On November 7, the UK College of Engineering Alumni & Philanthropy Office held its annual David K. Blythe Society recognition event. While this gathering typically involves donors and scholarship recipients bonding over a catered luncheon, COVID-19 required an adjustment to a virtual format.
During the virtual event, scholarship donors and recipients met in breakout rooms, where they exchanged stories. Students delighted in the opportunity to learn more about the scholarship they have received.
Danielle Hockensmith, a senior majoring in biosystems engineering, delivered a speech on behalf of the students. The text of her speech is below.
Good morning/afternoon everyone, I am Danielle Hockensmith, a senior in biosystems and agricultural engineering. Let me just start by saying congratulations to all of you here today and thank you for those that made this day possible. I grew up in Frankfort, Kentucky, just short of an hour from here. I attended a fairly normal high school and lived a mostly normal life. Both of my parents worked and did all that they could to support me in all of my endeavors. But, that does not mean life has been easy, as is true for most of us here today. I am a first-generation college student, which carries a vast number of struggles in itself. When it came to applying for colleges, I, as well as my parents, came in blindly. All I knew is that I wanted to attend the University of Kentucky and major in Biosystems and agricultural engineering. I began the application process and followed the steps the best I could, and began rapidly applying for scholarships. Thankfully, with a degree under the college of agriculture and the college of engineering, there were plenty I could apply for, but not all of us are that lucky.
Despite myself and my parents working, college simply was not affordable without the help of scholarships. An in state, four-year degree here at UK costs about $52,000, not including room and board. Including housing for the first year, it costs about $67,000. This will vary from person to person based on how long you have lived on campus or if you are from out of state, but needless to say college is not cheap. I have entirely relied on scholarships to get to this point, to have a mostly stress-free college career. Engineering is difficult, and the added stress of financials only makes it harder. Most of us work part time jobs, have internships, or have had a co-op to support ourselves and our college career, and I applaud each of you for that. During these unprecedented times, many of us lost our internships, co-ops and part time jobs, making it that much harder to pay for college. This too happened to me. I was all set to continue working in the regulatory department with Alltech, as well as split my hours to work in the research department to gain experience. In March, Alltech sent all employees home to work remotely, removing my chance to work in research and cutting my hours in half in regulatory. Thankfully, I was able to keep my internship to a degree, but this unexpected change caused some stress in my life. Today, these scholarships mean more than they ever have before.
I have a little sister, six years younger than me, and I can only imagine what the cost of attending college will be by the time she begins applying. With the help of scholarships, I have lessened the burden of paying for college for my parents, allowing them to focus on helping my little sister once she reaches this stage in her life. Many of you here today see the value in education, and understand the hardships faced while attending college. Some of you are here today to honor a loved one who began a foundation to support students such as myself, and I thank you for that. It is never easy to lose a loved one, but seeing how their work makes the world a better place, is definitely something to be proud of. As scholarship donors, you believe in us, without even knowing who we are or much about where we come from. We submit a simple application with a little bit of information about us and are chosen based on various sets of criteria. Knowing that people have faith in the future generation of engineers, and honestly, people who one day might become a CEO, create their own company, or even change the world. In high school, I was extremely active with my local FFA chapter, serving as chapter and regional president. The FFA creed was engrained in our minds, with the first sentence stating “I believe in the future of agriculture, with a faith born not of words, but of deeds” and this stands true for the future of engineering. This outstanding deed of supporting college students financially shows faith in the future of engineering. For some of us, these scholarships determine which steps we take next in life. Do we go directly into industry, or do we pursue a master’s degree? We are all creating our own path to life. If you are a senior, you’re likely worried about what to do after May 2021. If you are a freshman, sophomore or junior, you’re likely worried about paying for next year. Having scholarships tend to make these decisions a little easier, especially for myself. Due to the small amount of debt I have accumulated, I was able to comfortably make the decision to pursue graduate school.
Financials are one of the largest stressors in life, and you as donors lessen that stress. After graduation, many people spend most of their life paying off student loans, often preventing them from enjoying life. Sometimes, this means putting off marriage, travelling, having kids and so much more. This year has been stressful for all of us. The unknown is terrifying, and it has truly hit some of us hard, mentally, physically, and financially. Seeing each of you here today makes me happy, and gives me faith in our future as engineers. As we near the end of the semester, I hope each and every one of you take these last two weeks seriously, and as we near the holiday season, be sure to give thanks to those that have gotten you where you are today, including those that are here to meet you today. Enjoy getting to meet with one another, and hopefully learn something new about each other, because you never know how someone got to this point in their life.