Alumni Spotlight

Genesia Kilgore-Bowling, '00

By: Devin Hanners, '09
May 16, 2014

The idea of “home” is different for everyone. For some, it may be a house they lived in as a child. Some think of home as a town, still others as a period in time that holds dear and fond memories. Or, if you are a diehard Bear, like Genesia Kilgore-Bowling, home will always be  on “The Hill.” Join us as we take a look at an individual whose journey took her away from UPIKE in body, but never in heart or spirit.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Kilgore-Bowling, assistant professor and director of UPIKE’s social work program. Hailing from the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, the first generation college student related to me that she always knew in her heart that she would be involved in higher education. “I knew from the time I started school that this was going to be my thing; it wasn’t so much an expectation, I just knew that I would.” She informed me that she originally saw herself leaving the mountains, her wanderlust yearning for a larger university experience.
However, life had different plans. During Kilgore-Bowling’s junior year in high school, tragedy befell her family. One of her brothers passed away unexpectedly, and suddenly finding herself clinging to her remaining family, she reconsidered the idea of leaving her family for the sake of her collegiate quest. “Family is very important in Appalachia and I didn’t want to leave them. Then I said Hey, here’s Pikeville College, it’s a win win!”
In the fall of ’96, Kilgore-Bowling’s adventure of higher education began – if in a way that she did not originally imagine. She expected Pikeville College to serve as a stepping-stone until her family could recover enough to endure her absence. However, after just a few weeks of immersing herself into classes she completely altered her viewpoint. She felt a strong resonance with “The Hill,” a kind of belonging that she had never experienced. She said the feeling could best be described as - “This is where I’m supposed to be.”
This newly found awareness would prove to be magic in the making. When I asked what made up these feelings, Kilgore-Bowling’s response was immediate and specific – “faculty.” Professors like John Howie, Basil Clark and Peggy Davis not only made her feel welcome, but also struck her as “…fascinating and brilliant.” Through such teachers, she quickly realized a true passion for social justice and the “…equality of not just rights, but privileges” for all people in the mountains. It was during this time that she discovered the need to become, as she puts it, “an advocate for the people.”
Graduating in 2000 with honors in psychology, human services and communication, Kilgore-Bowling embarked on her professional journey into the work place. Despite knowing she had to leave temporarily, she felt she would always be back. She recited our familiar adage: “Once a Bear, always a Bear.” She intertwined her passions for higher education by continuing her studies with a master’s degree from the University of Kentucky. During this transitional period, she worked in a myriad of social work related fields, ranging from end of life care to juvenile justice. Her hope was to carve out a niche for herself that would be as equally unique and valued as her time at Pikeville College had been. And that niche would appear – but in a way no one could have possibly predicted.
Approximately one year after Kilgore-Bowling completed her master’s degree, she shared that a colleague of hers from the University of Kentucky contacted her about a very unique opportunity: an adjunct teaching position. The university had decided to implement a distance-learning program through extended campuses. She says it was during this time that the “…teaching bug bit me.” She found herself seizing opportunities to teach classes anywhere she could. From Somerset, Ky., to the Internet, and everywhere in between, Kilgore-Bowling had found a true calling, and she met it with aplomb.
Kilgore-Bowling loved teaching so much that she decided to make it her permanent vocation by earning a Ph.D. in social work at the University of Kentucky. “I thought well, if I’m going to teach, I might as well start my Ph.D.” Things were not so simple now, though. She had married the love of her life Terry Bowling, and they had a three-year-old son at home, Elathan. Despite the seemingly difficult circumstances, she completed her Ph.D. coursework by waking up before sunrise on the day of class, driving to Lexington, completing the day’s work, and then driving back home.
Most journeys would stop here. Yet Kilgore-Bowing’s continued to build up steam. Around a year into her doctoral work, she began discussions with her colleague, Dr. Willa Webb, on how beneficial a social work degree would be for Pikeville. She related that, “The job market for human services had changed, and become more specific; human services was too generalized.”
Seeing an opportunity to give back to the institution that had brought her such joy, she volunteered to assist with bringing the program to fruition by donating whatever time she could spare. This would prove to be an opportune decision. Despite harboring no hopes that she would have the opportunity to teach at Pikeville, as fate would have it, in 2006 she was offered a position. A current professor had plans to take an extended leave and a one-year slot had become available.
The prospect made her nervous. She was already juggling adjunct teaching, Ph.D. work, the burgeoning social work program at Pikeville, and a family. She was not sure that even more transition and change was plausible, much less beneficial. “It was then I thought, this is my chance. My opportunity to give back to the school that took a chance on me, that gave me so much.” Her temporary position soon transitioned to full-time and she was named founding director for the new social work bachelor’s degree program. Since its inception in the fall of 2007, the program has been accredited and students who complete the program enter into graduate school with “advanced standing.” This is quite significant, as advanced standing allows them to complete their master’s degree in about half the expected time. Kilgore-Bowling regaled me with tales of the accreditation process, explaining that visiting accreditation commissioners would often make remarks about the program being “top of the line,” and “cutting edge.”
In her spare time away from teaching and grading, Kilgore-Bowling can be found serving her community as a board member for Judi’s Place for Kids and Artist’s Collaborative Theater. She even manages to raise a family. In addition to now 11-year-old Elathan, she has two-year-old twins IreLynn and Brady to keep her occupied. To hear her describe her zeal for social work is a rare joy, one that fills me with hope that each of us should be so lucky as to discover a pursuit that can grant such profound joy and contentment. And to think, all this from someone who, in the beginning, only had aspirations to leave home and get away. But home has a way of calling us back, doesn’t it? I guess the old adage is true; “Once a Bear, always a Bear.

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