A Collaborative Program to Prepare our Students for Success
Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) prides itself as Kentucky’s School of Opportunity, with nearly 65% of EKU students being first-generation, low-income or both. The designation comes with responsibility of ensuring that these students succeed, including academic achievement, persistence, attainment of educational goals (degree completion), and career preparation.
Career preparation (or student advancement) means more than good grades and steady progress toward graduation. It entails providing students with opportunities to gain additional skills that will make them competitive and successful post-graduation.
The Early Assurance Program Cooperative Agreement with the University of Kentucky (UK) College of Medicine – Northern Kentucky Campus was developed to help EKU students gain these skills and opportunities as well as gain a clear pathway to medical school. To date, EKU has had five students accepted into the program and successfully matriculated to medical school.
Students accepted into this program must participate in all program activities. They must attend UK College of Medicine boot camp during the summer following their acceptance into the program. The boot camp experience prepares students to create a personal statement, interview as a professional for medical school, prepare for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), and prepare a medical school application. They are also required to participate in EKU coordinated shadowing and mentoring experiences with physicians throughout the subsequent academic year.
Ms. Emily Paulin, EKU biomedical sciences major attended boot camp in June 2021. She commented, “My favorite experience from boot camp was the interview preparation. I had never done an interview as professional as a medical school interview, so I
felt very unprepared to tackle that part of the application process before boot camp. The mock interviewers were incredibly kind and offered constructive feedback, which ultimately helped me to interview well when I went through my real interviews.” Ms. Paulin graduated from EKU in December 2021 and plans to graduate from the University of Kentucky (UK) College of Medicine – Northern Kentucky Campus in Spring 2026.
The pre-professional health advisor in the College of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, Ms. Sabrina Moore, has the responsibility for program oversight. “My responsibilities include program advertisement, student recruitment, and coordination of specified program activities such as assisting selected students with securing ongoing shadowing and mentoring experiences with physicians,” said Ms. Moore. She continued, “EKU is a gateway for our talented students to get on their feet, show them how to ‘dream big’, and find new doors to open.”
This program is just one of the ways, beyond coursework, in which the EKU College of STEM helps prepare our students for success.
The Science Building houses many laboratory (lab) spaces that are equipped with the tools and experimental equipment for a hands-on learning experience for our students. Three such lab rooms include those that are reserved for our beginning General Chemistry I students.
Rooms 4118 and 4122 are spacious teaching spaces that comfortably accommodate 24 students. These rooms have full length windows along the south wall which enhance the feeling of spaciousness. Room 4120 is a lab preparation room which provides safe storage for materials and supplies that are needed to run the experiments. For safety purposes, access to this room is restricted to teaching assistants, stockroom personnel, the lab coordinator, and chemistry faculty.
“The General Chemistry labs are among the first lab courses students take at EKU. We serve approximately 600 students a year in the general chemistry lab space. The laboratory space is modern and contains snorkels (portable hoods) to maintain safety and allow the students to perform more sophisticated experiments. We have been able to modernize our laboratory equipment and enhance the laboratory experience for our students due to the generosity of the Commonwealth. Our general chemistry lab coordinator, Dr. Jerome May, has been a vital asset in spearheading this transformation. The space is a great introduction for students to the department,” remarked Dr. Tanea Reed, chair of the Department of Chemistry.
Each student taking General Chemistry I is assigned a lab drawer at the beginning of the semester which contains their personal set of glassware – test tubes, beakers, erlenmeyer flasks, graduated cylinders, glass stirring rods, and magnetic stir bars. Ring stands, balances, plastic pasteur pipets, and hot plates are also available for students to share.
Safety is very important when working in a chemistry laboratory and room 4118 and 4122 are equipped with many safety features. Eye wash fountains and showers, fire blankets, spill clean-up kits, and a first aid kit are available. All three rooms (4118, 4120, and 4122) have a dedicated fire extinguisher and a stand-alone box to collect broken glass safely. Rounding out the safety features are fume hoods in the corners of the lab next to the exterior windows and snorkels above the 12 workspaces where the 12 pairs of students work.
