Student Success Stories
As a native Kentuckian and first generation college student, the University of Kentucky held a special place in my imagination even as a child. After graduating high school, I enrolled there in pursuit of a degree in political science with the hopes of eventually attending law school. My courses in political science, however, always left me wanting something more. Indeed, I was consistently drawn to think beyond narrow disciplinary boundaries and what I perceived as limited conceptual frameworks. Eventually, I found my way to philosophy. My disquiet continued, of course, but in philosophy classes it was nurtured. By the time I graduated from the University of Kentucky with a BA in philosophy, I was hooked and it was too late to turn back.
Although its proximity to my family played some role in my choice to apply for the Ph. D. program in philosophy at UK, this was not the most significant consideration. I knew from experience that the pluralism of the faculty was a significant benefit. I was attracted by the combination of strengths in the History of Philosophy and 20th Century Continental Philosophy and the prospect of interdisciplinary study in Social Theory. In time, I have come to learn that the Philosophy program has other strengths as well. In my experience, the culture of the department is collegial and welcoming – something sadly lacking in many other programs. And its focus on training and involving graduate students as teachers is a great benefit when it comes to the job hunt; especially in the current economic environment.
I think back on my time in the Philosophy program at UK as a period of intellectual ferment and excitement. Late night study sessions for Metalogic were coupled with a seminar in Plato’s later works and a class in which we read Nietzsche’s entire published corpus. Friday often brought renowned speakers for colloquia, such as John Haugeland or Paul Boghossian. And I interacted with diverse faculty from around the country, working as a graduate student editor of disClosure: A Journal of Social Theory. As the name suggests, philosophy is something you pursue for the love of it. You could say, then, I think, that the philosophy program at UK is a great place to spend those first intense years falling in love with thinking.
Kamper Floyd is the director of the Get2College Center in Jackson, Mississippi, a non-profit that helps first generation and low-income students navigate the complexities of entrance to college. He entered the U.K. Ph.D. program in 2003, having previously earned an M.A. in Philosophy from the University of Mississippi. He had also worked as an AmeriCorps volunteer and an advocate for children with disabilities. He offers the following reflection on his professional journey:
There were several factors that drew me to the Philosophy program at U.K. I wanted to be in a smaller, pluralistic department, since I believed that being exposed to a number of different philosophical styles in a relatively congenial environment would help me grow as a philosopher and teacher. I also appreciated the breadth of teaching experience U.K. offers. Upon arrival I found that my high expectations were met. It was easy to build relationships at U.K., both inside and outside the department. Passing the comprehensive exams and some of the courses (such as Metalogic) was difficult, but these were valuable experiences that helped me gain confidence and grow in knowledge and ability as a philosopher.
My work for an M.A. had already left me with a strong interest in metaethics, philosophy of language, and metaphysics. Further coursework at U.K. made it evident that a thorough investigation into the concept of truth would be a great way to tie together these interests. My dissertation attempts to address questions such as: Is truth valuable? In what way is it valuable? What is the source of its value? I argue that truth is valuable for its own sake, although its value can best be seen as a function of our social practices rather than of the concept itself.
While still completing my Ph.D. I decided that the best career path for me lay outside of academia. Currently I am the Director of the Get2College Center, a nonprofit college access group that helps Mississippi students “Get2College.” To that end we offer many services (all free), including individual college advising focused on the college admissions and financial aid processes, in-school workshops about admissions and financial aid, ACT prep, professional development for teachers and high school counselors, and support services to other community organizations. While we’ll help any student, we try to focus on first generation and low-income students who lack the cultural competency or school support to navigate on their own the college admissions and financial aid processes.
Although I am not currently teaching philosophy, I use the skills I gained in the philosophy Ph.D. program on a daily basis. It helped me learn to home in on a problem, seeing its facets and considering all the consequences of proposed solutions. It also strengthened my ability as a researcher and writer and my attention to detail. The skills gained in earning a Ph.D. are highly transferrable and I remain grateful for how my education has enriched my life.
Brett Fulkerson-Smith is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Harper College in Palatine, Illinois. He entered the U.K. Ph.D. program in Fall 2002, possessing already a B.A. from John Carroll University and an M.A. from Boston College. He offers the following reflection on his professional journey:
It was René Descartes that sparked my love for philosophy. I can still remember quite vividly my first foray into his corpus as a sophomore at John Carroll University. In the Introduction to Philosophy course in which I was enrolled, we read not only Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy, but also some of his treatises on the proper method of philosophy. It was these latter texts that really piqued my interest, as I, too, wondered more about how one arrived at a particular philosophical position, than about what that position was. At the University of Kentucky, I continued to study methods of philosophy under the supervision of world-class scholars, who represent a variety of philosophical perspectives, and ultimately submitted a dissertation on the changing nature and role of experimentation in German Idealism.
