University of Kentucky officials visit Harlan County High School advanced math, engineering classes

Published 10:46 am Tuesday, April 9, 2024

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Harlan County High School hosted a team of dignitaries from the Lighthouse Beacon Foundation and the University of Kentucky last week.

The team toured the engineering and advanced mathematics classes as part of “The Student Success tour, an ambitious 48-hour trip highlighting 5 schools in the Eastern Kentucky Region that work endlessly to provide and support opportunities for high level STEM education to occur,” said Kelsey Tackett, director of Appalachian Engagement for the Lighthouse Beacon Foundation.

“The Lighthouse Beacon Foundation enjoys providing opportunities for those affiliated with the University of Kentucky to see the various types of student success that are here in the mountains,” said Tackett. “This unique experience highlights the elements of greatness within the schools we work with and shows how our outreach has assisted in making some opportunities, like the Technology Student Association (TSA) and engineering, possible.”

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Principal Kathy Napier said she was pleased that her high school was included as one of only five stops for the team as they traveled through eastern Kentucky.

The team also visited Laurel County Innovation Center, Belfry Middle School, Floyd County School of Innovation and Johnson Central High School.

Team members included:

Dr. J. Kirsten Turner, the University of Kentucky’s Vice President for Student Success and Chief Student Affairs Officer.

Dr. Michael Rankin, a member of the University of Kentucky Medical Alumni and holds an electrical engineering and medical degree.

Dr. Hubie Ballard, a neonatologist who has a degree in electrical engineering and a medical degree from the University of Kentucky.

Melissa Tomblin, who serves as the inaugural executive director of the Lighthouse Beacon Foundation.

Kelsey Tackett, director of Appalachian Engagement for the Lighthouse Beacon Foundation.

Jack Lemon, vice president for philanthropy and alumni engagement and chief philanthropy officer for the University of Kentucky.

And Stanley Pigman, who has a strong presence in eastern Kentucky extending his passion through philanthropic initiatives including opening doors for Harlan County students to attend the University of Kentucky’s engineering programs.

The team spent time observing in the advanced mathematics classes before attending a presentation by engineering students of projects they had developed. The students recently competed in regional and state engineering design events.

Napier said she was elated to showcase the wide range of projects the students had prepared.

“One of the things that’s so unique about the engineering program, there’s so many different avenues that they can take, so many different interests that they can go in as far as engineering is concerned. I think that’s just opening up the window or the box, it’s not just building bridges,” she said.

Lyndsey Rich, HCHS engineering instructor and a sponsor of Project Lead The Way (PTW), said she was “thrilled to have such a distinguished group visit her class to see firsthand what our students are accomplishing.”

Rich said her students benefited from the conversations with the guests as they work to finalize college and career goals.

Dr. Rankin said he was impressed by how well students are performing in their fields at HCHS.

“We were so interested in what was happening and we heard so many stories of the outcomes, but just to sit down and talk to students, that was just the most impressive,” said Rankin.

Rich noted that visits such as this “make my students feel like it’s possible to go to college at the University of Kentucky. A lot of times, they look at it as being out of their reach because of where they come, That is simply not true. We have so many things available to these students. They are on the same level as all of those schools in more urban areas,” she said.

Students explained their projects to the guests. Here is an overview of the various displays:

Civil Engineering (Scale Models): Team members Callie Smith, Gabriel Holden, William Mabes and Thomas Polson, all juniors. The construction and blueprinting of the structural components used in building safe and affordable homes

Board Game Design: Bradley Brock and Thomas Polson, both juniors, and Caden Craig and Ethan Lewis, both sophomores. The creation of an entire board game from scratch including a board, all pieces, and rules. Awarded second place in the regional competition and semifinalists in the Technology Students of America (TSA) state competition.

Coding: Calvin Hensley, a senior. Code various prompts on demand. Second place at TSA Regionals.

Vex Robotics: Jacob Shoemaker, Will Cassim and Dallas Sergent, all seniors, and Plez Dean, a junior. Built to code a robot to complete several tasks both autonomous and controlled by someone on the team. Sixth place at TSA state competition.

FRYSC “Building Bridges Over Barriers.” Landon McCreary, a senior. The Family Resource and Youth Service Center asked for a design to display at the state capitol. The bridge was designed in Onshape and 3D printed in a Dremel printer. The tablecloth logo and poster were designed in Inkscape and printed with our vinyl machine.

Music Production: Thomas Polson and Bradley Brock, both juniors, and Ethan Lewis, a sophomore. Creation of a musical piece from scratch. Awarded state semifinalists.

“The Seven Realms” Video Game Design: Landon McCreary, Darren Alred, Devon Harper, Bryan Howard, Brayden Howard and Dallas Sergent, all seniors. Students used G-Develop to design a three-level video game. TSA State Semi-Finalists.


Structural Design & Engineering: Will Cassim, a senior, and Chloe McCreary, a junior. Built a bridge out of balsa wood to hold the most weight while being the most efficient. Second place at TSA regionals and state semifinalists.

Bryan Howard and Brayden Howard, both seniors. Built a bridge out of balsa wood to hold the most weight while being the most efficient.

Forensics: Gabriel Clay and Addison Truitt, both freshmen. Investigated a mock crime scene while displaying knowledge and techniques during the process. Presented an analysis and crime scene sketch over it. TSA state semifinalists.

Photographic Technology: Addison Truitt, a freshman. Given 24 hours to read a prompt and create a portfolio containing the photographs. Students then were interviewed over their portfolios. Second place at TSA regionals and as state semifinalist.

Fashion Design: Shania Middleton, Amelia Colinger and Madison Lewis, sophomores, and Addison Truitt, a freshman. A team of 2-4 students were given a challenge to design a fashion garment under the theme of Avant Garde. They designed a black and green neon dress by hand. They embroidered a circuit board design on the top of the dress and had lights run through them. This dress also had a one-sided tulle sleeve to set off the theme. Advanced to the state.