PCHS graduate Shelbie Black serving as SPEDA summer intern

SPEDA intern Shelbie Black is a Pulaski County High graduate.

Earning a summer internship is a huge score for any graduating senior. But finding one that allows you to make your community a better place can be a game-changer.

Shelbie Black understood that immediately when a school professional sent her information about an internship opportunity with the Somerset-Pulaski Economic Development Authority (SPEDA).

"I started looking through SPEDA's website and Facebook, and it was quickly obvious that SPEDA was out there advocating for this community and making it a place that I want to live," Black said. "When I started learning more about SPEDA it became abundantly clear that there was no way I'd rather spend my summer. Of course, with any internship, learning from experienced professionals is one of the greatest perks, but what makes working with SPEDA unique is getting to be a small part of my community's strongest advocate and change maker."

Working to better your community is no easy task, but Black is no stranger to hard work. The Pulaski County High School graduate has spent her years in high school dedicated to bettering herself, helping others and finding opportunities for growth. She has worked as a tutor, an intern for Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital's Residency Office and a volunteer at the hospital, all while being the manager of Master Doughnut in south Somerset. She was a 2020 Governor's Scholar, 2019 Rogers Scholar, and Esther Life Ministries Scholar, a member of the National Honors Society and a two-time recipient of the Presidential Community Service Award.

The list of accolades doesn't stop there. But SPEDA President and CEO Chris Girdler didn't need to know more -- he knew quickly Black was an excellent candidate.

"Shelbie's resume speaks for itself, but her dedication and enthusiasm are incredible additions to her outstanding experience," Girdler said. "She has been an integral part of our staff this summer through some major announcements and projects. Shelbie's future is bright and I am excited to see how she applies what she's learned here as she moves forward."

Moving forward for Black looks like this: Attending Morehead State University with an honors scholarship to pursue a degree in biology and her dream of being a physician. A strong STEM student, Black said she has a passion for learning about the human body and her hospital internships have created a love for working in a health care environment.

The honors programs Black has attended have not only reinforced her career aspirations, but they've helped her become a more well-rounded student and citizen -- which emphasized the importance of participating in an internship that allows her to continue that practice, she said.

"SPEDA has particular importance to me because they are working to enrich our community and bring jobs to Pulaski County," Black said. "And the more jobs there are in our community, the more need for my generation of future physicians. SPEDA is laying the groundwork for a community in need of physicians and one that I can practice in."

This perspective will help drive her conversation with other graduating seniors during her capstone project, a focus group that will provide insight for SPEDA into the needs and desires of a future generation of residents and employees. SPEDA started the project last year as part of the summer internship program. Girdler said he gained valuable feedback on the initiatives that youth want to see in any community they move to after college.

Black said she hopes to steer the conversation around issues that have arisen for students during the pandemic.

"I am hoping the people I've chosen will have a unique perspective on the future of Somerset and Pulaski County due to our unusual last two years of high school," Black said. "Personally, I did virtual school all year and many of the participants did as well, which I feel really emphasized the need for community connection and growth for me, so I'm hoping they have a unique perspective from last year's group."

Black has been doing a little bit of everything during this internship, from grant research and basic finance to attending and organizing events. "I think the best takeaway is learning how little, seemingly insignificant things, add up to make great things happen through this organization," she said.

Her most memorable experience so far? The groundbreaking for AppHarvest, a publicly-traded company that will grow berries sustainably on a 30-acre indoor farm in Pulaski County. AppHarvest launched in Morehead, Kentucky, Black's soon-to-be home away from home, and there is significance in that connection, she said.

"AppHarvest started in Morehead … and is bringing a bold vision in agriculture to Morehead and now Somerset," she said. "AppHarvest is a great asset to our community and one of the many ways that Somerset is becoming a place I want to practice in once I become a physician. To me, attending such a memorable event was a symbol of Somerset's momentum and growth."

Black is the daughter of Keith and Lisa Black, who are both employed by the Pulaski County Board of Education.

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