In 1992, local officials said an engineering education program was needed in the region to meet the needs of industries and to help attract new industries. The University of Kentucky College of Engineering-Paducah campus began in the fall of 1997 with an enrollment of 15 students, following lengthy discussions over its location and the need of the program in western Kentucky.
UK’s College of Engineering at Paducah now offers area students the opportunity to achieve a University of Kentucky four-year bachelor of science degree in chemical or mechanical engineering. Working in partnership with Murray State University and West Kentucky Community & Technical College, UK-Paducah students take all required classes on the UK-Paducah Campus housed in WKCTC’s Crounse and Crisp halls. The programs are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.
More than 140 students have graduated from UK’s College of Engineering-Paducah campus since its inception. Fall 2011 enrollment in the mechanical and chemical engineering programs in Paducah was a combined total of 127 full-time students.
The field of engineering continues to grow in America. The U.S. Department of Labor recently noted that there are 1.6 million jobs in engineering. These are expected to grow at 11 percent over the next 10 years.
During a recent visit to West Kentucky Community & Technical College’s Crounse Hall, Tom Lester, dean of UK’s College of Engineering, reflected on the continued need for the engineering program as well as to the keys to its success in Paducah.
“Looking at this building (Crounse Hall) it would be easy to forget how things started here. It wasn’t at all clear that this program would get launched, let alone survive and as it has today thrived,” Lester said. “But things did work out and in a large measure, we owe the success of the program to Dr. Bill Murphy.”
Murphy, who was hired in 1998 to lead Paducah’s newly formed engineering program, steps down on July 1 as the program’s first director. The university is in the process of establishing his replacement, though no formal announcements have yet been made.
Though Murphy is stepping down as director of the program, he will continue to teach at the college as a professor in mechanical engineering.
“New ideas, new thoughts, new leadership — all of these come with change,” Murphy said at a May 10 reception honoring his 14 years of service to the Paducah campus. “Welcoming change is the way we move forward and I am excited to be here to watch that happen.”
Lester said it was no simple task to oversee what he called “the difficult experiment” of establishing an engineering education program in Paducah.
“It’s hard enough to manage a group of faculty in a department like you do at the University of Kentucky when they all work for the same employer, but when you try to throw three groups together from a community college, from Murray State University, and from the University of Kentucky, it becomes an almost impossible task, and Bill somehow pulled it off,” Lester said.
“He always drove people forward. There were no distractions that were allowed under his direction here. He had one goal in life and that was to make this an outstanding engineering program and to make it something that the community could be very proud of and it certainly is that.”
During the reception, it was announced that the second floor hallway of the Crisp building on the WKCTC campus will now be known as Murphy Hall in his honor. The majority of UK’s engineering classes in Paducah are offered on that floor.
Barbara Veazey, WKCTC president, said she was honored to have worked with Murphy over the years in a collaboration that was far more successful than anyone dreamed it might be.
“When we first began the process of establishing the UK Engineering program here in Paducah, there were many obstacles to overcome,” Veazey said. “We did overcome them, however, and Dr. Murphy was an integral part of the success of doing so.”
An Owensboro native, Murphy joined the faculty at the University of Kentucky in 1986. He holds a bachelor of science degree from UK, and both master’s degree and a doctorate degree from Purdue University.
Murphy said he has always employed the principle that he needed to the best he could do for the students and the community.
“I think our students realize that we provide them an opportunity to move up in life without having to move out,” Murphy said.
“There’s a lot of good opportunities here in the community for employment, for developing successful engineering careers and they just need to get their foot in the door. So we provide that crack in the door to help them to get started and we have a lot of successful graduates here.”
More information about the UK College of Engineering-Paducah campus is at http://www.engr.uky.edu/paducah/ or call Denise Brazzell at 270-534-3133.
Janett M. Blythe, a former reporter for The Paducah Sun, has been director of public relations at West Kentucky Community & Technical College for 19 years.