Appalachian Collegiate Research Initiative

Hello! My name is Ava Keller and I am from Manhattan, New York. I am a junior majoring in Marketing & Business Information Systems pursuing a Certificate in Leadership & Ethics. I am concentrating my studies in psychology, which means that I am taking psychology classes alongside my required business classes whenever I can. Something unique about myself is that I lived and worked in Tel Aviv, Israel this past summer and that I am studying abroad in London next semester! Some fun facts about me is that I love outdoor activities, such as snowboarding, biking, surfing, running, and boating. On campus, I am involved in Alpha Kappa Psi professional business fraternity, as well as the American Marketing Association. My goal for this semester is to continue improving my personal and professional development, and taking initiative to learn more about various fields of business. 

This fall, I am one of twelve Pitt students who have been brought onboard the Appalachian Collegiate Research Initiative. The initiative is a 1-credit, multi-disciplinary research-based course and project where twelve students and four amazing faculty members are putting our heads together to enhance economic development in the Appalachian Region, specifically in Fayette County. I am one of three business students working on the project this semester. There are also three political science, three urban studies, and three engineering students. Working in a team of people with unique backgrounds, skills, and fields of study who share the same passion of helping the community grow is extremely important when working on a project of this magnitude and value. I am honored to have this opportunity to work towards strengthening the Appalachian Region as well as advancing my academic and professional experiences.

The University of Pittsburgh is not the only place where there is a team working on this community challenge. There are many other universities in the Appalachian Region that are working on the same thing. In fact, this is the third year that Pitt students have taken part in this research initiative. The project is supported by the David C. Frederick Honors College at Pitt as well as the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), and has a timeline/contract of ten years since it is such a monumental enterprise. 

The University of Pittsburgh team has two on-site visits planned to Fayette County, as well as a final presentation “poster session” at the Appalachian Regional Commission Conference in Washington, DC. During our on-site visits, we will be learning about the community, conducting research, constructing deliverables, and planning out how we are going to overcome our Appalachian Region obstacles. The semester-long project will teach us about the distinct history, challenges, and assets of the Appalachian Region. “Brain Drain” is a term that has been thrown around a lot when talking about the research initiative because it is something that we need to decrease in order to strengthen the Appalachian economy. “Brain Drain” refers to the emigration of intelligent people away from Fayette County/the Appalachian Region. Our job as student consultants is to develop a map of all of the amazing things the area has to offer (an asset map), enhance the region’s economic development, and hopefully make Fayette County and the Appalachian Region as a whole a place where people want to live permanently. As a team, the twelve of us will get to know the Appalachian community, produce ethical and responsible research, construct a Scope of Work document and deliverables, and finally present our complex products and findings to our client and the community at large. 

As mentioned before, one of my goals this semester is to continue improving my personal and professional skills as well as exploring various fields of business. As for my dream job, I want to combine my passions and interests of business, helping people, and teamwork into a career. At this moment, I am not exactly sure what this job looks like, but I know that by combining my personality, passions, skills and interests, I will be able to find a career where I will be doing something I love. The Appalachian Collegiate Research Initiative (ACRI) will help me not only pursue this goal, but also help me uncover new interests and passions that I don’t even know I have yet. 

I decided to join this project because I wanted real-life and real-client experience during my time in college while also making significant positive change, and this was the perfect opportunity. I feel strongly that as much as you can learn inside the classroom, you can learn even more outside the classroom. As a Certificate in Leadership & Ethics student who has already been exposed to experience-based learning, I know that this is an amazing way to learn and develop yourself. Through my CPLE classes, I have developed a passion for consulting, which will be applied and heightened this semester during the Appalachian project. Additionally, I have always enjoyed working in teams with individuals that have various backgrounds and ideas to eventually achieve a common goal. I also enjoy building strong relationships with others, which we will be doing with the Fayette County community clients as well as the Appalachian Regional Commission. One of my favorite parts about the Appalachian Collegiate Research Initiative is that we will be able to see the positive and tangible changes we have worked hard to make for the community. The Appalachian Research Initiative will broaden my understanding of and appreciation of consulting and helping others, while contributing to environmental sustainability and economic development. I am incredibly excited to start this project and see what we can do!

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