AIKCU Voices: Amber Mills, UPIKE ’18

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

Side-by-side photos of UPIKE alumna and ER nurse Amber Mills

The University of Pikeville holds an important place in my heart. I remember the first time I stepped on campus to tour as a high school senior, something just felt different about it that I hadn’t gotten on any other campus I had visited. I knew it was home. For four years, that feeling never left. From faculty to staff I knew people on a first name basis, I knew what their kids were up to, I knew their favorite snacks, and they knew all about me too. At any moment I knew there was an open ear and open arms if I needed them and there were always hands to keep pushing me to not give up and keep working hard.

When I was in nursing school this was a saving grace. With the pressure of an upcoming exam or the stress after a tough clinical, it was likely visible that I was exhausted and it was great to have a custodian in the hall say, “Did you have that exam today? Remember, you can do it, it’s just a test, you’re going to do great!” Even being able to sit and have lunch with the President of the university and hear words of encouragement and support changed my college experience for the better. I had the opportunity to go to larger schools but the small school environment shaped me and prepared me for life in a way that I could never have found on a big campus. I see that now more than ever now that I am in my career. 

I had the opportunity to go to larger schools but the small school environment shaped me and prepared me for life in a way that I could never have found on a big campus. I see that now more than ever now that I am in my career. 

I work in a busy ER in southeastern Kentucky. Tensions run high as there is so much pressure to work hard, fast, and smart. It’s a dangerous job and my life or health is at risk in many ways, from potential needle sticks to dealing with combative patients. It’s safe to say it is hectic and exhausting; however, I feel prepared and I keep going.

The education that I received at the Elliott School of Nursing at the University of Pikeville prepared me for this–the professors and instructors helped mold me for this, along with the man upstairs. That small school environment allowed me to be an individual that my professors could invest in rather than being a number or a face in the crowd. They cared about my preparedness and readiness for the future and made sure I got there.

I can still hear my instructors saying to my class, “you are the future”, “you are going to be the difference one day.” I get chills now because they were right. I never knew I would be a frontline fighter of a pandemic. This wasn’t in the plan, but I was ready because the University of Pikeville and the Elliott School of Nursing believed in me and gave me the tools I needed. I am proud to be from a small school, I am proud to be a UPIKE alum. Once a Bear always a Bear! 

Amber Mills
Former UPIKE student government president, current ER nurse
University of Pikeville ’18

AIKCU Voices: Selena Coalter, Kentucky Wesleyan College

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

KWC senior Selena Coalter

I’ve lived here (Owensboro) my whole life, so Kentucky Wesleyan‘s kind of been an option…When I toured the campus it was beautiful and the atmosphere was so welcoming. It just felt like a great place where I could grow myself and could help lead me into a possible career. 

There are always things to do, there are always people around, so you never have the fear of being alone or not having anything to do. The classroom experience at Kentucky Wesleyan is definitely really different than what you’d expect at a college or university. It’s a small group and professors get to know you on a personal level.

I’ll be graduating in spring of 2020 with a major in accounting and a minor in economics. I am going to be graduating with 150 hours so I can take the CPA exam after I graduate. My classes definitely helped prepare me. My accounting professors are always helping us learn what the CPA exam is going to be like and what we should expect….

What makes Wesleyan so special? It makes you feel like Wesleyan is your home because that’s what it should be…your home. It gives you a sense of belonging and being able to be who you are.

Selena Coalter
Owensboro, Kentucky
Kentucky Wesleyan College ’20

Adapted from her KWC “My Wesleyan Way” video.

AIKCU Voices: Ryan Yother, Union College

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

Union College student Ryan Yother

Union College does everything possible to make sure that it offers an affordable price for its students. 100% of Union students receive financial aid to assist them in higher education, in my case an endowment scholarship.

It is because of this liberal arts institution that I received a personal education and had the opportunity to intern on Capitol Hill. I know I will be leaving Union prepared for life after college.   

Ryan Yother
Barbourville, Kentucky
Union College ’20

AIKCU Voices: Erin Carrus, Thomas More University

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

Thomas More student Erin Carrus holding an ugly fish

When I was in elementary school, my older brother taught me the quadratic formula. He always pushed me to accomplish more than what was expected, and showed me by example to pursue life-long learning. I looked at about 20 different colleges, applied to a handful, and visited one—that’s all I needed. 

I signed to Thomas More as an athlete and accepted my spot in the honors program. In my last year of my undergraduate education, I am finishing a degree in mathematics and English with a minor in environmental science as the Student Government Association President and a two-sport athlete. 

The professors, advisors, coaches, and friends I have made at Thomas More have pushed me to accomplish more than was expected of me. Attending college here was one of the best decisions I have made. I will never stop learning. 

