Students from Clay and Owsley counties arrive at EKU’s Manchester campus.

Eastern Kentucky University’s Manchester campus hosted more than four hundred middle-schoolers from Clay and Owsley counties Thursday 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 Counties’ 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 7th and 8th graders to start thinking about higher education in middle school.

Jeff Johnson, a junior on the EKU basketball team, and John Wilson, a sophomore on the EKU baseball team, answer students’ questions about college.

“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 talks to students about the costs of her college education.

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.

Kristin Perry, a senior on the EKU Softball team, and Colette Cole, Director of Basketball Operations, talk to students about juggling sports and the demands of being a college student.

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.

EKU Baseball Coach Jason Stein motivates students to do well in middle school to prepare for college success.

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?”

Students gather around John Wilson and Colette Cole for autographs.

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.

A student poses for a photo with Jeff Johnson.