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Lyle Roelofs - Berea College

Lyle Roelofs - Berea College

Renee Shaw speaks with retiring Berea College President Lyle Roelofs about his 11-year tenure at the college.
Season 17 Episode 32 Length 27:49 Premiere: 06/26/22

Outgoing Berea President Discusses School's Commitment to Diversity and Sustainability

Last fall, Berea College became the first institution of higher education in the United States to construct and operate its own hydroelectric generating station. The plant, on the Kentucky River near the Estill County community of Ravenna, is set to produce about of half of the electricity the college uses each year.

Now Berea President Lyle Roelofs has his eyes on three other abandoned navigational locks on the Kentucky that the school could turn into additional hydro generators.

“I don’t think we should do more than one at a time, but I don’t see why we shouldn’t do all four,” says Roelofs, who is a physicist by training. “Then the water molecules generate electricity for us four times, not just once.”

The hydro plant is part of Berea’s commitment to sustainability. In addition to making clean power for the liberal arts college, the project benefits the regional economy and citizens in several ways.

“We used a local contractor out of Pike County to do most of the work. The tax revenue goes to Estill County schools. The electricity we sell, discounted from the wholesale rate, to the Jackson Electric Cooperative,” says Roelofs. “So their customers are getting the benefit of a 6 percent discount on the electricity that the plant produces.”

For its campus building projects, Berea follows green construction practices that result in so-called LEED certification for sustainability and energy efficiency. The school also maintains its own 9,000-acre forest, the bulk of which was acquired by a Berea faculty member in the 1920s. While the property was once clear cut, Roelofs says the timber is now sustainably harvested using draft horse teams and by felling only diseased or damaged trees that are expected to die within the next five years.

“We don’t disrupt the forest. We send in the horses, they pull the logs out,” he sells. “We either use the wood in our student crafts area or we sell it to specialty mills because it is high quality lumber, and if you do it that way, over time your forest gets healthier.”

Promoting Diversity, Building Community

Sustainable living is only one of the values Berea College strives to instill in its students. Started by abolitionist Rev. John G. Fee in 1855, Berea was a pioneer in interracial education, schooling a roughly equal number of Black and white students in its early classes. The school was forced to segregate in 1920 under a state mandate called the Day Law, but then reintegrated again starting in 1950.

Berea primarily serves economically challenged students from Kentucky and the Appalachia region. Roelofs says today about 40 percent of attendees are students of color.

“Diversity’s in our DNA,” he says. “Now we have a wonderful rainbow of people from all over the world and almost all ethnicities.”

By bringing youth of different backgrounds and beliefs together on the residential campus, Roelofs says the students have to figure out how to understand, respect, and learn from each other. He says that helps build a vibrant college community, and gives those students tools they can use to build strong, diverse communities wherever their post-graduation lives take them.

Another unique aspect of Berea life is that students pay no tuition. (They do pay about $1,000 a year for housing, meals, fees, and books.) In return for a free education, all students are required to work 10 to 15 hours a week on campus or around Berea, a town of about 15,000 people in southern Madison County.

“They’re not just students, they’re all responsible for some part of the work of the college,” says the president. “When they are all in the same circumstances… they bring the best out in one another.”

Berea offers traditional liberal arts degrees, but Roelofs says their most popular program is computer science. To keep up with demand, he says the school will build two new buildings and expand their industrial arts offerings to help prepare students to work in technology firms, advanced manufacturing, and artificial intelligence as well as start their own business.

“Starting careers in those areas are $60,000, $70,000, $80,000. That’s two to three times as much as the average family income at Berea College,” says Roelofs. “That student not only can do for him or herself but can do something for their family too.”

Even though Berea College has zero tuition, Roelofs says he doesn’t think college degrees should be free for everyone. He contends that students that come from wealthier families should pay their fair share of the costs.

“I don’t think college should be free,” he says. “It should be free or a very low cost for those who can’t afford it.”

A Transition to Retirement

While Roelofs has seeded Berea’s growth over the last decade, he won’t be around to see many projects come to fruition. The president recently announced his retirement from the school effective next summer.

“I came to college presidency with the idea that really lengthy college presidencies are not such a good idea,” he says.

Roelofs says he is looking forward to a retirement filled with paddleboarding, hiking, bird watching, woodworking, reading, knitting, and Sudoku puzzles. The Michigan native spent more 35 years in teaching and research before taking administrative positions at Haverford College and Colgate University. The one thing he says he won’t do is become a higher education consultant.

“I believe the best way for colleges to solve their problems is to figure them out themselves, not to pay Lyle Roelofs $5,000 to come in and give them advice,” he says.

Although he planned to stay at the helm of Berea for 10 years, Roelofs and his wife agreed to remain an additional year after the Board of Trustees requested the extra time to facilitate a smooth transition. Roelofs says he wants to ensure the school is well positioned for its next leader.

“Most presidential transitions give you more energy, new ideas, new excitement,” he says. “So at the end of the day, it will be a good thing for Berea.”

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Connections

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Each week, host Renee Shaw and a variety of interesting and engaging people - including business leaders, entertainers, authors, celebrities, and more - explore a broad array of topics impacting Kentucky and the world.

