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'An awesome place to be': UK graduate student Emily Wiley credits parents, faculty with making her master's a reality

Commencement speaker Emily Wiley, on April 29, 2024. Photo by Mark Cornelison | UKphoto
Mark Cornelison | UKphoto/Mark Cornelison | UKphoto
Commencement speaker Emily Wiley, on April 29, 2024. Photo by Mark Cornelison | UKphoto

University of Kentucky graduates will be collecting their diplomas across four commencement ceremonies Friday and Saturday. WUKY spoke with one graduate student whose journey has taken her from London, Kentucky to the halls of the state Capitol.

Growing up, Emily Wiley credits her parents with helping lay the groundwork for an education that’s culminated at UK with a master’s degree.

"I am a first generation college student, so my father was a career truck driver and my mother was a homemaker. My parents sacrificed a lot for me to have the academic opportunities that I needed in high school," she says.

First, it was off to Morehead State, where she served as student government president and got a taste for the policy-making process. Her start at graduate school at UK was marked by a tragedy in the family — the unexpected loss of her father, which led to her moving home for a semester, juggling three jobs, and going to school full time.

Making that work and keeping the hope of a master’s alive took a lot of support from UK faculty and staff, specifically at the Martin School of Public Policy. Wiley likens the jump from undergraduate to graduate to the culture shock of going from high school to college, but through it all, she says that program gave her a clear window into what excited her.

"There were courses that I would take. They would teach me methodology on how to analyze a certain policy issue, but I got to pick the policy I was interested in," Wiley explains. "So it really allowed me to hone in on the topics and the subject matter that interested me."

And even amid tumultuous times in the world of government, Wiley found – through working with Kentucky’s Legislative Research Commission – that she enjoys a part of the process that is out of the political spotlight, but is absolutely crucial to the policymakers who need good information to govern.

"So I get to be completely objective when when writing research and helping draft legislation which has been a very awesome place to be, to be on the non-biased side of things and help provide objective research to decision makers so they can make the decisions that will make Kentucky the best it can be," she says.

From there, Wiley doesn’t know exactly where her path will lead, but she does know what she’ll be doing this weekend, which is celebrating with her family and honoring her late father, all of whom made this walk across the stage possible.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.