Somerset Community College is proud to honor Joe Cowan as the newest member of the Super Sunday Hall of Fame.
Super Sunday is an annual Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) statewide initiative intended to increase the college-going rate of students of color. As part of this initiative, a Super Sunday Hall of Fame has been established, highlighting outstanding minority alumni.
Joe L. Cowan is no ordinary individual. Born in Monticello, KY with a rare congenital disease called Authrogryposis, Cowan has achieved many milestones in his personal and professional life that he once thought impossible.
Cowan's disease caused his shoulders, arms and hands to be misshapen and caused him to be bound to a wheelchair. Growing up, he didn't receive much of an education.
"Back when I was in school, handicapped children were kept at home and the school system sent teachers out to us," Cowan said. "I really didn't get the full benefit of an education until I went to college."
In 1971, Cowan moved to Lexington and spent almost four years at the Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Center.
"They (Cardinal Hill) provided me with physical therapy, an education, and they taught me how to survive on my own. They even taught me to drive a car," Cowan said. "Eventually, I was able to go out and get my own apartment, meet a girl, who was a student at UK, and get married."
While at Cardinal Hill, Cowan enrolled in the Kentucky Business School where he earned a certificate in accounting. Having difficulty getting hired in Lexington, he returned to Monticello and began attending Somerset Community College. He was awarded an Associate Degree in Human Services. That degree led him to a job at the Job Corps in Pine Knot, KY, but he didn't want to stop learning and he continued to take college classes when he could.
Cowan eventually earned his Bachelor's Degree from the University of Kentucky in Social Work, and he went on to earn a Master's Degree from UK in Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling. During those years, he also became interested in entering the ministry. He was ordained an elder in the church and served in Monticello.
In 1997, Cowan began working for Somerset Community College in a grant-funded, job-training program known as BRITE; a position located in Albany. When that grant ended, he was hired by SCC as an instructor in the High School Equivalency Program which helped migrant workers obtain their General Equivalency Diplomas. In 2008, Cowan was also given the responsibilities of the Assistant Director of Disability Services at SCC.
Cowan has served on a number of statewide boards and advocacy groups for the disabled. He served on the Kentucky Protection and Advocacy Commission, an independent state agency, for eight years. That group's mission was to protect and promote the rights of Kentuckians with disabilities through legally-based individual and systemic advocacy, and education. He also served on the University of Kentucky's Interdisciplinary Human Development Institute which is one of over 60 University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Education, Research and Service. This organization focused its efforts on improving lifelong opportunities and services for individuals with disabilities, their families, and the community. Recently, Cowan was appointed to another three year term on the Commonwealth Council on Developmental Disabilities, a group of citizens appointed by the governor to serve as a leading catalyst for systems change for individuals and families living with developmental disabilities.
Along with SCC Director of Disability Services Mary Petry, Cowan has hosted an annual workshop for the disabled at The Center for Rural Development to inform disabled individuals about the opportunities available to them at the college.
In 2011, Cowan was inducted into the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame in Louisville, KY. Nominees for this award are men and women who have made significant contributions to Kentucky's progress in the areas of civil and human rights. Their fights against discrimination may have been in the areas of race, sex, religion, disability, age, economic status, religion or other human rights areas. A panel of volunteer judges selects the inductees.
Cowan is currently the Assistant Director of Disability Services and an instructor in the Bringing Educational Achievement to Migrants program (BEAM) at Somerset Community College.
Although his life has "been a struggle at times," he always tries "to encourage people not to give up," he said.
Cowan has one adult daughter, Domonique, she is married to a member of the United States Air Force, Eric Ehler. He is the proud grandfather of three grandchildren: Dylan, Daxtyn and Dalton.
Cowan will be honored as a Super Sunday Hall of Fame recipient during the during the church service at Pleasant View Baptist Church in Monticello on February 23, 2014.
Somerset Community College is sponsoring four Super Sunday events on February 23, 2014 as part of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) diversity plan. On this day, SCC and each of the other KCTCS colleges and the system office will partner with churches in their communities to host information fairs for prospective college students and their families.
See SCC's Super Sunday page for locations and times.
For more information about Super Sunday, visit super-sunday.org. Any questions can be directed to Elaine Wilson, SCC Director of Cultural Diversity, at firstname.lastname@example.org.