GEARUP KY – Learn@UK Day

GEAR UP stands for “Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs.” GEAR UP is a federal grant program and in Kentucky, the Council on Postsecondary Education has its own GEAR UP grant. The mission of GEAR UP Kentucky 3.0, the state GEAR UP program, is to build a sustainable college-going culture in schools with a high percentage of low income students.  See more on this at their website:

UK Mascot Scratch with students

UK Mascot Scratch with GUK students

On April 12th the University of Kentucky hosted a GEAR UP KY (GUK) Career Day with hands-on experiences for the nearly 200 GUK3.0 8th grade students (and their chaperones) coming in from all over Kentucky. What ensued was the result of a wonderful collaboration between the Kentucky Council for Postsecondary Education and UK’s Enrollment Management, Undergraduate Education, and the colleges of Arts & Sciences, Education, and Engineering.

The day’s agenda:

Noon-1:30: A Grand UK Welcome and buffet lunch in the Student Center Grand Ballroom

Balloons guided visitors to the ballroom; this year’s “Open Up a World of Promise” UKPR See Blue video was playing as the youth, their parents and teachers entered; UK students were at the registration table (with nametags, the day’s program and a UK backpack with useful stuff) and at each of the 35 roundtables to serve as facilitators of discussions about UK and the youths’ expectations for the day. GUK audience in Grand BallroomCPE and UK were live tweeting the event using the hashtag #CareerDiscoveryDay and/or #DiscoverUK.

  • Brian Troyer, Associate Director of Undergraduate Admissions at UK, served as Master of Ceremonies and got the youth excited about the day with his warm humor and welcoming demeanor

    UK President Capilouto

    UK President Capilouto and the Kentucky Promise

  • President Eli Capilouto stopped by to give an overview of the “Kentucky Promise” and the importance of inclusion in our mission for undergraduate research at the state’s flagship institution – he challenged the youth to imagine themselves as future researchers
  • A terrific lunch was served – thanks to UK Enrollment Management – chicken nuggets and macaroni-and-cheese were the favs
  • Dr. Yvonne Lovell, Director of the CPE GEAR UP Kentucky, spoke about the reason for their visit as part of the GUK3.0 programming

    Former GUK student panel

    Former GUK students tell of their UK experiences

  • A panel of three former GUK students, now at UK, spoke about the critical need for persisting to and through college, and their personal experiences and challenges coming from a GEAR UP school
  • 38 College of Education undergrads served as “Got a Question about UK?” hosts for each roundtable and had some terrific insights about what the youth were imagining and were concerned about (see the summaries from the roundtables by downloading the .pdf here)

    UK students step dancing

    UK step dancers

  • Thanks to Buzz Burnam, two groups (one group of females and one group of males) from the UK National Pan-Hellenic Council’s Step Dancers wowed the audience with two powerful performances
  • students with Scratch the UK MascotThe youth and their chaperones had their pictures taken with Scratch, the UK Mascot
  • Brian then explained how the SCVNGR game would work.  The writing prompts from the College of Education pre-service teachers had been already uploaded to by their faculty advisor, Dr. Laurie Henry:
    • Wildcat Sighting @UK Student Center “Snap a picture” Prompt: Have you seen the UK Wildcat? If so, prove it with a photo!
    • SCVNGR slide2 Patterson challenges @POT “Say something” Prompt: During what time period was James Patterson the President of the university?
    • “Snap a picture” Prompt: Take a photo with James Patterson. How many of your friends/classmates can you get into your photo of the statue of James Patterson?
    • 2 challenges at @MacAdam Observatory “Say something” Prompt: What do you need to know to point a telescope at Jupiter in the daytime? What do you (or your computer) need to know? / another one is entitled April Sky
    • 4 challenges @W.T. Young Library: “Say something” Prompt: The Young Library opened April 3, 1998. Do you know when the first library at UK was constructed? / Also, “What’s in a name?” and “Mesozoic-age limestone” and “history”

GUK youth with Scratch1:30-3:30 pm: Campus Tour and Hands-On Learn@UK Sessions with UK Undergraduates

Laura Greenfield with 2 GUK 8th graders

UK Honors Program student Laura Greenfield with 2 GUK 8th graders after her astrophysics workshop

Thanks to Chelsea Brislin (UK Honors Program), Sue Scheff (UK AMSTEMM) and Sally Schafer (UK Physics Outreach), a wonderful series of academically rigorous hands-on activities were organized.  Learn@UK comprised of undergraduate students leading learning experiences in the sciences, mathematics and the arts.

All the students were assigned in small groups to learn about UK science/technology/engineering/arts/mathematics (STEAM) from faculty, staff and undergraduates.  In the first hour, half the students and their chaperones stayed in the Student Center to participate in LEARN@UK activities while the other half went on campus tours.  The LEARN@UK hands-on activities were led by Nancy Miller (UK Engineering, CME), Katy Ott, (UK A&S, Math), Bruce Walcott (UK Engineering, ECE) and the UK undergraduate student leaders came from the following units.

