Hi everyone, I’m Gabby! I’m a senior here at Pitt. I’m majoring in Urban Studies with a concentration in planning. I’m also wrapping up my sustainability certificate. Two fun facts about me, I do macrame in my (limited) free time and I don’t own a microwave. Not being able to heat up butter is my only complaint!
I wanted to join this project because it hit close to home. I spent my younger years in rural Westmoreland county attending Yough Middle School in a community that faces the same blight as many Appalachian towns. My true hometown is Irwin, situated between Greensburg and Pittsburgh. Not a lot of people know of the tiny town but its home to me and many others! Although much less rural, it is still facing similar issues with brain drain and limited economic growth. Being apart of this project, I hope to gain the skills I need to help my home town and communities like it in the future.
The Appalachian Teaching Project (ATP) is a multi-state program aiming to curb and resolve brain drain in the Appalachian region. Our group is focusing on Fayette county while working closely with Connellsville. Many Appalachian communities are stuck in economic and population decline due to an array of issues. Lack of jobs, loss of connection to the community, changing social aspirations, and limited secondary education are just a few of the factors that lead to rural brain drain. Small towns in America are loosing their opportunities and the project trying to get them back. Building strong and resilient communities is just another goal of the Project. Our direct stakeholders are the Fayette County Cultural Trust (FCCT) and the Connellsville Redevelopment Authority (CRA). But the residents and business owners of Connellsville and Fayette county, are important stakeholders as well. To me, the everyday citizen is the most important stakeholder in just about everything because they are the ones directly impacted by the choices made by the government that presides over them.
I feel this project is important because small towns are just as important as large cities. Cities can reach a maximum before its support system begins to fail. Suburbs and rural communities put less strain on city resources by allocating them within their own limits. Additionally, small towns in rural America often play a large part in the economy. Tourism, recreations, hospitality, and nature preserves are often found in these small communities. The tourism industry is huge and account for over a trillion dollars in revenue (excluding the pandemic). As of 2017 the tourism and hospitality industry accounted for around 7.8 millions jobs. Connellsville is a great example of a small town doing a huge service. The town is a key stop in the GAP trail, allowing cyclist to rest, clean up, and stock up on supplies. Fayette county is also home to many national parks and historical sites like Laurel Highland and Falling Waters. Without these communities, preservation and protection to these national resources may be limited. It is important to preserve these small towns not only for economic reason, but personal ones as well. Not everyone has a desire to live in a bustling city or the means to do so. Physical laborers such as miners, loggers, and farmers, cannot realistically live within a cities limits as their jobs wouldn’t allow it. A space needs to exist for these people to live and thrive. These rural laborers need a community to support them and in turn support it as well.
What I hope to achieve for this project is to pass on the knowledge and progress gathered this semester to students next year and so on. We cannot fix Fayette counties brain drain problem in a mere few months, its a work in progress and I’m grateful to be at the start of it.
My current professional goals is to obtain a full time position at the City of Pittsburgh Department of Mobility and Infrastructure. I have an internship with DOMI now that will continue into spring so I feel its achievable! I would like to progress my career there and work towards becoming the director of the department. My far out career goal is to be on the city’s planning board. But if I don’t ever manage to achieve that, I still want to positively impact my community in any way I can! Academically, I hope to attend grad school in the near future to continue my goal of being a certified city planner. I feel being apart of this project will give me a slight edge in grad school or job applications. Career wise I feel it will be a good mark on leadership, cooperation and teamwork, and drive. This is a multi-state and federally backed program and its not everyday a student gets the opportunity to work on such a project.
I joined this project in part because Dr.Sanchez assigned it to me. However, it was my first option for capstone project for a lot of reasons. I want to make a positive impact on a community close to home. As a prospective urban planner, its important to know your community and connect with it both personally and professionally. Joining this project will help me refine my communication, GIS, and community outreach skills to name a few. The biggest skill I want to refine is community outreach. With grad school prospects and my big dream of being a city planner, its absolutely essential I have the skills to effectively communicate with the community I’m speaking for.