Appalachian Teaching Project Introduction

Hello! My name is Edwin Coffman, and I am in my third and final year at Pitt. I am double majoring in political science and English literature. I’m originally from a tiny town in southern West Virginia, and my roots will always be there. I’m fortunate to still live in a town that my ancestors founded and find it incredibly fascinating to visit natural sites that they probably also visited. I find all studies about Appalachia particularly worth my time because of my connection to and embeddedness within the Appalachian Mountains.

I’m an avid cyclist, mountain biker, hiker, and snowboarder—I generally enjoy all outdoor activities and prefer them over most else, making Appalachia one of my favorite places. During my time at Pitt, I have dedicated a portion of my studies towards understanding Appalachian identity and have attempted to dive deeper into all of its complexities. By digging deeper into what it means to be an Appalachian American, I aim to grasp a more critical, concrete understanding of group formation and the construction of social narratives. I live about an hour from campus this academic year, making it difficult to engage more with clubs and on-campus happenings; however, I was active in Pitt’s Residence Student Association and Residence Life in previous semesters. Also, to include something a little more personal and exciting, when I was 19, I lived on a short, blue bus. I traveled with three high-school friends across the country, stopping at various national parks and conservation areas along the way. In my added picture, I’m sitting on the roof of the bus installing solar panels the morning of departure! What a stressful morning it was.

In previous semesters, I have taken many classes with and conducted research under Dr. Andrew Lotz. It was from him that I was able to connect with other staff members leading the Appalachian Teaching Project. The project, an applied research training program, connects students with their surrounding communities to assist in stimulating economic development initiatives with those communities. As the project as a whole passes its 20th anniversary, it’s proud to boast involvement from over 2,350 students from 22 colleges and universities throughout the Appalachian Mountains. As this is the project’s first semester at the University of Pittsburgh, our task is to begin exploring the “brain drain” effect within Fayette County, engage and establish trust with the community, and begin a process that will allow the area to foster their own economic and sustainable development.

This project is supported by both a handful of faculty and about ten students. This particular group is interesting because most of the participants originate from different academic and social backgrounds, disciplines, and focuses—all of which will enable this project to be attacked from different valuable perspectives. Through our partner, the Fayette County Cultural Trust, we hope to begin this relationship with the Connellsville community, eventually reaching the wider Fayette County area. This project is significant because it will provide the community with tools, strategies, and data points that, in the future, will allow it to create its own sustainable economic development. By learning about what Connellsville community members value and treasure, we hope to take positive steps forward with this project.

My current goals consist of graduating from Pitt in the Spring, either taking a gap year or going directly to law school, and continuing my life from there. At some point during my career, I hope to once again work closely with the Appalachian region through projects such as this one that will provide the area with lasting benefits. By working with this project and learning new skills, I will be more prepared for any such pursuits in the future. By providing me with experiential learning, the ATP is putting me closer to my goals.

For my plans following law school, I am undecided in which path I will take; however, I know for sure that my participance in this project will serve me in the future. I have never taken part in any community outreach projects. Here, I am learning how to give field interviews while remaining professional and humble to gather the best results. Alongside learning how to conduct interviews, I am also learning how to manage qualitative data and make it more useful for our purposes. Further, through this project, I am working towards making my time management more efficient and my goal setting more practical. It is for these reasons that the Appalachian Teaching Project will help me better pursue my goals.

I find this project important because of its relation to Appalachia. During my entire life, Appalachia has been my home. It’s provided me with a safe sanctuary and space to explore and grow as I matured. Within its rivers, I learned to swim, and, because of its communities and inhabitants, I learned what passion and hard work were. However, because of its seclusion from the lowland populations, I also learned the negativity of population stereotypes and the misfortune of lesser opportunities. Growing up, I couldn’t maintain the thought that I’d be able to earn a living by remaining in my hometown—the opportunity just never made itself seem available. Looking back, I wish more had been done to my hometown that allowed it to flourish and sustain economically; however, I can only look towards making the future betters and seeking to give opportunities I never had to people who deserve them. Through projects like these, I hope to create lasting positive effects on the area, erasing too many years’ worth of neglect and mistreatment.

Thanks for reading.

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