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  • Thursday August 4, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday August 4, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday August 4, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday August 4, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday August 4, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday August 4, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Vershawn A. Young - S9 E20

  • Wednesday August 3, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday August 3, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday August 3, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday August 3, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday August 3, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday August 3, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Sabrina Butler and Kate Miller - S9 E19

  • Tuesday August 2, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday August 2, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday August 2, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday August 2, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday August 2, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday August 2, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

History Maker; Tuskegee Airmen History - S9 E14

  • Monday August 1, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday August 1, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday August 1, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday August 1, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday August 1, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday August 1, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Restaurateur and Chef Ouita Michel - S16 E31

  • Sunday August 7, 2022 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday August 7, 2022 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday August 6, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday August 6, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday July 31, 2022 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday July 31, 2022 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday July 31, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday July 31, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday July 31, 2022 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday July 31, 2022 11:00 am CT on KET

Middle Class Struggles and Poverty - S9 E13

  • Friday July 29, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday July 29, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday July 29, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday July 29, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday July 29, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday July 29, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

The Forgotten Minority - S9 E12

  • Thursday July 28, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday July 28, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday July 28, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday July 28, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday July 28, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday July 28, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Human Trafficking - S9 E11

  • Wednesday July 27, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday July 27, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday July 27, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday July 27, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday July 27, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday July 27, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Diabetes Prevention and Control - S9 E10

  • Tuesday July 26, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday July 26, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday July 26, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday July 26, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Innocence Project - S9 E9

  • Monday July 25, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday July 25, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday July 25, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday July 25, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday July 25, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday July 25, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Tom Shelton - Henry Clay Center - S17 E18

  • Sunday July 31, 2022 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday July 31, 2022 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday July 30, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday July 30, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday July 24, 2022 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday July 24, 2022 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday July 24, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday July 24, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday July 24, 2022 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday July 24, 2022 11:00 am CT on KET

Pop Culture and Commodification of Women - S9 E8

  • Friday July 22, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday July 22, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday July 22, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday July 22, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday July 22, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday July 22, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Ruth Brinkley - KentuckyOne Health - S9 E5

  • Thursday July 21, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday July 21, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday July 21, 2022 2:14 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday July 21, 2022 1:14 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday July 21, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday July 21, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Malcolm Ratchford - S9 E4

  • Wednesday July 20, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday July 20, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday July 20, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday July 20, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Roszalyn Akins - S9 E3

  • Tuesday July 19, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday July 19, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday July 19, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday July 19, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Betty Baye - S9 E1

  • Monday July 18, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday July 18, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday July 18, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday July 18, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday July 18, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday July 18, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Chelsea Ellis-Hogan - S17 E9

  • Sunday July 24, 2022 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday July 24, 2022 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday July 23, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday July 23, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday July 17, 2022 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday July 17, 2022 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday July 17, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday July 17, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday July 17, 2022 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday July 17, 2022 11:00 am CT on KET

William Turner - S17 E13

  • Sunday July 17, 2022 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday July 17, 2022 7:00 am CT on KETKY
Top

Season 17 Episodes

Lyle Roelofs - Berea College

S17 E32 Length 27:49 Premiere Date 06/26/22

Engaging Fathers; Improving Financial Literacy

S17 E31 Length 28:01 Premiere Date 06/19/22

Delanor Manson - Kentucky Nurses Association

S17 E30 Length 27:26 Premiere Date 06/12/22

School Safety in Kentucky

S17 E29 Length 29:06 Premiere Date 06/05/22

Gun Safety Advocate Whitney Austin

S17 E28 Length 27:32 Premiere Date 05/29/22

Ben Chandler - Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky

S17 E27 Length 27:51 Premiere Date 05/22/22

Advancing Mental Health Awareness in Kentucky

S17 E26 Length 27:01 Premiere Date 05/15/22

Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams

S17 E25 Length 27:36 Premiere Date 05/08/22

Brigitte Blom - Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence

S17 E24 Length 28:02 Premiere Date 05/01/22

Jill Seyfred - Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky

S17 E23 Length 27:17 Premiere Date 04/18/22

Child Abuse Prevention in Kentucky

S17 E22 Length 28:03 Premiere Date 04/10/22

Kidney Health: Prevention, Treatment, and Organ Donation

S17 E21 Length 26:53 Premiere Date 04/03/22

Reporter Jonathan Bullington

S17 E20 Length 28:07 Premiere Date 02/27/22

Nikki Lanier - Harper Slade

S17 E19 Length 28:01 Premiere Date 02/20/22

WFPL's Stephanie Wolf and Jess Clark

S17 E18 Length 27:51 Premiere Date 02/13/22

Felicia C. Smith - National Center for Families Learning

S17 E17 Length 27:33 Premiere Date 02/06/22

Tom Shelton - Henry Clay Center

S17 E16 Length 27:33 Premiere Date 01/23/22

Cabinet for Health and Family Services Sec. Eric Friedlander

S17 E15 Length 28:10 Premiere Date 01/09/22

Exploring Solutions to the Healthcare Worker Shortage

S17 E14 Length 27:01 Premiere Date 12/12/21

William Turner on Black Life in Appalachia

S17 E13 Length 27:54 Premiere Date 11/21/21

Kentucky Poet Laureate Crystal Wilkinson

S17 E12 Length 27:43 Premiere Date 11/14/21

Addressing Needs of Kentuckians with Disabilities

S17 E11 Length 27:36 Premiere Date 11/07/21

Chelsea Ellis-Hogan

S17 E9 Length 27:11 Premiere Date 10/31/21

2021 Kentucky Book Festival

S17 E8 Length 28:12 Premiere Date 10/24/21

Devine Carama

S17 E7 Length 27:41 Premiere Date 10/17/21

Rufus Friday

S17 E6 Length 27:56 Premiere Date 10/10/21

Aaron Thompson

S17 E5 Length 28:04 Premiere Date 10/03/21

Whitney Austin - Reducing Gun Violence

S17 E4 Length 27:01 Premiere Date 09/26/21

Filmmaker Sarah Burns

S17 E3 Length 28:11 Premiere Date 09/19/21

Charlene Buckles and Dan Wu

S17 E2 Length 27:23 Premiere Date 09/12/21

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