Hi! My name is Sophia Shapiro. I am a junior Urban Studies major at Pitt with minors in legal studies, education and public service and a civic engagement distinction. I am pursuing a career in public service, so it made sense to me to take on this challenge. I really am grateful for the opportunity to work with the Fayette County Cultural Trust, the Appalachian Teaching project and the Frederick Honors College, and to be able to really get to know a new community and use what I have the privilege to learn in school to help others.
I have always been really interested in applied research and getting involved outside of the classroom. I’m super excited to get going with my field work in Fayette County, PA.
This semester, aside from this interdisciplinary honors research course, I am a part of a course on the Appalachian Region with Dr. Glass, and when offered the opportunity to add a credit and take the academic knowledge and apply it to the real world, I could not pass that up. I am really looking forward to taking skills such as GIS that I have learned thus far and Pitt and implementing them for good cause.
In the Appalachian Region course we have been gaining a strong base of knowledge of the region and beginning to understand how it is governed and developed. We have examined theories behind regional governance and how the Appalachian Regional Commission uses a regional government structure to improve the area.
The Appalachian Region stretches across 13 states, 423 counties and spans 206,000 square miles. Over 25.7 million people in both rural and urban areas live within this large and diverse region and experience similar struggles of being in a left behind place. Some of the consequences of being left behind include increased poverty, economic disadvantage, lower education, relative economic decline, demographic shrinkage, neglect, discontent, and lack of civic assets and community facilities. And in an effort to deal with these issues, the Appalachian Regional Commision was created to serve as a de facto regional government that can play a key role in bringing progress to the areas and helping to boost the region’s economic performance.
One of the unique features of this region is that it is disproportionately rural, having a higher percentage of rural counties than the rest of the country. While these areas do struggle, they also hold tremendous assets. The region holds rich natural assets such as water, energy, agriculture and tons of outdoor recreation. Areas within the region also have great cultural assets like artisan communities, food and heritage. In addition to the tangible assets, these areas also have strong local governments and community based leadership. Understanding these assets and struggles inside the classroom is going to be crucial to informing our field research in Fayette County.