According to Dr. May, “The general chemistry labs are unique in that they are equipped with data collection technology which can be interfaced with temperature, conductivity, pH, and gas pressure measuring probes. This equipment provides the tools that allow students to perform a wide range of experiments.”
The B.S. degree in Environmental and Applied Geology at EKU was launched in Fall 2019 to prepare geologists to address the geologic resource needs and environmental concerns they will face during their lifetimes. It replaced the B.S. degree in Geology.
The revised curriculum provides two concentrations – a professional concentration and an academic concentration. The professional concentration provides the academic, laboratory, and field experiences that allow students to transition directly to the workforce. The academic concentration prepares students who are interested in attending graduate programs for advanced degrees. Both concentrations offer a curriculum that is strongly based on learning geospatial techniques, soft skills such as working in teams and communication, participating in field experiences, working one-on-one with a faculty member to develop and produce a senior research project, and the opportunity to work with state-of-the-art equipment and instrumentation.
Many of our students attend and participate in professional meetings and conferences hosted by organizations such as the Kentucky Association of Mapping Professionals (KAMP), the Geological Society of America (GSA), Kentucky Academy of Science (KAS), Kentucky Water Resources Research Institute (KWRRI), and the Kentucky Geological Survey (KGS). These opportunities allow students to network with current geoscience professionals, to gain confidence in presenting research results to peers, and to learn about the current problems, issues, and trends in the geologic profession.
“Our students are part of a close-knit group that become immersed in experiential learning in the classroom, the laboratory, on field trips, and during their capstone scientific projects. They are well-prepared for their future”, said Dr. Walter Borowski, professor in the Department of Physics, Geosciences, and Astronomy.
Program graduates are successful in gaining admission to graduate school or entry-level positions in geoscience-related jobs. In the past five years, 16% of graduating seniors have pursued and been accepted to graduate school, and 82% have pursued and successfully gained employment in geology or a geoscience field.
Our graduates work in a variety of settings, including government agencies, engineering firms, environmental consulting firms, geospatial analysis firms, and geotechnical firms. Alumni point to research opportunities, geospatial skills, and field experiences as being instrumental in their success.
“My degrees from EKU allowed me to explore the interconnectivities of Geographic Information Science (GIS) and earth science in a fun and interactive way. The guidance of supportive faculty and peers
greatly increased my passion for environmental geoscience as a result. This program also prepared me for a professional career in the geosciences and left me with the desire to achieve higher degrees in the associated fields of GIS and environmental science in the future,” said Devan Robinson (2020), staff geologist with the Kentucky Geological Survey at the University of Kentucky.
When most people think about a geology degree, they think about rocks and fossils, and geologic catastrophes such as volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. However, geology is the most diverse and inclusive of the sciences, dealing with the interaction of atmosphere, natural waters, and rock materials that create a living space for all organisms, including humans. The American Geosciences Institute (AGI) has identified nine areas of critical need that can be addressed by the geoscience profession, including climate change, waste management, energy development, clean water supplies, and resilience to natural hazards. In response, the Environmental and Applied Geology curriculum includes courses or content related to water resources and water flow, weather and climate, natural hazards, mineral and energy resources, and environmental land use planning in addition to the more traditional content of rocks and fossils.
For more information on our program, visit geosciences.eku.edu.
“When I see students come to EKU as freshmen, grow into mature graduates and find a job or have achieved some success in their career, I’m satisfied.” Dr. Ni Wang
Dr. Ni Wang, an associate professor in the Department of Applied Engineering and Technology was born in Huangyan, a small town in southern China famous for its tangerines. Dr. Wang received her Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering from the Wuhan University of Technology. “Frankly, I did not choose my major. Growing up, I had no idea about mechanical design, but fortunately, the school and the major chose me,” said Dr. Wang. When entering college, she had no idea she would focus her studies on the design and logistics of harbor cranes. Even today, Dr. Wang has several college classmates who are still employed as engineers in the port sector in China.
