LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 15, 2023) — In August 2021, as the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, many students in the country found themselves in limbo — unsure of whether or how to continue their education. As they searched for answers, and many fled their home country, the launch of the Kentucky Innovative Scholarship Pilot Project provided hope, and the University of Kentucky mobilized to provide a home away from home.
The program, funded by a $10 million appropriation by the 2022 Kentucky General Assembly, allows colleges and universities to provide scholarships up to the total cost of attendance for displaced students. One of those students who came to the University of Kentucky, thanks to the Kentucky Innovative Scholarship and the Qatar Scholarship for Afghans Project, is Ahmad Khalid Wardak. He is graduating in December with a bachelor's degree in political science from the College of Arts and Sciences.
“I was unsure of what the future held, but I knew I wanted to finish my education,” said Wardak, who had been studying for his bachelor's degree at the American University of Afghanistan, and then spent some time in exile at the American University of Iraq. “I am so thankful to the University of Kentucky for that opportunity.”
When he landed in Lexington, Wardak immediately felt at home thanks to a warm welcome from staff at the university.
“We had people picking us up at the airport, taking us around campus, making sure we had everything we needed,” he said. “It immediately made me feel like this was going to be a good place to continue my education."
Once classes started, Wardak's appreciation for his new home only grew.
“The professors are all amazing — both in their pedigree as academics but also in how they go the extra mile to help us,” he said. “We were suddenly in this new place, and faculty were extremely understanding and helpful. As I have continued my studies, I have been so amazed by the support of faculty and staff, the academics, the facilities, everything at UK. I am proud to be a Wildcat.”
While a student at UK, Wardak began working with Kentucky Refugee Ministries as an Afghan support specialist. He connected with the group as it offered him support when he arrived in Lexington. And once he settled into his new home, Wardak wanted to help support fellow incoming refugees.
“I want to make a difference in helping people like me,” he said. “I know what it’s like to be in a new place and not know things or have people supporting you. I was lucky to find that support here in Lexington and at UK, and now I want to be part of the solution.”
Wardak is particularly interested in a career working with refugee and migrant populations.
“My own experience has led me to be interested in studying and helping people who were like me,” he said. “I know that I will use my education at the University of Kentucky to make a difference in the world.”
Twenty-eight students are at UK as a result of the Kentucky Innovative Scholarship Pilot Project.
“UK has really become like a second home for me,” Wardak said. “I hope more students can experience what I have.”
UK’s December 2023 Commencement Ceremonies will take place at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Friday, Dec. 15, at Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center. They will also be livestreamed on YouTube. Visit commencement.uky.edu or UKNow Friday (today) to watch and learn more.
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