Some companies talk education. One is building science labs and giving teachers $35,000 to stock them

A student works at a science lab Alltech donated to St. Leo School in Versailles.
A student works at a science lab Alltech donated to St. Leo School in Versailles. Alltech Photo

Business people like to talk about how education should be more rigorous and career-focused. Some just talk about it. Others do something about it.

Business organizations such as the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and Commerce Lexington have been active partners and advocates for better schools, colleges and universities. Many companies take direct action through grants, scholarships, internships and school partnerships.

Alltech, a family-owned human, animal and plant nutrition company based in Nicholasville, has launched a variety of education efforts on an international scale because it does business in 128 nations.

Irish immigrants Pearse and Deirdre Lyons started Alltech in their suburban Lexington garage in 1980. It is now a multibillion-dollar company whose work depends on in-house scientific research to develop cutting-edge technology.

Alltech’s efforts to promote education include providing basic needs for schools near its facilities in developing countries, donating science labs to Kentucky schools and providing generous scholarships to graduate science students.

“Our passion is education,” Deirdre Lyons said, noting that Alltech is now the nation’s second-largest sponsor of agri-business education, after the federal government.

At the top end, Alltech has sponsored more than 260 master’s and doctoral students in the sciences, many of whom have later joined its staff.

The company sponsors two major student competitions that also help it recruit talent: the Alltech Young Scientists program for global agri-science research, and the Alltech Innovation Competition, which is open to graduate and undergraduate teams from universities in Kentucky and Ireland.

Alltech also has a Corporate Career Development Program for graduates in relevant fields. In the most recent round of applications, 3,261 people from 83 nations applied for 10 openings, said company spokeswoman Susanna Elliott.

Alltech recently worked with Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green to create professional certificate programs in brewing and distilling arts and sciences. The certificates complement related academic majors and graduate programs, from chemistry to business, and train students to work in these growing industries.

As part of the program, Alltech installed a small brewery in WKU’s Center for Research Development, where students learn the craft and produce College Heights Ale for distribution throughout the region.

Below the college level, Alltech has donated 14 science laboratories so far to primary and secondary schools, mostly in Kentucky and Ireland.

After each lab is built, teachers are given about $35,000 to stock it, Lyons said. Among the local schools that have gotten labs are Seton Catholic School, The Lexington School, Christ the King School in Lexington and St. Leo School in Versailles.

Lyons said most labs so far have been given to private or parochial schools because there is less bureaucracy for the company to deal with, but Alltech also hopes to work with public schools in the future.

The school lab project began after Lyons and her husband noticed that so few of the master’s and doctoral students they were sponsoring were coming from the United States.

“Our (American) curriculum is such that children don’t come to the sciences at an early enough age,” she said. “Science is all around us, and the labs help students and their parents get more involved.”

Alltech scientists often visit schools as speakers and act as mentors for teachers, Lyons said. Many Alltech facilities are open for tours by school groups.

I recently wrote about Alltech’s sponsorship of Take The Reins, a new equine-education program that Meg Jewett, the owner of Walnut Hall Stock Farm and L.V. Harkness & Co., helped create at Julius Marks Elementary School.

The program, which Jewett would like to expand to other Central Kentucky schools, is designed to teach students about horse care and equine industry career opportunities. It also helps raise money and awareness for the non-profit Kentucky Equine Humane Center.

“The Take the Reins program for us was a no-brainer,” Lyons said. “We’ve been interested in early childhood education for a long time.”

Many of Alltech’s other elementary school efforts have been more basic, and international. They have ranged from supporting schools near Alltech facilities in countries such as Haiti and Mexico to an inner-city school in Ireland where Pearse Lyons’ late brother worked as a priest.

“Children are the future,” Lyons said. Future employees and future customers.

Tom Eblen: 859-231-1415, @tomeblen