Smith joins Center for Rural Development Rogers Scholars program

Published 3:01 pm Thursday, January 31, 2019

Since 1998, The Center for Rural Development’s Rogers Scholars program has been investing in future leaders. Rising high school juniors attend a week-long session that uses out-of-the-ordinary activities to teach leadership, technology, teamwork, communication, entrepreneurship, community service, goal-setting and positive attitude.

“We must stop exporting our young talent,” has often been heard from U.S. Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-05), for whom the program is named, when he speaks of issues critical to the region’s success. Rogers has also shared his belief that “no young person should have to leave home to find his or her future.”

When Sarah Smith represented Lincoln County in the Rogers Scholars program’s seventh season, she was presented with a very similar message from President and CEO of The Center, Lonnie Lawson. “We want to help the young people of our region develop confidence, skills, and a deeper commitment to their hometowns and this state,” said Lawson.

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Throughout the program’s history, Rogers and Lawson have made it very clear that they hope to plant a mindset that will make the Scholars want to return home and lead after completing their education. As a Scholar during the summer of 2004, Smith built a “virtual” business with simulation software, created and implemented a community service project, and expanded her professional manners and cultural awareness. Her favorite part of the program was the engineering major where she got hands-on experience designing bridges and building a humidity tester.

“The Rogers Scholars Program helped to prepare me for college and expanded my horizons. I really enjoyed the engineering major. Since I was also very interested in art, I started to dream about a career in architecture. At that time, I was 15 and felt I was getting ready to hit the world wide open and leave rural Kentucky behind,” she said.

Smith went on to obtain a Bachelor of Arts in Architecture from the University of Kentucky.

“It was during my college years that the Rogers Scholars message of commitment to home came to life for me. It became clear that the career I once dreamed of would lead me far away from my family, friends and my roots. I made up my mind that I wanted to stay in rural Kentucky, even if that meant I faced a huge challenge finding viable employment opportunities,” said Smith.

After college, Smith married and started her own family. She began raising her two daughters not far from where she grew up.

“I felt very limited by the job opportunities, and I began thinking about what this area will have to offer my girls when they grow up. That is when I decided I need to take action to help change these circumstances. I want to help create a future where my kids will have opportunities without leaving home,” she shared.

“That is when a new dream started for me. I realized that The Center for Rural Development was accomplishing its mission to stimulate innovative and sustainable economic development solutions and a better way of life in Southern and Eastern Kentucky. I wanted to be a part of that, so I set my sights on a career at The Center,” Smith said.

Smith recently joined The Center as a Marketing Coordinator with a focus on fiber. She is helping to support KentuckyWired, the statewide fiber broadband network. The project will bring more than 3,100 miles of high-speed, high-capacity fiber infrastructure, often referred to as the “middle mile” to all 120 Kentucky counties.

This new infrastructure will ultimately mean greater opportunities for economic development; enhanced education and research capabilities; improved healthcare delivery; a greater coordination network for public safety and first responders; and augmented connectivity for libraries and communities.

“I am very grateful for the commitment that The Center and Congressman Rogers have made to improve rural Kentucky. The Rogers Scholars program, KentuckyWired, and other Center initiatives have shaped my life and are creating a brighter future for our youth. I am excited to be a part of the important work The Center carries out. It’s nice to be able to use the design skills I obtained during college, and the values I gained as a Rogers Scholar to be a part of making a difference,” Smith added.

For more information about The Center for Rural Development, call 606-677-6000 or visit For more information about Rogers Scholars, contact Allison Cross, community liaison and youth programs coordinator, at (606) 677-6019 or email Visit to learn more about the Rogers Scholars program.