Kevin Willis

News Director

Kevin is the News Director at WKU Public Radio.  He has been with the station since 1999, and was previously the Assistant News Director, and also served as local host of Morning Edition.  He is a broadcast journalism graduate of WKU, and has won numerous awards for his reporting and feature production.  Kevin grew up in Radcliff, Kentucky and currently lives in Glasgow.

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Centre College

Centre College is establishing a new full-ride scholarship program aimed at attracting students who want to make an impact overseas.

The liberal arts school in Danville has announced a $20 million challenge gift from an anonymous donor that will be used to fund the Lincoln Scholars Program. The program will award 10 scholarships a year beginning in the fall of 2016.

The anonymous gift offers a dollar-for-dollar match and is part of Centre’s Third Century Campaign, which aims to raise $200 million by 2019, when the school celebrates the bicentennial anniversary of its founding in 1819.

Centre Dean of Admissions, Bob Nesmith, says those awarded the scholarship will get more than just free tuition, room and board, and books. They’ll also receive $10,000 for an independent study project that contains an international component.

“When you take an ambitious 18 year old and say, ‘OK, put together something good and exciting for something somewhere in the world that you want to work on, and we’re going to help you fund it’--that’ll be super appealing to this kind of kid.”

Abbey Oldham

Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail is celebrating another record-breaking year in attendance. The Trail’s nine participating distilleries greeted 627,032 visitors in 2014, an increase of 10 percent over the previous year.

The nine smaller facilities that make up the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour are also seeing an explosion in popularity.

“The first craft distillers that came in are now on their second and third phases of expansion,” said Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers Association. “And just in the first year of our Craft Tour—from the first to second years—(attendance) has gone up over 50 percent.”

Gregory said he expects the number of Craft Tour distilleries to increase to at least a dozen by the end of the year. He also expressed optimism that the Bourbon Trail, which is mostly made up by the state’s larger “heritage” distilleries, will see increased membership in 2015.

“We’ve got a number of big-name distilleries that have announced, like Michter’s in downtown Louisville. It’s our hope that Angel’s Envy, when they get up and running, will come on board. Brown-Forman has announced the Old Forester distillery on Whiskey Row.”

Frankfort-based Buffalo Trace, which is not a member of the Bourbon Trail, saw a 26 percent increase in visitors last year.

Here is a list of the member distilleries that are a part of the Bourbon Trail and Craft Tours:

A Bowling Green manufacturer is expanding, adding 30 new jobs.

KapStone Containter Corporation is investing $4.5 million in the project, which will modernize the facility and upgrade equipment. KapStone manufactures paper packaging containers, and employs 112 full-time workers at its Bowling Green facility.

Governor Steve Beshear announced the expansion plans Thursday in Warren County.

Beshear Thursday also announced a $400,000 expansion at a metal stamping manufacturer in Stanford. The Lincoln Manufacturing plant is adding 20 jobs and adding a third shift to its operations in Lincoln County.

Kentucky’s teacher pension policies are receiving near-failing grades in a new report.

The National Council of Teacher Quality gives the pension plan a D-, and points out that 48-percent of the Kentucky Teacher Retirement System consists of unfunded liabilities.

Council Vice President Sandi Jacobs says the vast majority of taxpayer funds going into the system isn’t being invested in the future retirement of current employees.

“Only 23 cents on the dollar—less than the national average—is going towards the cost of the system. About 77 cents are going toward the debt.”

KTRS currently has over $13 billion in unfunded liabilities. The state budget passed by lawmakers last year provided about half the money needed to bring KTRS into the black.

Jacobs says her group also considers the system’s five-year vesting period a negative feature.

“If you leave before five years you’re not eligible for future benefits. That’s a long time to wait.”

You can see the NCTQ’s report card on Kentucky’s teacher pension policy here.

Former President Bill Clinton and Vice-President Joe Biden plan to attend the Owensboro funeral for Wendell H. Ford.

The former Senator and Governor passed away last Thursday at the age of 90.

Ford served in the Senate six of the eight years Clinton was in the White House, and was a Democratic Senate colleague of Biden for 24 years.

Daviess County state House Rep. Tommy Thompson told WKU Public Radio Monday afternoon that former state Democratic Party chairman Jerry Lundergan, a close friend of Clinton's, said the former President would be in Owensboro Tuesday.

The news was first reported by the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer.

Ford’s funeral service is Tuesday at 11 a.m. at First Baptist Church in Owensboro. Visitation is being held Monday evening until 7 p.m. at Glenn Funeral Home and Crematory, and after 10 a.m. Tuesday at the church.

A private service of committal will held in Elmwood Cemetery.

