PIKEVILLE – The University of Pikeville has been awarded a $7.4 million grant to support the new Kentucky College of Optometry (KYCO).
Announced Aug. 24 in a ceremony with U.S. Congressman Hal Rogers, the grant is funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA). The funds come from the Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER), an initiative designed to assist communities affected by job losses in the coal sector.
The largest grant in the university’s history and surpassing a previous $2.6 million grant record set earlier this year, the Power Initiative Grant will help alleviate the significant startup costs of launching the college of optometry.
“I am delighted that through teamwork and collaboration, we have impressed outside funding agencies and enlisted their support for UPIKE’s mission, vision and plans,” said University of Pikeville President Burton Webb. “We are deeply grateful for the significant leadership and support provided by Congressman Rogers and the Big Sandy Area Development District. Progressive programs and initiatives, like the Kentucky College of Optometry, are essential to the growth of the region, advancements in healthcare access, and professional recruitment. Together, we can shape a brighter future for Kentucky’s Appalachian region and UPIKE is proud to help lead the way.”
First-year optometry student Travis Keene grew up in Eastern Kentucky. He went to work in the mines, just like others in his family, including his father. And, like thousands of coal miners across the region, he too lost his job as more and more mines were idled. Leaving the area to find work wasn’t an option for Keene who decided to go back to school and finish his undergraduate degree at UPIKE. His interest in the sciences led him to apply to the college of optometry.
“I love the mountains,” said Keene. “My family lives here and this is our home. In going back to school I realized there would be sacrifices to make and I knew getting into optometry school would be competitive.”
“Sometimes it still seems unreal,” said Keene. “But the future looks strong because of the opportunities this school provides. Kentucky has some of the best scope of practice laws in the country and we live in a region where there is great need. As someone from a rural area, I believe the experience will help me in treating patients.”
The University of Pikeville announced the Kentucky College of Optometry in 2014, a mission-focused endeavor to improve healthcare in Appalachia through access, opportunity and education. The 22nd school of optometry in the nation and the only one in Kentucky, KYCO is a continuation of the university’s strategic focus and long-term investment in the health sciences. Construction is nearing completion on the Health Professions Education Building. The approximately $65 million facility contains comprehensive, state-of-the-art classrooms, teaching labs and surgical suites that allow for hands-on training through virtual reality technology, simulation and standardized patient education. The building will enhance inter-professional learning opportunities for the university’s college of optometry, the Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine and the Elliott School of Nursing.