LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 13, 2023) — For graduating senior Devin Thompson, the University of Kentucky educational experience began long before his freshman year.
As a middle schooler in 2014, the Lexington native attended what was formerly called the See Blue STEM Camp (now STEM Experiences Camps), led by the UK College of Education with support from the Stanley and Karen Pigman College of Engineering, the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Medicine.
The summer program aims to expose students to a variety of positive learning experiences and career options in the STEM fields by bringing them to a college campus.
Thompson says this camp, specifically a robotics project he worked on that week, triggered a deep passion for science within him.
“It was really engaging, that's what I really liked about it,” Thompson said. “I think robotics was really what sparked my interest in science because it was something that you made yourself and then you got to see it come to life. STEM camp played a pivotal role in me learning that I can actually change something for the better, in a way that was fun too.”
By the time Thompson was in high school, he decided to take part in another UK summer project through the Area Health Education Center (AHEC) program. Based in UK’s Center for Interprofessional and Community Health Education, the program is a collaborative effort with the University of Louisville Health Science Center and eight regional centers to positively affect the distribution of health professionals throughout Kentucky. Through their Summer Enrichment Program, Thompson was once again able to “experience college before college” and learn about the variety of careers in health professions. This further refined Thompson’s passion for science into a drive to pursue an education and career in medicine.
“I got to shadow a bunch of different doctors, surgeons and pharmacists, and connect with them,” he said. “I got to see doctors interact with patients, and see the patients really enjoy having a positive change in their life.”
When it was time to go to college, Thompson already knew UK was the place he wanted to be.
“It really came down to two points: the first was the community I already had experienced here, and the second was the learning environment. I (already) knew UK was a cutting-edge school between the classrooms and the laboratories.”
Thompson decided to major in biology in the UK College of Arts and Sciences and continued to take advantage of high-impact experiences UK offered to undergraduates. This included joining USTiCR@UK, the Undergraduate Summer Training in Cardiovascular Research, where Thompson worked directly with doctors and patients and conducted research.
Now, as he prepares to graduate, Thompson is equipped and ready to take the next step — medical school — and credits his early educational experiences for setting him on his path.
These pipeline programs are an important part of UK’s mission in fostering student success and advancing Kentucky by preparing the next generation of STEM and health care professionals. Margaret Mohr-Schroeder, Ph.D., UK College of Education senior associate dean for academic programs and partnerships and professor of STEM education, had this mission in mind when she helped create the STEM Experiences Camps in 2010.
“By coming on UK’s campus and taking part in hands-on activities, positive STEM learning experiences with university scholars, and interactions with mentors who share similar identities to their own, young people are more likely to see themselves in that same position later in life,” Mohr-Schroeder said. “This is particularly important for non-white and non-male individuals, who often lack representation in STEM fields. Our research has shown that increasing opportunity and access for young people, such as through positive, low-stakes learning experiences like the STEM camp and AHEC, they begin to see a place for themselves in careers they may not have previously considered. There's nothing better than watching a young person light up, be creative and ask questions with materials and activities knowing that a split second could be a turning point in a young person’s life."
When he graduates this Friday, Thompson says he’ll be looking to the future, but also feeling some nostalgia for his childhood.
“When I walk across the stage, I'm going to be looking back to when I was a kid — at the time I just wanted to learn about what was going on in the natural world, and then, all of a sudden, a dream sort of developed,” he said. “It’s also fulfilling because there's something about setting a goal for yourself and actually achieving it. That's something that I've been waiting for since I was just a little kid.”
Learn more about Thompson’s journey by watching the video above.
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 to watch and learn more.