Growing up in the small Eastern Kentucky town of Pineville, Tim Cornelius ’05 EN always knew he wanted to attend the University of Kentucky. Some of his fondest childhood memories revolve around watching UK basketball and football games with his family, especially his late father who was a mining engineer and avid UK fan.
“I always loved UK,” he says. “And I always wanted to be a mining engineer like my dad. It was always my state school, and I was so proud of the university.”
After Cornelius graduated from high school in 1983, tragedy struck his family. His father passed away and his goal of attending UK was stifled — temporarily, at least.
“I just knew I couldn’t go to school after my dad passed away,” he says. “My mom had stayed home and raised five kids. With my dad gone I knew she did not have enough money to send me to UK. So, I started out working on surface mines so I could support myself.”
While working at a full-time job, he received an associate degree from Union College in Barbourville and then went on to receive another associate degree from Southeast Community College which was then affiliated with UK.
The thought of attending UK never left Cornelius over the years as he worked in the mining industry for various coal companies. It was in 2000 that his desire to receive a bachelor’s degree from UK inched closer from a dream to a reality.
While employed as a mining engineer by the U.S. Department of Labor Mine Safety and Health Administration, he was awarded a full-tuition ride to the university of his choice to study mining engineering. Naturally, he chose the University of Kentucky. Despite having his education paid for, Cornelius faced some extreme obstacles on the road to obtaining a bachelor’s degree.
“I have a wife, Tammy, and my daughter, Morgan, was two years old at the time,” he says. “I had a two hour commute one way about four days a week and would work in the evenings when I got home. I would work at my job around 30 hours a week on top of being a full-time student at UK. There were times I wanted to give up but my wife and family were so supportive.”
Cornelius says that UK faculty and staff were understanding of his unique situation, as well. He cites Kot F. Unrug, emeritus professor of engineering, and Andrzej M. Wala, professor of engineering, among his biggest faculty supporters. Since he had years of real world mining experience, professors would sometimes even let Cornelius assist in teaching classes.
After five years in the grueling mining engineering program, and a 3.6 GPA, Cornelius walked across the stage a UK graduate, and he hasn’t looked back. He is actively involved with the UK Alumni Association as club president of the Cumberland Valley East UK Alumni Club. He has a passion for spreading his pride of UK, and especially likes to encourage high school students in Southeastern Kentucky to attend UK.
“I love UK,” he says. “The university afforded me so much opportunity. It’s an honor to be an alum. I want to encourage kids from other small Eastern Kentucky towns that they can do whatever they want as long as they work hard and persevere. UK could open up a whole new world of opportunity for them.”
When not involved with UK activities, Cornelius, still a Pineville resident, enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter. He is also a conference and litigation representative for the U.S. Department of Labor Mine Safety and Health Administration where he litigates legal matters brought by mine operators against the Secretary of Labor.
Although his road to a UK degree was the road less traveled, Cornelius always knew he would be a UK alumnus.
“You can do whatever you want if you try,” he says. “I knew I would get a degree from UK.”
By Molly Clark