This week, Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) is welcoming its largest freshman class in many years. More than 50% of incoming freshmen at EKU are the first in their families to pursue a college degree; more than 30% are from EKU’s service region; and more than 95% were offered some form of financial aid. In addition to incoming freshmen, EKU expects more than 1,000 transfer students this fall.
“We are excited to see a record increase in student enrollment for the Fall 2023 class,” said EKU President David McFaddin. “Our significant enrollment growth is a direct result of investments in our students. Free books through EKU BookSmart and events through the Exceptional Eastern Experience make EKU the campus where students want to be.”
Freshmen Lucas Brownstead and Payton Slone, along with transfer students Pablo and Ashley Russo, are among the thousands of new students assembling at EKU for the start of classes on Monday. Coming to EKU offers a fresh start for some, and many have had to overcome major hurdles in life to get to the point of beginning college.
Brownstead, from Ashland, Kentucky, was raised in a household with his single mother and his grandmother. Both unexpectedly passed away within months of each other during his freshman year of high school. He was taken in by his mother’s childhood best friend, and soon after, the global pandemic further disrupted his life. Despite the hardships he endured, Brownstead worked a part-time management position at a fast-food restaurant and graduated high school with honors. He received a local scholarship, worth up to $12,000 per year, and is pursuing a degree in occupational therapy at EKU. He’s eager to join student organizations and get involved on campus.
“Everything is set up for you to be successful, and it really just convinced me to go here,” he said. “I’ve been through some of the best and worst in life, but what drives me is just trying to be a better person every day.”
Slone faced a different set of hardships growing up. As a toddler, she was diagnosed with lupus, but that didn’t stop her ambition to play sports.
“I had many flare ups, but I never gave up,” Slone said. She is the first in her family to pursue a college degree. Slone’s mom dropped out of high school to raise her and after her parents divorced, her mom worked multiple jobs to make ends meet. When Slone was 15, she started working to help out and took college classes in high school to become a nurse aide.
“I worked hard to keep good grades for scholarships to make sure I make it farther than my parents,” she said. Slone was awarded three local scholarships, financial aid and an EKU merit scholarship.
At EKU, she’s majoring in criminal justice. She plans to join club archery, volleyball and track. Additionally, she looks forward to making new friends, meeting new people and being in a bigger city.
Married couple Pablo and Ashley are also furthering their dreams at EKU. They moved to Richmond from Ohio to transfer to EKU. Ashley works full time as a paramedic and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in paramedic science with the pre-med track.
“It’s always been my dream to become a doctor even though I’ve had a lot of hiccups along the way,” she said. “I never wanted to give up on that, and I’m giving it my best to try to do that.”
Pablo is a first-generation college student, originally from Brazil. He works full time in IT field services and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in cyber systems technology.
Ashley said, “I think it's really special that we have the opportunity to do this together, to go through the same struggles being students together and have that support system, somebody who knows what you're going through having to work full time and go to school—it’s not easy.” The couple hopes to graduate from EKU at the same time.
This weekend is filled with Big E Welcome events designed to get students acquainted with campus and provide opportunities to meet and engage with others. Fall semester classes start Monday, Aug. 14.