April 15, 2005 | By: Terri McLean

Whether he was behind the wheel of a tractor, judging livestock or participating in Teen Conference, Ryan Quarles put his heart and soul into the 4-H experience. Now the University of Kentucky junior is reaping the benefits.

Most recently, Quarles was awarded the prestigious Truman Scholarship, a national award given to college juniors who demonstrate outstanding leadership and public service – two of the hallmarks of the 4-H Youth Development program.

“4-H fit easily into my upbringing,” said Quarles, who grew up on a Scott County farm and still helps out there when he’s not in class.

He is pursuing a triple major of agriculture economics, public service and leadership – both in the College of Agriculture, and political science in the College of Arts and Sciences. Quarles is set to graduate in December with all three degrees. He also is working on a master’s degree in agriculture economics and recently was accepted to UK’s Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce. 

“Where 4-H really affected me was public service,” he said. A citizenship trip to Washington, D.C., in the ninth grade still stands out in his mind.

“It really opened my eyes up to what was going on in Washington and in Frankfort,“ he said. “It didn’t necessarily spark my interest, but it definitely threw more wood into the fire.” 

Quarles’ interest in 4-H began before he was even old enough to join the organization at age 9. He was first exposed to 4-H events when he tagged along with his older brother, Clint.

“My first event was tractor driving,” said Quarles, the eventual state tractor driving champ. “They let me drive a couple of years early. When third grade came around, I was familiar with one of the projects and I just kind of ran with it.”

Scott County 4-H agent Diane Kelley remembers that Quarles excelled at 4-H activities such as tractor driving, but she said the leadership skills he exhibited during those activities were the most memorable.

“Ryan was an excellent team leader,” she said. “He was always involved in getting other people involved in activities, and I think that’s one of the secrets to his success.”

Although Quarles has “graduated” from 4-H, Kelley continues to work with him on a project begun when he was still in high school. 

“We have conducted a program about funding postsecondary education,” Kelley said. “We try to teach people how to pursue scholarships. He’s helped a lot of other young people realize that you don’t have to be Einstein to receive scholarships; you simply have to pursue the scholarships related to your area of interest.”

Quarles certainly can speak from experience – when it comes to pursuing scholarships, that is. When he was preparing to graduate from Scott County High School in 2002, he applied for more than 65 scholarships. He received about one-third of them.

“I knew from a young age to start saving for college, so I raised my own crops in high school. Then I just lucked out getting these scholarships,” Quarles said. 

Luck had little to do with Quarles being named a Truman Scholar, however. The $30,000 scholarship is one of only 75 given each year following an intensive application and interview process. UK President Lee T. Todd Jr., made a surprise visit to one of Quarles’ classes to announce the news.

“Five minutes before he came to my class, I was talking to one of my advisers who wanted to know about the Truman interview. I remember the last thing I told him was, ‘If I don’t win I won’t be upset because the field is so competitive.’ As soon as I saw him come into our class I knew it was good news. It’s still sinking in,” Quarles said.


Writer: Terri McLean 859-257-4736, ext. 276