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Local Native and Current UC Student Gives Back


Jeff and his mentee enjoy a recent trip with the Mentoring Program on the Kentucky Dinner Train in Bardstown, Ky.

Williamsburg, Ky. – In middle school teachers started to take notice of the potential that Jeffrey Barnett (Williamsburg, KY) had to be successful. However, they also saw that the odds were stacked against him. Jeff had a rough home life, and the support system he needed was not there. One day a teacher recommended that Jeff become a part of the University of the Cumberlands (UC) Mentoring Program.

UC, in collaboration with the Whitley County School (WCHS) System, developed a program in 1994 for college mentors to work with “at risk” middle school students (mentees) before and after their transition from middle school to high school. The program was seeking to identify potential mentees who had the ability to be academically successful, but due to circumstances (whether environmental, social, or economical) were considered “at risk”.

“I see our mentoring program as a real opportunity for our students to positively change the life of a middle or high school student (their mentee),” says UC Mentoring Program Director Mrs. Debbie Harp. “If we helped one mentee stay in school, improve their self-esteem, expose them to something they would not have been able to do and gave our support to them when they needed it, we have been successful.”

Jeff joined the program when he was in the seventh grade because he figured it would be fun; he stayed in the program as a mentee until his high school graduation. His mentor was John Blevins, 2007 UC alum who went on to law school at the University of Mississippi before returning to the area to practice as an attorney in London, KY.

John and Jeff were like best friends; John’s family even took Jeff to church for the first time. “Being a part of the program helped me grow…because it helped me open my eyes to the person I wanted to be,” said Jeff. “I spent more time with John than what most mentees and mentors usually spent together. He was someone I looked up to and could model after.”

After high school Jeff decided to attend UC. He had become familiar with the campus and classes as a senior at WCHS, when he took dual-enrollment classes to get a jump start on credit hours. “It allowed me to not have to go through a huge adjustment period,” says Jeff. “I liked the class environment and had already earned 12 hours from the University.”

“The best part of being at UC is having teachers that are passionate about teaching and have enthusiasm for their jobs,” exclaimed Jeff. “It makes for a better learning environment and lets you know they actually care.”

During his freshmen year at UC, Jeff became a mentor in the program because he wanted to share his own experience with someone else in need. Since becoming a mentor he meets his mentee every other week to hang out. When they aren’t together, they talk to each other on Facebook and on the telephone, and four times a year they go on trips with a group from the mentoring program.

Jeff is in his senior year at UC; in May he will complete a double major in biology and psychology with a minor in Spanish. After graduation he plans to go to graduate school for Clinical Psychology. He currently has a 19-school list of possible universities that he will attend, and of course Ole Miss is in the top three—because that’s where John went. Later in life when Jeff is completely finished with school he dreams of working for the CIA.

When asked what people should know about the program, Jeff explains that, “none of the mentors or mentees can be stereotyped. The mentors are people who enjoy working with young people, and the mentees are just good kids who are getting another positive role model in their life.”

Located in Williamsburg, Ky., University of the Cumberlands is an institution of regional distinction, which currently offers four undergraduate degrees in more than 40 major fields of study; nine pre-professional programs; seven graduate degrees, including a doctorate and six master’s degrees; certifications in education; and online programs.