Appalachian Regional Resilience: ACRI Fall 2023 Introduction

Hello! My name is Erin Horter, and I am a senior at the University of Pittsburgh with majors in Political Science and Psychology and a minor in Spanish. This is my last semester as an undergraduate! I am beyond grateful for my experiences thus far with Pitt, and I look forward to another great semester. One unique fact about me is that I have performed in an orchestra in five European countries!

I learned about ACRI and their work though my political science Capstone course: The Politics of Appalachia. I have not studied Appalachia in any of my prior courses, so I am eager to learn more about the region in both the classroom and on the field. The ACRI (Appalachian Collegiate Research Initiative) allows students from various universities in Appalachia to conduct research about the region and present their findings to the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). The University of Pittsburgh conducts their work in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, which is south of Pittsburgh/Allegheny County. Using community-engaged research methods, students and faculty will conduct research on “brain drain” in Appalachia. Many investors and major developers have divested from Appalachia, a once thriving industrial production hub, to instead invest in up-and-coming cities. With limited job opportunities and sustainable federal support, many residents of Appalachia are struggling to find stability and connectedness with the rest of the country.

Pitt’s ACRI sector aims to prioritize the perspectives of Appalachian community leaders and members in order to revitalize local innovation. Our trips to the Touchstone Center for Crafts near Farmington, PA will allow us to gather data on local sentiments to present to the ARC in Washington, D.C. My hope is that our research will help fund individuals and groups in Fayette County with academic/entrepreneurial innovation projects. I also hope that this work brings light to the value of community-engaged research when studying regional policy and development. Considering the deepening political and cultural divides between rural and urban regions, in large due to out-migration and exogenous economic interventions, there is a dire need for change. The future of regional development means actualizing the social and economic goals of the community before introducing external influences.

As for my personal career goals, I have developed a strong passion for urban public policy during my time at Pitt. I have interests in housing, drug and alcohol, and education policy, but I am most interested in immigration policy in the United States. I was very fortunate to intern with Episcopal Migration Ministries this summer, one of the ten national refugee resettlement agencies in contract with the Department of State. I plan to obtain a Master’s degree in either Public Administration/Public Policy to further my career in immigration policy analysis and service provision. My end goal would be to work with an esteemed non-profit or government agency to help develop more humane and accessible migrant support services. There is still a lot of uncertainty in my future, and I am completely open to changes in my career goals as I gain more field experience and continue my studies.

I believe that the community-engaged research model of this project I will be extremely beneficial to my career goals. I aspire to work with an agency that holds similar values to ACRI, just in an urban context. By speaking to immigrants and refugees directly, both local and federal government agencies would gain insight as to where their policy designs succeed and fail in the goal of providing regulated immigration services. The terrible conditions in ICE and similar facilities are impossible to ignore, with much of the malpractice being exposed by the individuals who have lived through these experiences. Continuing field research about immigration and detainment processes is an effective way to prevent human rights violations and ensure accountability. I still have a lot to learn about how community-engaged research works, but I am ready to start with an open mind. I also believe that the presentation aspect of this project will be beneficial regardless of what career path I embark on. Being able to conduct, analyze, and present research findings is a vital skill, especially when the research is qualitative rather than quantitative. I have yet to create a formal research poster to present in a venue outside of the University, so I look forward to learning new skills in this process.

I decided to join this project in order to expand my horizons on how I conceptualize research and regional politics. I went into this course knowing that this is not an area of expertise for me, and I expect to encounter difficulties along the way. However, the faculty advisors for this project have fantastic repertoires, and I feel confident they will be amazing mentors to my peers and me. In my last semester as a undergrad, I wanted to take advantage of the great research opportunities Pitt provides to students. There are many transferrable skills I expect to take away from this experience. As mentioned above, I believe the community-engaged research model experience will be extremely useful in my future research endeavors. Whether I decide that this form of research is one I continue to pursue or not, I believe all students should engage in research outside of the conventional, classroom-centerd model. I expect to improve my writing and public speaking skills throughout the course as well. Practice writing in a concise, clear, and convincing manner is always helpful. In order to analyze policies and publish my findings, I need to refine my writing skills from an undergraduate level to a professional standard of quality. I also hope to improve my networking skills. Now that I am entering the final stages in my academic career, I want to explore the works of various organizations whom I could see myself supporting in the future.

To conclude, I want to reiterate my gratitude for ACRI and the Frederick Honors College. Before I fully committed to joining this project, I was instantly impressed by the past work ACRI has achieved. In my summer internship final meeting, I expressed my interest in this project to my primary supervisor. What I didn’t know at the time was that she is a born-and-raised Appalachian native, and she told me how passionate she was about the region and her home. That was my final push to join this project. I want to make sure that people like her, those who care so deeply about the place they call home, know that they are not forgotten and that their voices matter. I cannot wait to update this blog with my experiences, challenges, and successes this semester!

Until next time,


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