EKU Honors Student Earns National Award for Appalachia Research

Published on January 11, 2024

By Ethan Sirles

Eastern Kentucky University’s (EKU) Honors Program has had more than 1,100 student presenters at the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) annual meeting since 1990—a total exceeding that of any other university in the nation. Over the past decade, EKU students have earned two NCHC poster awards. Notably, at this year’s NCHC awards alone, EKU Honors students took home two poster awards.

Rosemary Kelley, a senior first-generation college student from Berea, Kentucky, won first place as the conference’s “Best Poster” in the Social Sciences for her research on grandparents raising grandchildren in Appalachia as a result of the opioid crisis. 

Kelley’s research focused on and evaluated media coverage of grandparent-headed households (GHHs). The broadcast and electronic media major paired her media analysis with her own research to paint a picture of the negative impacts of the opioid epidemic on both grandparents and grandchildren in GHHs, often as a result of parental addiction. 

“As a child raised by grandparents within Kentucky's kinship care program, I saw it as important to share my own experiences within the system and connection to Appalachia’s opioid crisis,” she said.

Through her research, Kelley found minimal media coverage and awareness surrounding GHHs in Appalachia, which she said creates a need for cultural change within areas affected by the opioid epidemic. The research poster also highlights the difficulties grandparents can face when navigating relationships after a grandchild is placed in their care. 

“I would love to see this research spark change and raise awareness among the general public that these families are struggling and are not receiving the aid they need,” said Kelley. “These families deserve to be heard, and I want my research to serve as a bridge between those stories and those who can help foster further change.”

Kelley said her research and other academic successes would never have been possible without the support of her grandparents turned adoptive parents, Kenneth and Paulette, who officially adopted her in 2017. 

“I am so thankful for them and the sacrifices they have made to ensure my success both in and outside of academics,” she said. The EKU Communications Department and EKU Honors helped foster her research, as well. 

“EKU’s honors students are an excellent representation of the university’s dedication to producing scholars who make a difference in their communities for many years to come,” said EKU President David McFaddin. “EKU is proud to have students recognized at a national level for their hard work and passionate research.”

Kelley said she was honored to be recognized for work that has been so personal to her and her family. 

“I am so thankful for the opportunity to share the story of many families within Appalachia, and I am hopeful that its impact will last far beyond me,” she said. 

Kelley was one of three EKU Colonels in the spotlight at the NCHC meeting. Senior history and sociology major JC Dyer was awarded second place in the humanities category for his research poster on the Godzilla movie franchise, and senior Ximena Patiño Enríquez, a first-generation college student and nursing major, was among the nominees for NCHC Student of the Year.

Dyer said, “The award means a lot for me because it shows that people enjoy my work and are excited about it. It is one of the best feelings when someone recognizes you for the passionate work you've undertaken.”

Also at this year’s NCHC meeting, Dr. David Coleman, executive director of EKU Honors, was officially named a NCHC Fellow—acknowledging his years of service and dedication to the mission of honors education, strong and meaningful involvement in state, regional and national organizations and passion for developing honors scholars.

“My extensive involvement with NCHC since my first trip to the organization’s annual conference 22 years ago has provided me with some of the most meaningful friendships and professional relationships of my life and career,” said Coleman. “I am deeply grateful to the NCHC and to our students and my colleagues in EKU Honors for making this recognition possible for me.”