Semester wraps up: thoughts on the ATP in Fayette County

All of our hard work this semester has been nicely organized into two through presentations, which we have tailored for our specific audiences. The presentation created for Connellsville formally introduces the Appalachian Teaching Project to the community and details our work from this semester. The Pitt branch of the ATP will hopefully be in a working relationship with Fayette County for the next ten or so years, so most of our work was intangible as we focused on laying foundations and creating community ties, but the presentations we curated demonstrate our efforts tangibly. One deliverable we were able to produce that was most certainly tangible was the Asset Map of Connellsville. After we had wrapped up our data collection, we decided it would be wise to focus exclusively on Connellsville for the semester being, because it was the only town we were able to visit in person. The idea is that the next group of students who work for the group next semester can visit a new town, perhaps Uniontown next, and repeat the process we pioneered. We found that the in-person visit was the most crucial element of creating the asset map, because it was the only way to discover what actually serves as an asset to the community. For example, if we had only done an internet search of the businesses in town, we would have never discovered that the Appalachian Creativity Center is far more than a craft store and actually is an important tie for businesses around town to join forces and work together. Our presentations also allowed us to express the ideas we had for Fayette County to consider in the future. If I could magically implement one of these ideas, it would be the windmills. While speaking to leaders within the community, it became evident that they are very prideful of the community’s honoring of natural resources, such as the rivers and trails. In an area that was once ruled by the coal industry and subject to much environmental damage, it would be amazing to reverse the trend and even become a leader in green energy and sustainability.

I’m honestly not too sure what my perception of the Appalachian region was before this semester. Country Roads was really the only indicator I had. I come from the suburbs, so when we visited for the first time, I was a little shocked at the feeling of isolation in small towns. Consequently, I was kind of coming into work this semester with a blank page. However, my perception now is very detailed. I loved having the opportunity to talk to community members themselves, and I felt as I was learning about them, I was learning about the region too. Now, I know about the resiliency of the region and the people. I feel that the Appalachian region is a little forgotten by the rest of the country, so they rose to the challenges of ignorance and advocated for themselves. The type of people I’ve met and heard about from the Appalachian region are the type of people whose perseverance and work ethic I’d like to emulate in my career and my life.

As of now, my focus remains on studying law and being able to advocate for people victim to the criminal justice system. However, this problem spans across the country and is definitely seen in Appalachia. And honestly, to a fresh college grad, the costs of living combined with the natural beauty of this region makes a pretty compelling case. 

When I am old and grey, I will 100% be repeating over and over how back in my day, we went into new communities ourselves and built connections and relationships by talking to people, face to face. I will tell them about how it felt to visit a new place, and feel a sense of belonging by the end of the day. Above all else, I will explain how this entire experience taught me the value of shared experience and shared space. One of my main takeaways was the unifying power of a hometown and just how strong that power can be. 

The political science major is very large and, for better or for worse, pretty vague. Almost every semester, each one of my courses was filled with new people and a new instructor I had never met. This was different from a lot of my peers; my roommate, for example, is an engineer and has been in classes with the same people since her freshman year. She tells me that they have all gotten to know each other well and have all been able to help each other along the way. The size and the unspecificity of the Political Science major has generally robbed me of the camaraderie, but this course made up for that. From the very first meeting, it was obvious that everyone was excited to be there and to become a team. And that’s what we did – the teamwork from this course has really stood out from any other course I took in college, and it was amazing to be a part of that. We were able to fuse all the different perspectives and experiences that each one of us brought to the table to create and become something bigger. 

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