How different would life in your community be without its teachers and school administrators, nurses and other health care workers, public safety officers and other first responders, and social workers?
Thanks to Eastern Kentucky University and its thousands of graduates who have gone on to serve Kentucky communities in those professions and others so vital to our everyday quality of life, you’ll never face such a scenario.
The vast majority – nearly 90 percent – of our undergraduates call Kentucky home, and 76 percent of EKU alumni are employed in their home state within five years of their graduation – the highest percentages among all public, four-year institutions in the Commonwealth. That is why Eastern can proudly claim the mantle of “Kentucky’s University,” and why we can boldly declare that we are “Powering Kentucky’s Communities.”
The profiles that follow can only begin to tell the story of the impact EKU graduates are making – in communities both large and small all across the Bluegrass State. Their venues of service may vary, but a common thread is unmistakable: a passion to serve others and make a positive difference.
While that desire may have led them to their career choice and to Eastern, it was at EKU they honed the skills that so often make a life-and-death difference in the lives they touch.
Many of these graduates are serving in medically underserved counties, and as role models for a new generation of impressionable young people looking for hope. As southeastern Kentucky flight paramedic Edwin Bentley explained, “I want to show young kids and the community that there are positive things still in this area.”
Not the least of which are all the EKU grads from Pikeville to Paducah who are “Powering Kentucky’s Communities.”
Jeff Mayfield: Firefighter/Deputy Coroner
It might be their darkest of days but, when Jeff Mayfield, ’01, arrives on the scene, Madisonville residents know they’ve got a friend, advocate and devoted public servant at their side.
As a lieutenant with the city’s fire department and as deputy coroner for Hopkins County, Mayfield (pictured above) likes “being there to try to help someone when they are having their worst day.”
Mayfield, whose father and “pretty much everyone I knew was on the volunteer fire department,” determined at an early age to follow in their footsteps and joined the department in 2004. In his current role, he supervises his engine company and assists with planning training and fire prevention activities, among other duties. “What I enjoy most is that you are always faced with something different and challenging.”
As deputy coroner, assisting families who have just a loved one, “I try to bring as much peace and closure as possible by being there to answer any questions they have and helping them in any way possible.”
Ashley Cremeans: Social Work Manager
Some are homeless. Some are reeling from drug abuse. Others might just need transportation to and from the doctor’s office. Whatever the need, as social work manager at St. Elizabeth Physicians in northern Kentucky, Ashley Cremeans, ’09, is there to lend a helping hand.
“I chose social work because I love being in the helping profession,” said Cremeans, of Independence. “I love that I work for a physicians’ group that has recognized the difference that comprehensive care can make, and they embrace a care team approach to helping their patients. I hope that the difference I am making is that we continue to change the health care system to ensure that all our patients’ needs are addressed, and that we can work toward improving not just their physical health, but also their overall well-being.”
Cremeans’ commitment to her community doesn’t necessarily end with her workday. “In our field, we use so many community partners to help our patients that we like to give back to those agencies. For me, it’s a way to see services come full circle for clients.”
Chad Higgins: Fourth-Grade Teacher
Chad Higgins’ career track was sealed in sixth grade, when his teacher refused to let him fail as he struggled with his parents’ divorce.
“She refused to let me fail because of my home life,” recalled Higgins, ’14, now a fourth-grade teacher at Yates Elementary School in Lexington. “She’s like a second mother to me, and we are extremely close to this day. I hope to instill in my students that nothing is impossible, and that are capable of doing anything they put their minds to.”
Higgins also serves the community through his work as director of music and media at Consolidated Baptist Church, recalling the lessons he learned during his two years at EKU.
“I made it a point to build relationships with each one of my professors, people in the cafeteria, everyone,” he noted. “That has caused me to be more open and loving to people who I meet and find the good in them, regardless of who they are. I’m much more prepared to impact the world through my students because of my time at EKU.”
Edwin Bentley: Flight Paramedic
It's a rare opportunity when Edwin Bentley, ’00, gets to follow up with patients he helped transport as a flight paramedic with Wings Air Rescue. When it does happen, “there’s no better feeling than knowing that we do make a difference.”
A flight paramedic who provides critical care transport in southeastern Kentucky and parts of Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina, Bentley got his start with the Neon (Kentucky) Volunteer Fire Department. That was his introduction to EMS, and he was soon pursuing a degree in emergency medical care at Eastern.
When he returned home, only two paramedics were working full time in Letcher County. Bentley has been very active teaching EMT and paramedic courses as well as precepting new hires. “I’m a talker and love to interact with people on scenes and teaching classes.” His love for people extends to occasional free clinics and “Santa runs” with the helicopter.
Bentley said he just wants to help people. “Through all of the economic and social troubles people may face, I want to be a part of some of the good things that occur in my home area (and) show young kids and the community that there are positive things still in this area and maybe expose kids to the unknown world of EMS.”
Carmen Griffith: Vascular Coordinator
“Everybody is someone to somebody, so treat them as you would want to be treated yourself.”
That has been the mantra for Carmen Griffith, ’91, ever since she followed the footsteps of other family members into the health care profession. Today, Griffith serves as vascular coordinator for Kentucky One Health-Jewish Hospital in Louisville. She collects and examines data, presents paths for improvement to vascular surgeons and others, works with other data managers within the Pathways M2S network, organizes events to raise awareness about vascular disease and aortic emergencies, and attends conferences that include physicians, data managers, nurses and researchers in order to share knowledge and establish regional goals.
“Caring for others is all I knew,” said Griffith, noting a mother, grandmother and aunt who pursued careers in health care. “I never actually gave any thought to doing anything else.”
Now she hopes her impact is one of “continued growth, consistency and striving toward excellence.”
Note: This article appears in the Fall 2017 issue of EKU Magazine.