Research at UK goes far beyond the classroom. UK Athletics is just one of many areas on campus focused on teaching students the importance of giving back at home and around the world.
When senior UK football player Avery Williamson found out he was picked to go to Ethiopia during the summer of 2013, he experienced excitement along with a little anxiety.
"I had never been out of the country before, so I thought it was really going to be a fun experience," Williamson said. "I was kind of nervous, too."
Most of the student-athletes who took part in the two separate UK Athletics Department-sponsored trips to Ethiopia in the summer of 2013 were like Williamson. They had never been outside of the country, let alone to another continent.
"It was the longest flight I've ever taken," said Jonathan George, a fellow football senior.
"I don’t think any of us slept one wink," said Liz Breed, a senior on the golf team. "We were just sitting there like, 'Okay… Are we there yet?'"
When they arrived in Addis Abba, Ethiopia the views outside of their van windows told them why their service was needed.
"The everyday things we take for granted, people over there don’t have," said football senior Kevin Mitchell.
During both trips, the student-athletes began working immediately after landing.
“The first day we got there we were all running on about 30 hours of no sleep," said Maclin Simpson, a senior swimming & diving team member. "We traveled to a village right outside of the city to wrap homes in plastic because it’s the rainy season, so the plastic helps to keep the rain out and keep the wind out."
As they concentrated on some manual labor, something unexpected happened. Children from the village began to encircle the group.
"That was one of my favorite days," said Stephanie Fox, a junior women's tennis player. "We got to play with the kids for hours and it was so fun, and they were all so, so happy."
It was at that point when the student-athletes realized that the trip was not just about giving.
"They didn’t want money from us, they didn’t want things from us ― they really just wanted interaction," said Tiara Phipps, a gymnastics sophomore. "This was more of going and creating relationships with people."
Those relationships opened up the eyes of the students.
"I expected to see a lot of despair," said Brett Johnson, a men's tennis sophomore. "I came to find quite the opposite. I was just overwhelmed with how truly joyful they were and it was contagious."
Experiencing the joy of the Ethiopian people taught the team some very valuable lessons.
"I find myself, with basketball especially, just complaining about the littlest things," said men's basketball senior Jarrod Polson. "I have to wake up at 7 and run or something like that, and then we go over there and they literally have nothing at all, but they were definitely the most joyful people I’ve ever been around."
"It just taught me to be grateful for a lot of things," track and field junior Angelica Whaley said.
"This has changed my life," said Emma Brown, a junior women's soccer player. "It definitely changed my entire outlook on life and everything."
Some say the trip has altered their future plans and goals for life after graduation.
"It kind of changes the way you think," Polson said. "I just feel like my career and future opportunities have kind of changed because of this trip. I would definitely like to go back to Africa, and if that would be a career or something like that, that would be awesome."
"You know, if everything works out with the NFL, I feel like I will be more of a giving person," Williamson said. "I feel like helping people that don’t have much would be more impactful than having nice shoes and clothes."
"It has made me want to travel a lot more, not just to sightsee but to help people," said Brown. "I would love to be able to go back or go somewhere else and just help people to achieve what they want in life."
The UK Athletics service trips to Ethiopia began in 2011. To read blog posts about each trip, click here.