The Appalachia Teaching Project is aimed at doing research on the region of Appalachia and how its economic development has been affected by historical and current events. The course has been supported by the Appalachia Regional Commission for the past 10 years at 22 different universities across the area. We are looking at how the long-term effects of outmigration have impacted their communities, specifically at a concept called ‘brain drain’. Brain drain is where we can see that young individuals graduate high school and leave their communities to attend college, and they typically do not return to their hometown communities in Appalachia. This leads to issues with economic development and long-term advancement for their communities. We will be researching the reasons for brain drain and hopefully will be able to come up solutions to help reduce this problem.
Our specific project is based in the Forest and Fayette counties of Pennsylvania. We were able to meet with some town leaders of Connellsville, a town only one hour from the city of Pittsburgh. They talked with us about the town’s several amenities which included their growing downtown area, the Great Allegheny Passage and its accommodations, a local café called the Connellsville Canteen, and some public art projects that they are working on. The downtown area has been growing with small businesses and different stores that are attracting local customers. The Great Allegheny Passage is a very unique attraction to Fayette County. It is a 335-mile bike passage from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC. Connellsville has added a hotel right next to the trail where travelers can stay on their trips. The Connellsville Canteen is a local attraction that the community leaders were really excited to talk about. It is a historical site and a café where tourists and locals can come enjoy a meal. The ‘Canteen’ seems to be a popular location where people meet and visit when they are in Connellsville. They have been working on different community art projects to bring together students and the aesthetics of the town.
Although they are actively working on creating more exciting attractions and events to get more people out on the town, they still struggle with bringing people to visit and reside in Connellsville. Additionally, they felt that people are leaving the area due to the low paying jobs, young individuals pursuing careers with their degrees, and not much job attraction.
I feel like this project is important because this region was once taken over by big companies and corporations for their resources and then left completely helpless. The people of Connellsville, and Appalachia overall, deserve a chance to make their towns into places where they’re comfortable and excited to stay and come back to. This region has so many beautiful sights to see and places to appreciate, but they have almost been forgotten by the rest of the country. I think it’s important for us to assist them in any ways that we can so they can enjoy their towns and have more people come see how nice they can be.
I hope that by the end of the semester, we can build a good relationship with those from Connellsville and get to know what they love about their communities. Furthermore, I would also like to discover what things that they feel need improving and how they feel their towns could be better. I would also like to talk to the students of Connellsville because they are the youth of the community and they can tell us what would bring them back to the area. I would like to see what they would like to do in town and what they would like to see come into their town. In doing this, we will hopefully create a solid foundation for the research and development of Connellsville. Our tangible goals are creating an asset map and gaining information from the community members about their favorite features of their town and their concerns as well.
Since I was a kid, I always wanted to help people, and I was never sure how or by doing what. I considered medicine, social work, public health and so much more, but recently, I have learned that I love talking to people and trying to problem solve. My current professional goals are to hopefully pursue a career in public service or work in public policy research, like what we are doing in this project. I am really interested in community-based research and how I can use what I’ve learned, in my college career in political science and communications, to directly talk to people and see what they need from our policymakers and what they feel could help them grow. I have always wanted to do something like this, but never knew that it was an option. I am really looking forward to speaking with community members, getting to know the town, and coming up with ideas for their development.
I think that this project will teach me a lot of useful things for my career goals. I hope to learn how to properly engage with community members, ethically and responsibly, to learn about what they need from policy and community leaders. It will give me great experience in working with a team of research scholars (our faculty team leaders), my classmates, and the community leaders and members to accomplish our goals. I am excited to learn how to conduct proper community-based research and the right practices in doing this type of research. This project will teach me a ton of skills that will be valuable in my future and what I would like to do in the future. I will also learn the proper skills for presenting research as well. I also am really excited to go to DC and present the research because I have never had an opportunity like this before!
Can’t wait to read all of your introductions and get to know you all!