. Carter, president of Campbellsville University and chair of the AIKCU Board of Directors. “Dr. Cox’s service has not been to just private higher education. He has worked alongside the leaders of our public universities and colleges in a manner that has enriched our Commonwealth. All of us on the Board wish Dr. Cox the very best in the days ahead!”