Erin Carrus 
Winchester, Kentucky
Thomas More University ’20

AIKCU Voices: TaLaura Mathis, Alice Lloyd College

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

ALC female student TaLaura Mathis

My name is TaLaura Mathis, and I am a senior at Alice Lloyd College. Being raised in Eastern Kentucky has given me a heart for the people of the region and a desire to help through the field of Dentistry. I could have attended any other college in the state of Kentucky, but I chose ALC because of their unique graduate assistance program: The Caney Cottage Scholarship. The scholarship will allow me to begin my graduate degree at the University of Kentucky (UK) in the fall semester of 2020. I am humbled and excited to begin this experience. Whenever I tell my friends who attend other colleges that I am going to be living rent and utility free during my 4 years of dental school, they are so jealous and can’t believe that ALC offers such an awesome scholarship. I am literally going to be graduating with my undergraduate degree completely debt free. The only items I have had to pay for are my parking passes each year. That is completely unheard of, and I am so thankful!

Ever since my junior year in high school, I have worked at a local dentist office and gained valuable experience with dentistry. I have been exposed to so many people who are in dire need of dental care, lots of these people being young children. I hope to return to the mountains and provide a much-needed service for an underserved community. Eastern Kentucky has molded me as a person spiritually, mentally, and emotionally; this is why I want to return with my professional knowledge and give back to the area that has made me the person I am today.

Besides my experience in the academic field, I am also extremely grateful for the Student Work Program. Since my freshman year, I started working in the Marketing and Communications Department. I have been running the College’s social media accounts and working with photography. This work study position helped me get out of my comfort zone by interacting with many students, faculty, and staff. Also, it helped me strengthen my communication skills and improved my time management. Even though Marketing and Dentistry are on two completely opposite sides of the spectrum, I know this position has helped to prepare me for the vigorous journey I will encounter during dental school; and for that, I am extremely thankful.

I would like to add that many people I know think Alice Lloyd College is a college for students who are financially disadvantaged or can’t afford to attend college. Yes, Alice Lloyd College is less expensive than other schools, but it is a college for hardworking students who work for their education, are self-driven, and want to succeed. Students that attend ALC are motivated and have goals they want to accomplish in the best financial route they possibly can. This is why I chose ALC as my undergraduate home and it has given me the best college experience and prepared me for my next step in life.

TaLaura Mathis
Manchester, Kentucky
Alice Lloyd College ’20

AIKCU Voices: Kayla Smith, Union College

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

Portrait of Union student Kayla Smith

As a Barbourville native, higher education was a crucial choice for me when considering my options for the future. The opportunity for higher education is a huge privilege, especially coming from a poverty-stricken community such as Knox County, but Union College provided me the chance to begin paving my dream of success through earning a degree! I knew that if I could take my years at Union and make good use of them, I could change my family’s entire trajectory for the generations to come, all starting with a degree. Union was a sure-fire choice when choosing colleges because it continued to provide me with the safe and family-oriented feel that I can call my home within my hometown!

College does have its obstacles that each student has to overcome, and for most, the biggest obstacle is finances. Financially, if Union wouldn’t have had so many opportunities for scholarships, I would have not been able to pursue my dream of earning a degree! Coming straight out of high school as a first-generation student, Union helped me to transition smoothly into college thanks to all of the faculty and staff that made me feel at home! Union gives students the chance to gain new relationships within a close-knit student body and explore who they are as go throughout their college years. Union has so many opportunities for students to step outside their normal box and explore new interests through the many clubs and student activities that are provided on campus. 

Kayla Smith
Barbourville, Ky.
Union College

AIKCU Voices: Abby Link, Thomas More University

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

Thomas More University student Abby Link on campus

I grew up knowing I was going to go to college since middle school. My mom would say she would help all that she could, but that I would have to do the majority of the work myself. With being the baby of the family and being a part of a single-parent household, I knew I would have to rely on scholarships — otherwise, I might not be able to go to college. I still remember three years ago when I received my award letter from Thomas More in the mail. My mom and I jumped up and down with excitement. I instantly knew I would be attending Thomas More in the fall of 2017 double majoring in political science and economics. 

I’m now in my third year and I’ve made it further in higher education than any of my immediate family members. Being able to attend Thomas More has enhanced who I am as a leader and a student. I was extremely introverted and not involved at all when I stepped onto campus, but now I’m the president of the Student Activities Board, a resident assistant, and I have three work studies on campus through Institutional Advancement, Admissions, and the Orientation Program. Plus, I’ve added two minors to my double major. If I would have gone to any other school, there’s no way I would be as happy and successful as I am now. Thomas More has provided me with opportunities I couldn’t get anywhere else. 

Abby Link
Dry Ridge, Kentucky
Thomas More University ’21

AIKCU Voices: Zaida Jones, Transylvania University

For 2020 we’ve been asking students and alumni of Kentucky’s independent colleges and universities to share something about their college experiences in a series we’ve been 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, Kentucky
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’ve been asking students and alumni of Kentucky’s independent colleges and universities to share something about their college experiences in a series we’ve been 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’ve been asking students and alumni of Kentucky’s independent colleges and universities to share something about their college experiences in a series we’ve been 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