August 30, 2017 | By: Aimee Nielson

The University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment’s E-Discovery Challenge program recently won the National Association for Community Development Extension Professionals Innovative Program Award and the Community Development Society Innovative Program Award.

Ron Hustedde, UK extension professor in the Department of Community and Leadership Development, and colleagues Melony Denham, Ann DeSpain and Annette Walters created the E-Discovery Challenge program as a way to foment change. The team involved high school teachers and students in Eastern Kentucky to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“The economy in Appalachian Kentucky is shifting. Employment numbers in coal and timber industries have declined,” Hustedde said. “We know that entrepreneurship could help, but it also requires a shift in innovative thinking.”

E-Discovery Challenge is an innovative curriculum.

“Students can be imaginative, and they can conduct market research and financial viability of products and services and then actually sell their products and services in the community where they live,” said Denham, the program’s director. “Through their efforts, more than 50 teachers and 925 high school students created more than 300 new businesses in the region.”

The team believes E-Discovery Challenge has energized teachers, students and the communities in the region’s most distressed counties.

“Most of the teachers involved will continue the program in the 2017-2018 school year,” Denham said. “Essentially, the team has laid the groundwork for a visible entrepreneurial culture and ecosystem to emerge.”

Denham said E-Discovery is much more than a classroom program.

“We believe entrepreneurship is the venue for unleashing creativity, for helping people become fully alive and aware of their surroundings and of other people’s needs and wants,” she said.

The initial funding for E-Discovery came from the Appalachian Regional Commission. For more information about the E-Discovery Challenge, visit the website at To learn about other programs and initiatives of the UK Department of Community and Leadership Development, visit their website at


Ron Hustedde, 859-351-3991

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