Ford’s family has asked that expressions of sympathy be made to the Wendell H. Ford Government Education Center in Owensboro, or to a charity of the donor’s choice.

WKU

WKU President Gary Ransdell believes a White House plan to make community college free has little chance of becoming reality.

In his State of the Union speech Tuesday, President Obama announced a plan to offer two years of tuition-free community college to students who maintained certain academic standards.

The effort would cost about $60 billion over ten years, with the federal government picking up three-quarters of the cost, and states paying for the rest.

Speaking to WKU Public Radio during a break in Friday's Board of Regents meeting, Ransdell said that’s an unsustainable model. 

“There’s no way I can be advocate for Kentucky putting money into that and continuing to cut higher education for the public universities."

Ransdell said he understands that the technical and associate’s degrees that many community college graduates earn help drive the manufacturing sector. 

“But the reality is, it’s bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees that drive the economy, and those are the people who are the decision-makers with the intellectual skills that go into driving the economy.”

Former Kentucky Senator and Governor Wendell Ford will lie in state Sunday at the Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort, followed by a funeral service and interment in Owensboro Tuesday.

Ford passed away early Thursday morning at the age of 90. He had been receiving treatment for lung.

The public is invited to the Capitol Sunday, where the Daviess County native will lie in state from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. eastern time.

A memorial service is scheduled that day for 3 p.m.

A funeral service is being held at 11 a.m. central time Tuesday at First Baptist Church in Owensboro. Visitation will be at Glenn Funeral Home and Crematory in Owensboro from 2 to 7 p.m. Monday and after 10 a.m. Tuesday at the church.

A private ceremony of committal will be held at Elmwood Cemetery.

The Senator’s family asks that expressions of sympathy be made in the form of gifts to the Wendell H. Ford Government Education Center in Owensboro, or to a charity of the donor’s choice.

U.S. Congress

Owensboro native and legendary Kentucky political leader Wendell Ford has passed away Thursday at the age of 90.

Ford was the first person in state history to serve as lieutenant governor, governor, and U.S. Senator. During his 24 years in the Senate, Ford was a vocal defender of the tobacco industry and Kentucky farmers.

The Democrat is cited by many as one of the most influential leaders of his party during the second half of the 20th century.

Ford announced in July that he was undergoing chemotherapy for lung cancer.

Term limits at the time prevented Ford from serving only four years as Governor, from 1971 to 1974. But in a 2010 interview with WKU Public Radio, Ford said he appreciated the fact that a Governor had the ability to be much more “hands on” than a U.S. Senator.

“You had the ability to start a project, or stop it. If people wouldn’t do what you wanted them to do, you could fire them and get someone that would. Not that I did that, but you had that opportunity and I guess people knew that.”

While he eventually gained the reputation as a lawmaker who worked behind the scenes to get things done in Washington, Ford initially had a hard time with the slow, deliberative process of the Senate. The Owensboro Democrat told WKU Public Radio he thought about quitting early on when he couldn’t get projects important to Kentucky passed.

Franklin-Simpson High School

A $3 million federal grant will go towards efforts to improve the career and college readiness of special needs students at nine Kentucky high schools.

The four-year grant awarded to the Green River Regional Educational Cooperative will model a program currently in place at Franklin-Simpson High School. That program matches educators and disabled students for an hour a week, with the educator focusing on ways to help the student achieve success in the classroom.

“So she might help him to catch up on homework, she might work on his study skills, she might arrange for him to do an internship down the road at a business or an industry,” said Johna Rogers, with the GRREC.  

Rodgers says the idea is to provide consistent, one-on-one guidance that will help special-needs students reach their educational and career goals. Each student in the program will have what’s known as an Individual Career Plan, tailored to the individual’s aspirations and abilities.

“And I think that is one of the key strategies—identifying chunks of time where teachers, who are specially trained to work on college-career readiness, are able to move that child forward from wherever he is, to where he wants to be.”

The nine schools included in the grant are:

WKU Athletics

The WKU Lady Hilltopper basketball team has been playing a prominent role in area elementary and middle schools over the past several weeks. Thursday’s game between the WKU Lady  Toppers and Florida Atlantic is the fourth annual “Spread the Red Education Game”, and will be attended by all third-through-eighth graders in Bowling Green city schools, and seventh grade students from Warren County public schools.

For the past month, teachers have been incorporating statistics and biographical information about the players and teams into math, geography, reading, and history lessons. 

“And  bigger picture, there’s a learning component in terms of the career opportunities, and just the overall experience of being able to come up to the university and hopefully inspire our kids to want to aim high,” said Warren County Schools Superintendent Rob Clayton.

Bowling Green Schools Superintendent Joe Tinius embraces any opportunity to get young students on a college campus. He says it will be many students’ first time attending an event at WKU.

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