New UPike president: Leading university a labor of love

James L. Hurley is president of the University of Pikeville.
James L. Hurley is president of the University of Pikeville.

By today's annual founders' celebration, I will have served nearly 100 days in my new role as president at the University of Pikeville, or as we like to say, UPike.

Established in 1889 by Presbyterian ministers, UPike's mission was to educate the youth of the mountains. I am honored to be the first alumnus to lead my alma mater.

As a first-generation college graduate and a native of Eastern Kentucky, I am living the promise of the founders.

Likewise, my wife, Tina, an alumna, has wholeheartedly embraced her role as first lady. We can assure you that no other couple would cherish this more.

When you consider our history, one built on faith and 124 years of trials and triumphs, we have a compelling story to tell. We have always been an "opportunity school," with few barriers to admission. Forty-six percent of our students are the first in their families to attend college. Almost all receive some form of financial aid.

UPike welcomes students from Central Appalachia and beyond, whether it is the freshman that gains admission regardless of test scores or the high school graduate who aspires to one day attend our Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine.

The moment a student becomes part of the UPike family, our goal is to give them a good start, fostering their growth from the first-year experience to graduation day.

We are blessed by the support of many who believe in the power of education to change lives. Our dedicated board of trustees give their time and treasure, and so do our excellent faculty and a committed staff who believe in our mission. Equally important are alumni, donors and friends. Their gifts are critical in helping us provide a quality, affordable education for our students.

Like the institution's move from college to university status in 2011, the Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine's founding represents a pivotal time in our history. With the goal of addressing the physician shortage in the region, the visionaries who established the medical school in the late 1990s believed if you trained doctors from the mountains, in the mountains, they would stay here, and build lives here.

Today, we have produced more than 800 osteopathic physicians and are nationally ranked in rural medicine.

Since 2009, the university's enrollment has doubled to nearly 2,200 students. A thriving, liberal arts-based undergraduate program in the College of Arts and Sciences, the success of the Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine ,and the newly established Coleman College of Business will enable many to follow in the footsteps of more than 13,000 alumni who have gone on to successful careers in education, business, medicine, law and other professions.

Strategically, we are engaged in the pursuit of excellence, setting our sights on becoming the leading university in Central Appalachia. Our mission as an opportunity school has a special significance. We believe in it. We live it.

As a new chapter begins for this great university, I am committed to lead purposefully and give my best effort every day. As it was for the founders, UPike is my calling and my labor of love.