Dr. Wang moved to the United States with her husband, John, who was doing graduate work at Texas A&M University. Their first son, William, was born there. Shortly after, the family moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where John was employed by the University of Louisville (UofL). Dr. Wang decided to enroll at UofL to pursue an M.S. degree in mechanical engineering studying mechanical material testing of polymer. She continued into a Ph.D. program where she obtained a degree in mechanical engineering with an emphasis in nanotechnology. “The more I learned about mechanical engineering, the more I liked the major and realized there are a lot of opportunities for females in the engineering area,” she said.
Upon completing her Ph.D., Dr. Wang accepted a position as an assistant professor at Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky. When a position became available at EKU in 2015, she applied and was hired as an assistant professor in the Department of Applied Engineering and Technology (AE&T). “Dr. Wang was an exceptional addition to the faculty and made an immediate impact on the engineering technology management program and department,” said Dr. Tim Ross, former chair of AE&T and current associate dean of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (CSTEM). He continued, “She has a wealth of knowledge on a wide range of subjects and the students learn a great deal in her classes. We are very fortunate to have Dr. Wang as part of the AE&T faculty.”
Dr. Wang has been involved in writing grant proposals since arriving at EKU. Most notably, Dr. Wang is part of an NSF KY EPSCoR five-year grant focused on advanced manufacturing and enhancing robotic applications. This grant was a multi-year effort, and she involved undergraduate and graduate students in her research that focused on robot end-effector design and simulation. “The project aims to train the future workforce of Kentucky in the robotic manufacturing area. Students with CAD and 3D prototyping skills qualify to work in my lab. It is a very good opportunity for them to apply the skills they learned from class to solve real-world problems,” said Dr. Wang. She continued, “It is a great experience to do something outside of teaching and provide other opportunities for students.” To date, the project has involved eight undergraduate and three graduate students. Students also have the opportunity to present their research results at an international conference each year. The project was a significant contribution to the prototyping lab which Dr. Wang now supervises.
Dr. Wang devotes a lot of time to her students and goes out of her way to help them understand difficult concepts. “I always have great satisfaction when I receive positive feedback from students and colleagues. My most rewarding moments as a faculty member is seeing my students succeed.” Dr. Wang credits her graduate mentor, Associate Professor Dr. Robert Bradshaw, for teaching her how to treat and supervise students.
Dr. Wang teaches courses from first year to graduate level. This gives her the unique opportunity to watch students mature as they move through their academic careers. “I am excited each year at the capstone project presentations. I have taught and mentored these students through four years and watched them grow professionally and personally. Seeing them gain knowledge, skills, and preparing for their future careers gives me great pleasure,” she said.
Dr. Wang was asked what she has seen as the biggest change since her arrival at EKU and commented, “I have seen job opportunities increase for students dramatically. I am excited to see the new manufacturing engineering degree program established at EKU, and I am really looking forward to the new age of the Department of Applied Engineering and Technology.”
Beyond her typical teaching load, Dr. Wang participates in the CSTEM annual summer camp which is a week-long, residential camp for rising high school Juniors and Seniors. She also received a grant to host a day camp for the Kentucky Girl STEM Collaborative to teach girls Computer Aided Design (CAD). “I love to be involved in activities to recruit female students into STEM programs,” said Dr. Wang.
In her spare time, Dr. Wang enjoys spending quality time with her family. “My family spends most of our free time in Lexington Chinese Christian church. I have served as the director of children’s administration for three years. God is leading my family and me to go through difficult and happy days peacefully.” She also enjoys walking around campus “to regain peace and strength.”
Travis Pendygraft grew up on a farm in Glasgow, Kentucky (Barren County). He is currently pursuing an Accelerated 3 + 2 program. The 3 + 2 program at Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) is a ‘fast track’ that allows students to earn both their B.S. and M.S. degrees in just five years. His B.S. degree is in Cyber Systems Technology with a concentration in Network Security and Electronics and his M.S. degree is in Technology Management with a concentration in Cyber Systems Tech Security. He is also pursuing a minor in Informatics.
Mr. Pendygraft decided to attend EKU for several reasons. He was impressed with the Information Technology (IT) programs offered and scholarship opportunities. He also liked the size of the Richmond community and distance from his hometown. “I wanted to get away from my hometown to see how I could grow individually, separate from the recognition of my last name that came with living in a small community where my family had been for generations. When I came to Richmond, I loved the small-town feel of the community, even though it is roughly twice the size of my hometown,” he commented.
