From the Tobacco Farms of Kentucky

As a guy that grew up on a Kentucky tobacco farm and ended up being a data scientist living in Connecticut, I have seen how the economy and opportunities change.  I’ve seen the demand for the dirty, dangerous and low paying tobacco work decline.  At the same time, I’ve seen the demand for technologists and data scientists soar.   Throughout my life, I have seen opportunities decline and new ones grow.   The process will not stop, but I believe it can be managed.  The challenge is to help the millions of individuals effected navigate these changes.

I understand that not every tobacco farmer can become a data scientist.  My grandfathers rode that train to the end and my father transitioned to a blue collar job.  My generation ventured much further.   Not all of us can make big changes, but most of us can move up the skill curve if we have a chance.

I can speak for what it took me and my siblings to find completely new challenges and live lives different from any we saw growing up.  We had two very important things in our favor:  we believed our education could lead us anywhere and we believed we had as good of a chance of succeeding as anyone. 

One could argue that we didn’t really have those two things.  We attended rural public schools where the majority of students did not go to college.  Our parents could not afford to help much with college, so the state university was the best option we had.  We knew we had few advantages, but we never felt disadvantaged.   Most importantly, we believed we could succeed.

To succeed, we had to believe our work and education could get us there and that we had a fair chance.  We never expected we would have the same chance as wealthier, better connected folks, only that the system was fair.

eScholar and Beyond

Individuals are generally willing and able to work, learn and innovate toward a goal, particularly the most meaningful goals, the ones we have for our lives.  Most of us are willing to bust out tails to achieve life goals under exactly two conditions:

  • We believe our future pathway of struggles can get us to the goal.
  • We believe we have a fair shot versus everyone else.

Delivering those two things became the mission of eScholar.  I see the power of these beliefs working every day.  In states like Texas and North Carolina, policy makers are working hard to provide the reality that supports those beliefs and we are enabling them with data and insights. 

I never would have guessed that this kid from the tobacco farms of Kentucky would end up using data science to help others find a path to their goals…….but I always believed that I could!

Over the summer, I was invited to speak at the University of Kentucky as an alumni and entrepreneur, hosted by the UK Office of Technology Commercialization. I was honored to have the opportunity to share my story with folks that are in the process of building their own pathways to becoming successful entrepreneurs. Below is a video of my showcase. I hope that you find inspiration in my experience and you continue believing that you can reach even beyond your goals too.

Shawn Bay

Shawn Bay, University of Kentucky, Entrepreneur Showcase



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