In addition to the skills of solid academic research, the University of Kentucky is wholeheartedly committed to developing in its graduate students excellent teaching skills. This is evident in the breadth of teaching experience available there. This point is not to be taken lightly, as most philosophy graduate students will pursue careers at teaching colleges. Such is the case with me, and I feel that my professional success is due in large measure to the teaching experience I gained at the University of Kentucky. Upon graduation, I had taught independently six different philosophy courses several times over: from Knowledge and Reality to Morality and Society, both introductory classes, but also upper-division courses like The Individual and Society, and Introduction to Legal Philosophy. The University of Kentucky truly offers the best of both worlds to those in pursuit of wisdom.
Christa Hodapp is a lecturer at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. She began her studies at the University of Kentucky in the fall of 2004, having already received an M.A. in women’s studies from Florida Atlantic University and a B.A. from Denison University. Here is how she describes her experience:
When I arrived at the University of Kentucky, I knew I was not the “typical” philosophy graduate student. I had a B.A. and an M.A. in women’s studies, but I didn’t even have a minor in philosophy to speak of. While completing my women’s studies M.A. it became clear to me that my real passion was theory, and I realized that philosophy could open the door to a whole new theoretical landscape for investigating issues that interested me. I took a chance and applied to the University of Kentucky and had the great fortune of being accepted. I chose the University of Kentucky because of the pluralism and commitment to social theory and other outside yet related fields. I was not disappointed. Exposed to a wide variety of philosophical topics, I developed an interest in contemporary metaphysics and ontology that turned into a dissertation while still having the option of studying and developing my knowledge of continental philosophy and feminism. The professors at UK were outstanding in terms of mentoring, knowledge, teaching and support, and the graduate students provided me with a further sense of community and camaraderie. These factors, in addition to the community and people of Lexington KY, have made UK and Lexington a home I am always eager to visit and think of very fondly. I know that my friends and connections there will be with me for the rest of my life.
In my final year of graduate school I accepted a job offer from the University of Massachusetts Lowell where I am currently employed. I serve as the full-time permanent lecturer in the philosophy department. Each semester I teach three courses of my choosing, and my wide-ranging philosophical background allows for me to teach and design a variety of courses. I have the opportunity to teach anything from contemporary metaphysics, feminism to philosophy of film. In addition to teaching, I advise both philosophy and undeclared liberal arts undergraduate majors, helping students design schedules, manage courses, problem solve, choose a major and prepare for post-graduate work. Interacting with students is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job, which is why I recently accepted the position of head coach for the UMass Lowell women’s rugby team. Being part of the academic community as a teacher, mentor and coach requires a lot of responsibility, and my professors and colleagues from UK are still my role models for being the best I can be in this position. In addition to all of this, I spend the rest of my time researching, playing my own sports and enjoying my new home in Boston, which is an incredible, diverse and beautiful city. Since graduating, I have come to an excellent job in a wonderful department, met new people and get to do something I love everyday. The University of Kentucky created the groundwork for the life and career I am currently enjoying, and provided me with the philosophical and pedagogical tools I need to be successful.
Craig Streetman is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at King University in Bristol, Tennessee. He entered the U.K. Ph.D. program in Fall 2002, possessing already a B.S. from Presbyterian College and an M.A. from Denver Seminary. He had also served several years in the U.S. Army. He offers the following reflection on his professional journey:
My initial exposure to philosophy as an undergraduate engendered a profound sense of wonder and a desire to pursue the discipline further, a desire that stayed with me through a stint in the Army and various other jobs. Completing a Master’s degree made me painfully aware of how much I still did not know. The pursuit of an advanced degree in philosophy was the obvious next step, and of all the Ph.D. programs I investigated, that at the University of Kentucky struck me as the most well-rounded. From ancient Greek philosophy to phenomenology and analytic philosophy, the department featured world-class faculty members in a variety of different fields. Upon entry into the program and comparing notes with other graduate students from around the country at philosophy conferences, I found that my initial impression was correct. Choosing the University of Kentucky turned out to be one of the best decisions I have made.
As all graduate students know, the pursuit of a degree can be long and arduous, and the weight of the experience is compounded by the inevitable question, “What are you going to do with that degree?” I submit that this is the wrong question to ask any student. The right question is, “What is this course of study doing to you and for you? Is it making you a better person?” As it turns out, owing to the sound placement guidance I received from U.K.’s faculty and a little luck, I am now on the faculty at King University, where I am teaching and publishing pieces on classical theories of mind, reality, and perception. I am also helping build a new philosophy program and major. Yet although my career is highly fulfilling, the formal study of philosophy remains for me an end-in-itself. The question I mention above was always easy for me to answer as a graduate student at U.K., as I think it will be for anyone who enters the program. Graduate study in philosophy at the University at Kentucky will help you grow intellectually, ethically, and spiritually. The excellence displayed in the work of your teachers and peers will inspire you. The program will produce in you a love for wisdom, concern for the truth, and a desire for the philosophical life, traits that will serve you well wherever the rest of your life may take you.