His interest in technology developed while taking courses in the subject at Barren County High School and through an internship in the Barren County Schools Technology Department associated with the county school system. “I was hired as an intern during the summer between my junior and senior year of high school. I was one of two student interns who worked the entire summer wiring low voltage cable in a newly constructed building on campus that houses the football complex, technology office, and career and technical center. I continued my work with the department after that summer, working on other projects after school before moving to Richmond,” he said.
Mr. Pendygraft’s academic successes have not gone unrecognized. Dr. Vigyan Chandra, professor in the Department of Computer Science and Information Technology and one of Mr. Pendygraft’s professors commented, “Travis has a positive, can-do attitude regarding technical projects, eager to deploy theoretical applications in actual IT practice. In addition, he actively researches practical solutions online, suitably adapting solutions and sharing his findings with peers while working collaboratively. He has exemplary organizational skills and is a natural leader.”
He has also been recognized through scholarships and awards. He received a scholarship for his participation in the Kentucky Governor’s Scholars Program, the Kentucky Poultry Federation in 2019 (one of only two scholarships given in Kentucky that year), and the Gardner Award for outstanding Senate Chair in the Student Government Association in May 2022.
Outside of class, Mr. Pendygraft is very involved on campus and takes advantage of as many campus opportunities as he can. He joined Theta Chi Fraternity in the Fall of 2019, where he met countless friends and found a family away from home. He recently ended his tenure as the vice president of Theta Chi, and is entering his second term as the Interfraternity Council (IFC) president, where he previously served as the vice president of finance. “IFC has allowed me to work with the leadership of all Greek chapters on campus, as well as professional staff in the Student Life office. These opportunities have allowed me to build relations between our chapters and the campus/community,” he said.
Mr. Pendygraft also serves as the executive vice president of EKU’s Student Government Association (SGA). He joined SGA as a senator in Fall of 2021 and was appointed as the Information Technology committee chairman in the Spring of 2022. In this position he oversaw the application and distribution process of $90,000 in funding for technology to benefit the campus and student experience. As the vice president, he oversees and manages all operations of the student senate and provides student perspectives to campus administration, creating effective solutions to improve our campus. Within the Department of Computer Science and Information Technology, he serves on the Cyber Systems Technology advisory committee. He was also named 2022 Homecoming king. “Each of my positions have given me unique experiences with management in different ways, but I have enjoyed all of them because they each offer a way to give back to the Eastern community that has already given me so much,” said Mr. Pendygraft.
When asked what he has learned during his time at EKU, Mr. Pendygraft replied, “Overall, I would say that my decision-making and management skills have been most improved during my time at EKU. Academically, I have been able to learn several different concepts that are used frequently in the IT field, and I have learned to communicate those concepts more effectively to the untrained user. Through extracurricular programs, I have been able to learn leadership skills and personnel management with different organizations and different goals.” Through all his experiences, he has sharpened his time-management and project management skills to balance his responsibilities efficiently.
Mr. Pendygraft is on track to earn his B.S. degree in Spring 2023 and will continue in the 3 + 2 program to earn a master’s degree in Technology Management with a concentration in Cyber Systems Technology. He hopes to find full-time employment in IT as he continues in his master’s program.
He recently took up woodworking as a hobby. “I enjoy the hands-on work and creating some new projects of my own,” he commented. He also enjoys spending time with friends and working on home technology projects.
“My husband’s favorite saying about education was ‘A teacher affects eternity – he never knows where his influence stops’.” – Dr. Diane E. Vance
Dr. Diane E. Vance was born in Bristol, Connecticut. Her mother was originally from Montreal, Canada, but the family moved to Connecticut. Her father was from Stamping Ground, Kentucky, and met his wife in Connecticut, where he was stationed during World War II. The couple had two children, Dr. Vance and her brother (Dr. John C. Vance; a retired neonatologist). The family moved to Elizabethtown, Kentucky, where Dr. Vance graduated from Elizabethtown Catholic High School.
