Now that the semester and the first Pitt Appalachian Teaching Project class has ended, the time has come to reflect on some of the hard work produced by our team. To begin, our team created a handful of valuable deliverables to pass on the Fayette County community such as an asset map, recorded interviews, and presentations which include all of our semester-long research organized in a presentable fashion. Our hope throughout the semester is that our work would lay the groundwork for future semesters, and thus our research efforts were intentionally planned so that future students on this project could: 1) build on our research 2) use of methodology to continue researching other towns in Fayette County and 3) continue nurturing the relationships within the community that our research group began to build. All of our research efforts this semester culminated into potential recommendations for the Connellsville community that would support economic and sustainable development. If I could waive my imaginary wand and immediately implement any of our suggested recommendations, I would suggest further beautification efforts. So far, the beautification efforts in Connellsville have begun to slowly transform the town into a more desirable location. Additionally, beautification is an inclusive and inexpensive way to bring the community together. Our research group already learned about how even the local high school has had the opportunity to participate in beautification efforts in Connellsville by making metal bird houses.
To be blatantly honest, my work with the ATP and my capstone’s focus on the Appalachian region have completely altered my perception of this region. It is a little difficult to separate the work I have done for this project from what I have learned in my political science capstone, but the in-person visits are helpful for evaluating and differentiating my work in class versus my work on ATP. Above all, I think the Appalachian region is grossly misunderstood by the general public and characterized in a way that I do not necessarily understand. One thing that surprised me about visiting Connellsville was the age of the general community, most of the people we met during our time being older. Understanding the age of the population is key to helping Fayette County with sustainable and economic development. As a younger crowd, some of our ideas were directed toward creating sustainable and economic development that would appease/attract a younger crowd. By creating relationships with citizens in Connellsville, we immediately understood how there was a disconnect between what Connellsville needed and what we wanted to do. Also, I was surprised by the sheer amount of effort put forth by the community to help rebuild the community to hopefully attract and retain a younger crowd- all of Connellsville seemed to be on board.
I would like to work in politics eventually, and I believe the research we conducted and the ideas we shared are grassroots for politics. I do not have a strong background in economic and sustainable development, therefore I found myself a little lost at a couple of points during the semester with this work. I do believe if we had not been the first group from Pitt then maybe I would have a better idea of how we are supposed to actually implement our ideas/recommendations. After I graduate, I hope to eventually attend law school so there would need to be an open position in a law firm or at the District Attorney’s office in order for me to work in Fayette County. This is an actual possibility since I know there are not many positions in the District Attorney’s office in bigger counties throughout PA. While it might not be the place I end up, I believe I would be open to recruitment for experience in towns such as Fayette County.
Hopefully, I will never be old and gray. But when, and if, I am – I will be very excited to share my college experience with my kids and grandkids (if I ever have any that is). I would tell them that college is all about embracing opportunities, and that in the fall of my senior year I was offered an opportunity too interesting to pass up. Next, I would describe the first couple of weeks we had meeting as a group and learning about the Appalachian region, Connellsville, and each other. When I talk about our first trip to Connellsville, I will tell my future family about how I got close to my peers and professors which made the project more enjoyable. Going into my senior year of college, I feel as though I missed out on many opportunities to make new friends within my classes which made me feel less connected to my class material. Making friends with the research group piqued my interest in the material and made me want to work harder to impress everyone in our group. I will most likely brush over the part where I have to admit I am a shy public speaker and the stressful weeks leading up to our in-person presentation where I had to stand up in front of a crowd and my peers. While it may sound cheesy, my favorite part of this whole project was watching my new friends present in Connellsville as I felt overcome with pride to be a part of a group like this one.
This course was unique compared to all of the other classes I have taken at Pitt. For one, I have never taken a course with the student-to-teacher ratio we had in our class. I think having multiple professors from different areas of study created a welcoming and inspiring environment for our class. I had the opportunity to meet professors and deans that I might have otherwise not come in contact with, and am grateful for this. I know I have already discussed how important the friend making aspect of this class was to me, but I want to mention that it was pleasantly different to meet students from other majors that I might have never crossed paths with if this class had never been created. The diversity of study in the classroom arguably added to the unique culture we created. Also, meeting once a week in a room that was situated like a meeting room as opposed to a classroom kept the environment upbeat yet professional. Lastly, I really felt as if the standout aspect of this course was the in-person aspect of traveling and opening dialogues with people from outside the classroom (like Michael and Dan). – it made the class feel more like I was a person functioning in the real world as opposed to a student participating in class.