UK students who get involved can get rewards

University of Kentucky students could snare some of the most coveted commodities on campus — parking passes and free books for a semester — if they get involved on campus.

Looking to encourage student participation in activities and events, student leaders are launching the TallyCats program, in which students earn "points" when they swipe their WildCard ID on a special scanner as they enter selected events.

That will make them eligible for a host of prizes, most of which have been donated by UK or area businesses.

"We saw it as a big need to increase participation on campus, to increase retention rates and to basically improve the students' experience here at UK," said student body president Ryan M. Smith, a senior from Louisville. "We've tried to include events from every aspect of campus, whether it be athletics or whether it be multicultural, speakers and lecture series."

The TallyCats program will get its test run this week as students return for the fall semester. An accompanying Web site to help students track their points,, will launch the program on Sept. 9, or 9/9/09.

Many universities' athletics programs offer similar programs to bolster attendance at home games, but TallyCats is thought to be one of the first efforts that incorporates participation in such a wide berth of activities, said Ben Duncan, the Student Government Association chief of staff.

The other characteristic of the program that separates it from many campus-participation efforts is that it has been entirely student-driven.

The idea came up during last year's University Leadership Summit, in which 100 of the most engaged students brainstormed about ways to improve campus life and university operations.

The effort dovetails with Provost Kumble R. Subbaswamy's "war on student attrition," which is aimed at boosting UK's student retention rate. In fall 2008, 81 percent of freshmen returned for their sophomore years. It was the university's highest retention rate ever.

So Subbaswamy's office, as well as President Lee T. Todd Jr.'s office, the athletics department and UK's public relations office, pitched in to help buy eight hand-held TallyCats scanners, costing $3,300 each, to be used to swipe students' IDs at events, Smith said.

Students will get one or two points for attending certain events chosen by the TallyCats committee.

For instance, those who show up to watch UK's women's volleyball team play the University of Cincinnati on Sept. 8 will receive two points. If they hear Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s lecture on Sept. 16 they get two more. The DanceBlue Rave event two days later is worth one point.

At stake are a slew of "incentives" that will be doled out weekly, monthly and at the end of each semester. Grand prizes, including a laptop computer, a Nintendo Wii and GPS devices, will be awarded to the 10 students with the most points at the end of the year.

Chrissy McAteer, a TallyCats co-coordinator and a senior from Lexington, said she has been amazed by the support from businesses in the community that have donated products.

"There was a day I sat there and in an hour called 22 different businesses basically to explain what the program is," she said. "And as soon as I maybe got three words out, they said, 'I want to help.'"

The typical monthly gift roster includes football tickets, fast-food coupons and school supply packs.

Prizes given at the end of this semester will be parking passes, dinner with UK's president and a complete set of books for the next semester.

About 50 events are on the list for TallyCats' inaugural semester, but student groups will be able to suggest others through the TallyCats Web site.