‘A wonderful teacher.’ Former Kentucky Kernel staffers reflect on the life of Mike Agin


Former UK Student Media Adviser Michael “Mike” Agin passed away on Nov. 17, 2022, at the age of 70. Photo provided by Clark Legacy Center.

Kendall Staton, Asst. News Editor

Former UK Student Media Adviser Michael “Mike” Agin passed away on Nov. 17, 2022, at age 70, leaving the legacy of the Kernel in his wake.

Agin worked at the university from 1987 – 2000 as a student media adviser and adjunct professor. He spent time with UK’s student-run newspaper, radio station and yearbook.

The Kentucky Kernel has been in operation since 1908 but has been independent from UK since 1972. In its relatively short history, the Kernel has worked to bring news and information to the campus community.

While students hold the editorial power of the paper, student media advisers employed by the university work as a guiding hand to the students of the paper.

Agin used his time at UK to support student journalism as an adviser. He left an impact on many student journalists, some who have gone on to work in prominent positions at UK.

UK spokesperson Jay Blanton worked at the Kernel when Agin first began his stint at the university. Blanton said Agin brought a sense of light to the newsroom and knew how to remind the students to have fun even in stressful times.

“He was this guy that was very professional, knew the newspaper industry backward and forward, critiqued our papers, gave us great insights on how to be a good reporter and how to be a good writer – but also was just fun,” Blanton said.

Blanton recalled the distracting and persistent sound of a bouncing basketball that often accompanied Agin’s walk through the newsroom.

Working with Agin fostered a sense of direction and created a foundation for the career Blanton would later decide to pursue. He called his time at the Kernel “the most important part” of his college experience.

Blanton said the role of student media adviser can be tricky because the Kernel is an independent paper. He said Agin carried the role with grace and helped show students their path in life.

“Mike was an adviser but really was a wonderful teacher … He knew how to teach us without telling us what to do,” Blanton said. “He knew how to walk that line, but that was Mike and he represents that time in my life that was so foundational.”

Although he has since finished his education and is now working in his professional role at UK, Blanton said the Kernel still plays a part in his experience.

Agin helped the Kernel find its voice – an independent voice that has continued to be by students and for students. Blanton said he appreciates that voice for holding the university accountable to stay true to their mission.

Jennifer Smith, lecturer in the College of Communication and Information, worked with Agin at the Kernel during her time in school. She held the position of editor-in-chief from 1997-1998.

Smith said Agin showed all the qualities in a student media adviser that makes the position useful.

“For a lot of us, Mike was kind of like another parent,” Smith said. “When you get to campus, you’re 18, and you have no idea what you’re doing. Having adults in your life who let you fail and cheer you on when you succeed is really pivotal, and he was one of those people.”

Smith said Agin’s office became a “safe haven” for the Kernel staff, a place where students could always go and be met with a guiding hand. During long nights rushing to meet deadlines, Agin allowed students the comfort of constructive criticism and always rooted for them to succeed.

Agin always showed kindness, something Smith felt important for students, journalists and people to learn.

Even though Smith had lost touch with Agin years after graduating college, she said his dedication to the students of the Kernel brought a sense of comfort during her time at the publication.

“He took care of us like he took care of his own kids and I thought that was a really cool aspect of him,” Smith said. “A lot of that I’ve tried to emulate in my time at UK: wanting to let people know that there is a soft spot to land.”

Former Kernel staff member and current member of the newspaper’s board Duane Bonifer worked as an editor of the paper toward the beginning of Agin’s time at the university. He called Agin the most impactful part of his college career.

“Five years from now you’re the same person you are today except for two things: the books you read and the people you meet,” Bonifer said. “A lot of us were immensely better people because we met and worked with Mike Agin while we were at the Kentucky Kernel. There’s no doubt about that.”

The impact Agin had on Kernel staff members still reigns prevalent today.

Bonifer recalled the calming effect Agin brought to the environment of the newsroom, even when he brought along the sound of a bouncing basketball on late nights.

In lieu of flowers, Agin’s family requested donations be made to the Kernel Fund for Excellence in his name.