Dr. Vance received her Bachelor of Arts degree in biology and a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) from Spalding College in Louisville, Kentucky. She wanted to go to veterinary school but her dreams were thwarted as she explains, “Career opportunities in 1971 for women in the sciences were limited. I wanted to go to vet school but was clearly told by people at Auburn that ‘we really don’t want women – you can apply but you won’t get in’.”
Consequently, she accepted a teaching position at Bishop David High School, an all-boys Catholic high school in Louisville, KY. She stayed at the school in the 1970s, during which time she taught courses in all the sciences at different grade levels.
Dr. Vance enrolled for graduate studies at the University of Kentucky (UK) in 1981, where she conducted research on the possible role of trace elements in Alzheimer’s disease. She graduated with a Ph.D. in radioanalytical chemistry in 1986 and continued at UK as a postdoctoral fellow for 3 years. She co-authored, with Dr. William D. Ehmann, the textbook Radiochemistry and Nuclear Methods of Analysis.
Between 1989 and 1998, Dr. Vance worked in the United States nuclear weapons complex, first being stationed at Savannah River site in South Carolina and then Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge TN, as an analytical chemist for production facilities.
While radiochemistry was Dr. Vance’s favorite field of study and work, employment was declining in the nuclear field and she decided to shift her career to academia. She accepted a position in the Department of Chemistry at Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) as an assistant professor in 1998 and was promoted to associate professor in 2003 and professor in 2005. During her tenure at EKU, she taught general chemistry, instrumental analysis, mass spectrometry, forensic toxicology, drug chemistry, expert witness testimony, and collaborated extensively with the Department of Criminal Justice Training (DOCJT) to offer courses for law enforcement related to methamphetamine production and marijuana identification. She also served as radiation safety officer and chemical safety officer.
Dr. Vance became the director of the forensic science program in 2004 upon the retirement of the founding director, Dr. Robert Fraas. The EKU forensic science program was one of the first five programs in the country to be accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) operated by the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS). She considers maintaining that accreditation for the 15 years she was program director as one of her greatest accomplishments. She also served on the AAFS FEPAC Commission and was a program evaluator.
She is particularly fond of her work with the Department of Criminal Justice Training, as she explains, “The collaboration I developed with DOCJT was something new for the forensic science program that enhanced student exposure to various aspects of law enforcement. I brought in people to teach several forensic courses that had not been offered before. We were also able to expose students to several aspects of work done by law enforcement, such as observations of field sobriety tests and use of intoxilyzers (breath alcohol testers). Upper division forensic students also assisted in teaching the marijuana identification and methamphetamine production courses.”
Regarding her entry into the field of forensic science, Dr. Vance had this to say, “I had no previous experience in forensic science, so I enjoyed learning about a new field. It illustrated for students the wide applicability of having skills in analytical chemistry – the same instruments can be used to perform work in nearly all industries,” Dr. Vance stated. “Indeed the best part of my job was helping students achieve their career goals. My husband’s favorite saying about education was ‘A teacher affects eternity – he never knows where his influence stops’.”
Dr. Vance was married to John J. Moll, Sr. for 29 years and his failing health prompted her retirement in 2015, as she explains, “My husband had developed Lewy Body Dementia during my last years at EKU, so caring for him became a priority.”
After her husband passed away, Dr. Vance began volunteering with the Alzheimer’s Association as a community educator to provide information to people about the progressive neurological diseases that cause dementia. “Volunteering with the Alzheimer’s Association is one way I honor the memory of my husband. He touched thousands of lives during his 56 years of working in education. I like to think I can continue to do this in a very small way,” she said.
Volunteer work also helps Dr. Vance keep herself engaged in retirement. She served as an evaluator for accreditation of forensic science programs, has given hundreds of talks in the past seven years on Alzheimer’s all over Kentucky, serves on the board and as secretary for the Bluegrass Parkinson’s Alliance, and serves as instructor with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UK, which offers non-credit short courses for people over 50. She has developed and taught courses on weapons of mass destruction, street drugs, pills and pot, dementia-causing diseases, radioactivity, chemical elements, and “Kentucky Spirits” which focuses on the production of bourbon in Kentucky.
Dr. Vance remains engaged with EKU by attending various activities at the university and through philanthropic giving to various funds.
