A unique scholarship program created in 2014 created a pipeline of top STEM talent from Kentucky State University to Toyota in Georgetown.

The Toyota Engineering Scholarship program, which was made possible by a five year, $375,000 grant from the automaker, ties the University together with the manufacturing operations in Georgetown, just 21 miles from campus.

Nicholas James, Andrew Lentini, Brenda Pacheco, Siraj Ramsey and Phillip Robinson are all currently enrolled in undergraduate pre-engineering coursework at Kentucky State, which will lead to two years of coursework at the University of Kentucky. At the end of five years, the students will have an undergraduate degree from Kentucky State and an engineering degree from UK.

The Toyota Engineering Scholarship program was the first time a specific engineering program (mechanical) was targeted in an existing reciprocity agreement Kentucky State has with the University of Kentucky, which allows pre-engineering majors to transfer to Lexington to complete an engineering degree.

“The scholars are very high-achieving in class, co-curricular activities, internships and undergraduate research,” Dr. Fariba Bigdeli-Jahed, advisor to the program and chairperson of the Division of Mathematics and Sciences, said.

Lentinin, a senior from Shelbyville, has always been interested in engineering. He said he chose Kentucky State because of the scholarship.

“From a very young age, I would help my dad rebuild engines and perform maintenance on our vehicles,” Lentini said. “My grandfather also owned a body shop and I was always there giving a helping hand.”

James, a junior from Bethlehem, found out about the scholarship through his high school principal, who is a Kentucky State alumnus. James has a similar story as Lentini’s.

“I have been interested in engineering as long as I can remember,” James said. “My dad and both of my brothers are engineers and growing up, I had interest in what they did. I have always been good at math and that translates well into mechanical engineering.”

Ramsey, a junior from Hopkinsville, learned about the scholarship program in high school.

“I became interested in engineering when my mom bought me my first Lego set,” Ramsey said. “In school, I excelled in STEM courses quickly and was determined to incorporate STEM in my life through summer camp and internships. Super Saturdays (a program hosted in Louisville) piqued my interest in STEM.”

Robinson, a sophomore from Frankfort, learned of the scholarship through the college-prep program Upward Bound.

“I became interested in engineering when I was in middle school,” Robinson said. “As I took engineering classes, I became more fascinated by it. I really liked digital electronics because we did a lot of hands-on projects.”

Pacheco, a sophomore from Shelbyville, said the Toyota scholarship outweighed the other offers she received.

I noticed my love for mathematics early,” Pacheco said. “It came relatively easy to me. I was later placed in advanced math classes and tutored middle schoolers in math.” 

In addition to full scholarships, students in the program receive Toyota mentors, co-op employment opportunities and employment opportunities at the Toyota Georgetown plant in advanced manufacturing roles.