One Morehead State alumnus who is working to improve education in Central Appalachia and Eastern Kentucky will be getting a helping hand from the charitable efforts of a former U.S. president.
Dr. Brent Hutchinson (96) has been named a 2019 Barack Obama Foundation Fellow for his work to improve the lives of people in Central Appalachia and Eastern Kentucky as executive director of the Hindman Settlement School. The school provides educational courses and programs, cultural enrichment and community service programs to people throughout the region. The school’s dyslexia education program is the only such program in the region that specifically addresses the needs of people with the genetic learning challenge, which occurs at higher than average rates in Appalachia.
Hutchinson said he’d been aware of the fellowship since it first began and saw it as an opportunity for professional growth. Last September, he applied for the program. In February, he learned he’d made it through the initial application process and sat down with foundation officials for an online interview.
“Once I was accepted, I learned that more than 5,000 people from all over the world had applied. I had no idea of the scope of it,” Hutchinson said. “I was pretty ecstatic and really humbled. When you sit in the position I sit in and your focus is Eastern Kentucky, you don’t consider yourself globally. We have a hyper-regional focus.” He added he wants to use what he learns through the fellowship to change the narrative about Eastern Kentucky and rural America.
“I like that I’ll get to be a part of something that’s about community change,” he said.
Hutchinson earned his bachelor’s degree in social science from MSU. He then earned his Master of Science in Family Studies/Marriage and Family Therapy from the University of Kentucky and his Ph.D. in Leadership Studies from Dallas Baptist University. In addition, he completed the Duke University Executive Certificate in Nonprofit Management program in 2017.
Though the path to higher education has led him to many different places, Hutchinson said he applies the lessons he learned here at MSU to his work every day.
“I would say MSU taught me much about worldview and about context and nuance among people and groups. I learned to work in teams, to lead and follow, to be disciplined.”– Dr. Brent Hutchinson
Hutchinson took the position at the Settlement School in 2012 and has overseen the largest renovation in the school’s 117-year history. In addition, he has worked to expand the programs offered at the school to address persistent and emerging needs and interests of the people it serves.
The Settlement School is making strides is helping students in the region cope with dyslexia and Hutchinson hopes to use the resources and skills provided by the Obama Foundation Fellowship to address other educational issues in the region.
“Education in Eastern Kentucky is a ‘take what you can get’ scenario. Parents aren’t often able to ask critical questions or have the tools to help their kids achieve in school. We have high-achieving students who aren’t getting what they need because we have a limited number of qualified teachers for enhanced classes,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson attended his first fellowship workshop in May and said he is creating a professional plan for how he will use the resources provided by the fellowship to uncover the deeper needs of the Hindman Settlement School, find funding sources and lay the groundwork for new initiatives and programs.
The Obama Foundation Fellowship was established in 2018 to recognize the work of outstanding civic leaders. As a fellow, Hutchinson will participate in a two-year, nonresidential program designed to increase the effectiveness of the school’s efforts and inspire more people to be civically engaged in Eastern Kentucky. He joins 19 other civic leaders from 10 countries in receiving the honor this year. The fellowship will assist members with access to mentors, coaches, resources and opportunities to help them achieve their goals within their respective communities.
“Like all the extraordinary men and women selected for the 2019 Obama Foundation Fellowship, Brent was picked because of his commitment to making a difference in his community and being a role model for other civic leaders,” said Anne Filipic, chief program officer at the Obama Foundation. “Throughout the fellowship, Brent and members of the fellows class will have access to the Obama Foundation’s global network and resources to help scale their work, including coaching and trainings, peer feedback and in-person gatherings over the next two years. We are excited to work with Brent and members of the 2019 fellows class as they embark on bringing about positive change in their communities.”
Hutchinson lives in Hindman with his wife, Gwen (95), and their two sons. His brother Brian Hutchinson (96) is an alumnus and former athletic director at MSU. He is a member of the Kentucky Advisory Council for Exceptional Children and the Kentucky 4-H Foundation Board, is a high school academic team coach, a member of the Sons of the American Revolution and co-leader of the Knott County Work Ready Community-in-Progress Task Force. He is also actively involved in his church.
For more information on the Hindman Settlement School, visit www.hindmansettlement.org.
Additional information about the Obama Foundation Fellowship is available at www.obama.org.