“My advice to new faculty is to get to know the students. Each one comes to EKU with a different story and background. If you enjoy working with students and teaching you will be successful at EKU.” – Dr. Bruce R. Pratt
Dr. Bruce R. Pratt is a retired Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) professor and former chair of the Department of Agriculture. He was born in Hackensack, New Jersey, and grew up in the suburbs of New York City. His interest in agriculture was inspired by his experience on a family farm in Wisconsin, jointly owned by his grandfather and great uncle, where he worked during summer months while in high school.
He graduated from Delaware Valley College (now Delaware Valley University) in Doylesville, Pennsylvania, with a major in Animal Husbandry in 1974. He then attended West Virginia University, earning Masters (1976) and Ph.D. (1979) degrees in Reproductive Physiology. After graduate school he was a Postdoctoral faculty member at Oklahoma State University in animal physiology then taught at the University of Maine in Orono before coming to EKU.
Dr. Pratt began his tenure at EKU in the spring semester 1988. “I immediately felt welcomed into the Department of Agriculture. Many of the faculty came and helped unload our U-Haul rental truck when we arrived in Richmond,” he said.
When asked about significant changes that took place during his time at EKU, Dr. Pratt responded, “The biggest changes were the physical changes to the campus with the addition of new buildings and structures both on the main campus and the south campus. When I first came to EKU, Stateland Dairy was located on Kit Carson Drive across from the Carter Building, which houses the Department of Agriculture. This created problems when EKU hosted home football games and graduation ceremonies at the stadium directly across Eastern Bypass. President Funderburk’s wife, Helen, objected to the odor of the dairy and was not convinced that what she was smelling was corn silage. Fortunately, Dr. Funderburk, in support of the agriculture program, came up with funds to build a new dairy facility at EKU Meadowbrook farm that housed the other livestock species (beef, sheep, and pigs). I have always appreciated the administrative support of the ag program.”
Dr. Pratt enjoyed working with students the most. He taught an Introduction to Animal Science course which was an entry level agriculture course populated mostly by freshman. He enjoyed seeing how the students grew, developed, and matured in their education when he taught them several semesters later in the upper division courses he taught. “I also enjoyed the diversity of courses I taught from the introductory Animal Science course to the more advanced courses in reproduction, anatomy and physiology, livestock genetics and diseases to the production courses in beef, sheep, horses, poultry, and swine. This enabled me to broaden my scope of the livestock industry,” he said.
He also served as chair of the Department of Agriculture from 2004-2010 and as the director of EKU’s Center for Renewable and Alternative Fuel Technologies (CRAFT). The Center was established in 2009 with a mission of creating a regional biofuels industry through the research and development of novel processes and technologies that utilize renewable energy sources.
Some of Dr. Pratt’s fondest memories of his work at EKU involved traveling with students as he explained, “You really get to know the students when you spend several days or a week or more with them. Over the course of 30+ years I did two travel-abroad courses in trips to Ireland, several trips during spring breaks, and a yearly trip to the Poultry Convention in Atlanta plus several others – all related to agriculture. Laboratories at EKU Farms were also a lot of fun. You get the chance to spend more time getting to know your students.”
Dr. Pratt retired in 2016 but stayed on for another three years under the Retirement Transition Program (RTP). When the program ended in 2019, he decided to continue teaching as a part-time instructor until May 2020. “In the spring of 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I finished the semester online as everyone else did. Not exactly how I wanted to go out, but we made it work,” he explained.
Dr. Pratt has been married to his wife, Karen for 34 years. Karen worked at EKU in the Division of Natural Areas until her retirement in 2020. They have two married daughters – Bethany and Kaylyn. Bethany lives in Louisville with her husband Daniel, and two children Eleanor (3 ½ years) and Fox (7 months). Kaylyn and her husband (Ricky Randall) live in San Antonio, Texas.
In retirement, Dr. Pratt and his wife keep busy taking care of their farm which has a few cattle and a horse. With the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, they have begun doing some traveling. He also enjoys some woodworking, making primarily items for his two grandchildren. He remains engaged with EKU by visiting his former colleagues in the Department of Agriculture from time to time and attending many home football games with his wife.