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Elizabeth Crolley is a proud first-generation graduate from Eastern Kentucky and is currently a Senior Program Grant Coordinator staff member at the University of Kentucky (UK) College of Public Health’s (CPH) Office of Research.

Elizabeth grew up in a rural, isolated part of Floyd County around Pikeville Kentucky. She was surrounded by gravel, 4 wheelers (ATV’s), long daytime shadows, steep mountains, and slippery hills in the winter.

Elizabeth and her family were raised on a hollow, or “holler” as many folks from this area will call it. A holler can best be described as the ground space between the hills and the mountains. Typically, hollers are so hilly that you often can’t see far in any direction. Moreover, just getting to the main road for Elizabeth and her family was an uphill battle.

“Not having access to things was very difficult for us,” said Elizabeth. “Just getting to the grocery store or our hometown movie store was a challenge. We had to plan because everything took longer to get to because of where we lived. When we had to go to school, you had to leave early, or you were going to be late.” 

For 17 years, Elizabeth overcame these obstacles and spurred them into strength and resiliency which are quite common traits among first-generation. 

Elizabeth’s parents were big influencers, but also had their own struggles. Some of Elizabeth’s family members battled with addiction. Elizabeth’s Dad worked hard in the coal mines until he was injured in 1989 and was placed on workers comp/disability for life, providing just enough for the family. Her mother is also a self-employed house cleaner.

“I recall good jobs being so hard to find in Eastern Kentucky,” said Elizabeth. “I remember wanting to be an attorney, which requires going to law school, which can be expensive.”

As a result, Elizabeth dedicated herself to her academics, graduating from Pikeville High School and earning enough scholarship and funding to attend Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) in Richmond, KY – a significantly larger city and population compared to Pikeville.

“As first-gen, having a support system is so important, but if you have nobody then it's really up to you,” says Elizabeth. “They made going to school my job because they wanted a better future for me. I also had a really good high school guidance counselor as well, which made a significant difference.”

While attending EKU, Elizabeth experienced some challenges as a first-generation student. 

“Everything felt new, scary, and much bigger,” said Elizabeth. “I didn’t have a car for a few months and had to figure out how I’m going to eat, live with new people in the dorms, make friends, and establish new relationships.” 

Elizabeth believes that first-generation students and learners bring a wealth of exceptional skills and traits to the classroom and beyond. 

“We are very strong problem solvers,” said Elizabeth. “Everything is a new challenge for us. Like solving a puzzle, we find solutions to problems. That’s what we do very well! Even in my current role at CPH, problem solving the ‘grey areas’ and providing solutions is something that I do daily.” 

Elizabeth graduated from EKU with both her Bachelor of Arts in Paralegal Science and Master of Arts in Public Administration. While earning her master's degree, Elizabeth worked full-time as a paralegal in Georgetown, KY and at the College of Arts and Sciences at UK.  

After obtaining her master’s degree, Elizabeth found herself wanting to pursue a career in public health. 

“I wanted to see what I could do to uplift people in Eastern Kentucky,” said Elizabeth. “In my current role at CPH, being a part of grants that can support more people in need of help is a good feeling and something I appreciate about working in public health on the research side. I’m helping people, help people.”  

“When I told my dad that I was working at UK, he got very excited because he was a big UK fan,” adds Elizabeth. “He was always so proud of me.” 

While attending college, Elizabeth strongly recommends building relationships with your academic advisor, getting to know your faculty, and making connections with a diverse group of people. Elizabeth offers some advice to first-generation students as they navigate their college decision. 

“Visit as many college campuses as you can,” says Elizabeth. “Take advantage of programs your high school or surrounding organizations offer (like Upward Bound) to at least visit your local colleges in your area. Get as much exposure as you can. Stay involved.”

Elizabeth Crolley is one of the pre-award Grant Coordinators serving the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health and Kentucky Injury and Prevention & Research Center (KIPRC) at the College of Public Health. She has been with CPH since 2020 and with UK since 2018.

In addition to providing pre-award grant services to CPH faculty, staff, and students, she assists with several aspects of the Office of Research presentation series Facts and Snacks.  

Elizabeth is also a member of the CPH Staff Council, currently serving as Communications Officer, and represents the Office of Research and their needs on the Marketing and Communications (Marcom) team.

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