  • 2 Engineering CME majors (with Miller) on Shrinky Dinks
  • 6 A&S math math (with Ott) on Polytopes



  • 2 AMSTEMM Engineering majors (with Walcott) on Robo-Lego
  • 18 Honors Program students (with Scheff and Shafer)
    • Fruit DNA extraction (bananas and paper clips)
    • Tanka Time (math and poetry)
    • Sugary Lesson on the Scientific Method (weight of sugar in cola drink)
    • Round and Round (helicopter aerospace experiment)
    • Paper Chromatography (plant leaves and pens)
    • Planets (3D models in paper, astrophysics)
    • Spaghetti and Strength (uncooked noodles and duct tape)
GUK students on top of parking structure overlooking W.T.Young Library

GUK students going from the Observatory to WTYoung

Meanwhile, thanks to the organizing genius of Prim Wathen, half of the youth and their chaperones went with the four undergrad Visitor Center tour guides on a one-hour campus tour. They used the mobile SCVNGR challenge game during the tour to keep them engaged en route. They quickly traveled on foot to some of the UK research facilities important to undergraduates. 

GUK students in observatory

Showing the observatory telescope

In various combinations, all the GUK students visited three key locations.  Thanks to the help from Dr. Vincent Cassone, department chair, several biology majors were on hand for a fifteen-minute tour of the Biology labs in T.H. Morgan Building.

Dr. Tim Knauer and Sally Shafer got the UK Physics graduate students ready to help 7th and 8th graders understand the various capabilities of the Planewave CDK-20, 50 cm telescope in the MacAdam Student Observatory on the rooftop of Parking Structure #2.

The W.T. Young Library is always an impressive stop. Some of the stories the tour guides told were that the building’s shades are activated by the sunlight, so that the sun does not damage the books. The library contains moving bookshelves, 4,000 general seats along with 57 group study and conference rooms, 3,600 network ports, computer labs and a laptop loan program, 650 personal computers placed throughout the library, the Writing Center, Ovid’s Café and Starbucks.The students were amazed to learn that UK’s first library was constructed in 1909; before then, books were scattered in professors’ offices around campus.

3:30-4:00 pm: Closing Remarks, Photos of the Day, and Prizes

Brian Troyer in Worsham Theatre

Brian Troyer lets the students speak out during the Closing Plenary Session

Everyone gathered again for the closing plenary session at Worsham Theatre in the Student Center.  Master of Ceremonies Brian Troyer emphasized the lessons learned about undergraduate research opportunities at the University of Kentucky.  Together with Vince Bingham, Coordinator for Student Enrichment at the CPE’s GEAR UP KY Office, and handed out prizes (including an iPod) for those students who remembered the SCVNGR questions and learned the right answers from their tour guides.

Ben Withers in Worsham Theatre

Dr. Ben Withers summarized the day and thanked everyone (Robo-Legos workshop picture in background)

Dr. Ben Withers, Interim Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education and Director of the Honors Program, encouraged the students to cheer loudly (which they did) for all the people who made the day possible.

For some of the undergraduate students teaching in the LEARN@UK workshops, it was hard to let their 8th grade learners go. Everyone seemed tired but happy to have had the opportunity to have a such a creative orientation to engaged scholarship at UK.

ZachWildofsky, Honors Program, kneels to talk with his students from the Helicopter workshop

Zach Wildofsky, Honors Program, kneels to talk with his students from the Helicopter workshop

Buses came to take the youth and their chaperones home, the Admissions staff prepared for the next big See Blue event, and the Division of Undergraduate Education left knowing something different – something very special – had occurred that day. The goal of the day was to help these 7th and 8th grade students visualize themselves at UK as undergraduates – to help encourage them so include going to the University of Kentucky as a personal aspiration goal.  They left knowing that they had visited not just any college or university, but the state’s flagship institution: a public research university dedicated to the production of new knowledge and creative inquiry for Kentuckians and the world in which we live.

comments from parentsThe very next day, one of the Monroe County guidance counselors sent in this picture of an online exchange between the parents and teachers of some of the youth who came to UK.

“Eli just returned from his GEAR UP Kentucky trip to UK. He had a blast! He especially enjoyed the Biology Department. This is the most excited Elijah has ever been about going to college! I’m so glad he got the opportunity to go to Lexington today. … It must have been a really good experience, because Eli hasn’t stopped talking about it since he got off the bus! … I was afraid he’d come home and say he was never going to college. But he did quite the opposite. Now he’s talking about what he wants his major to be, and which universities have the best programs. He is so excited about his educational future!”

***See also***


About UK Student and Academic Life

Undergraduate Education is now recreated within the Division of Student and Academic Life in the Provost's Office at the University of Kentucky.
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