Appalachia: Beyond the Trail

Growing up outside of Philadelphia, I never really thought of Appalachia as anything other than “that trail I nearly froze on”. As a mechanical engineering major at the University of Pittsburgh, they were just the mountains between school and home. But when I started working on the sustainability certificate, I began to learn about the people and history of the region, as well as the current issues it faces. As a trilingual child of immigrants, I did not realize that there was so much history and culture to learn about in what I thought was the middle of nowhere. Now, I am looking forward to applying what I have learned in school to help this region.

The Appalachian Teaching Project (ATP) is a teaching program designed to give students the opportunity to work on projects to create solutions for the regional issues many Appalachian communities face. ATP is sponsored by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), a federal- and state-level government agency focusing on the economic development of the Appalachian region.

Our specific project is addressing brain drain in Fayette County, with a focus on the city of Connellsville. Brain drain is a large out-migration of higher educated individuals from a community. This is a major issue facing Fayette County, and Appalachia as a whole. The flight of higher educated individuals and the jobs that left with them after the collapse of the coal mining industry is the leading cause of the economic challenges the region faces today.

For this project, our class will be working closely with the Fayette County Cultural Trust. This Connellsville-based organization is focused on improving the area by promoting cultural aspects of the region in order to further economic development. We believe that the Cultural Trust will be invaluable in guiding us towards areas we can help the most over the course of the project.

I believe this project is important for two reasons. The first reason is improving the quality of life of a massive region is always valuable. The second reason is the project gives students the opportunity to apply their classroom knowledge and work on their people skills. In my experience, these hands-on opportunities are the best way to learn and grow, both academically and as a person.

While I would like to solve all of the region’s issues, that is clearly not a realistic goal for this project. I have two realistic goals for the end of the semester: Leave the Fayette County Cultural Trust with an achievable, effective course of action that will help them towards their goal of revitalizing Connellsville’s economy, and to get positive performance reviews from the Cultural Trust and the other stakeholders. The first goal of delivering a workable plan is important because that means we finished our part of the project. Even if it is just a small step towards the larger goal of revitalizing the region, it builds on the work of previous students and provides a stepping stone for future students. While my first goal is important, I believe that my second goal is essential. At the end of the day, we are doing this project to help the stakeholders. Creating a solution that they do not want is not solving the issue or helping them effectively.

Currently, I do not have any clear academic or career goals. All I know is I want to apply my education and skills to help people by improving their quality of life. I believe that this project is a great opportunity to help people. Additionally, I think that the experience I gain over the course of this project will help me in the future.

I decided to join this project because of my aforementioned career goal of helping others. Additionally, I always wanted to learn more about the Appalachian region. I have hiked on the Appalachian Trail, but otherwise have no experience in the region. Along with learning more about the region, I hope that this project will improve my people skills and my problem-solving skills. Both of these skills are applicable in any area of life, and will prove invaluable throughout my life.

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