Appalachian Collegiate Research Initiative 2023

My name is Zoe Spaide (she/her), and I am a senior Environmental Studies major at the University of Pittsburgh, where I am also pursuing a certificate in Sustainability. As I approach my graduation in December of this year, I am filled with excitement about the opportunities and experiences my final semester will bring. Something unique about myself is that I have a paper getting published to a journal next month! Last semester I had the opportunity to write a policy recommendation paper with four other students in my Environmental Law and Policy class. This paper focuses on bycatch mitigation strategies in the Gulf of Alaska and is set to be published in the Journal of Science Policy & Governance in mid-October 2023.

The Appalachian Collegiate Research Initiative (ACRI) is a multidisciplinary, research-based program funded and organized by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). ACRI involves several universities from the Appalachian region, including the University of Pittsburgh. Our shared goal is to support economic development in our communities through various projects. The University of Pittsburgh’s ACRI project focuses on Fayette County, Pennsylvania. I am part of a group of undergraduate students, led by faculty team leaders, from various backgrounds that will complete community-based research in Fayette County. This research will build upon efforts of Pitt students that have worked on the project in the last two years. Our team encompasses a wide range of expertise, including business, political science, engineering, and environmental studies/science. This interdisciplinary approach is crucial for addressing the complex developmental issues that Appalachia faces. Throughout the semester, we will take two trips to Fayette County, where we will engage with local leaders, conduct surveys and/or focus groups, and gather data on local opinions and needs. This information, combined with ongoing research, will be used to complete an asset map for Fayette County. This resource will help identify assets in and around the county, facilitating economic development efforts that will contribute to the University of Pittsburgh’s ten-year commitment to the initiative. The project’s long-term nature sets it apart from typical college projects that often end with the conclusion of a semester. I find it exciting that I get to leave my legacy on a project that will continue for years to come. This extended commitment adds significant meaning and weight to the work, making it a unique and impactful endeavor. The hope is that the project will make a real difference in the lives of Fayette County residents and serve as a model for addressing economic challenges in the broader Appalachian region. I grew up in a small rural town in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, so I have a special place in my heart for places like Fayette County, and I truly do hope that the University of Pittsburgh is able to make a meaningful difference there over the span of the project. I view this project as a worthwhile and meaningful endeavor, representing a collaborative effort to revitalize and strengthen the local community.

My current professional aspirations involve forging a career in environmental education, primarily within the nonprofit or public sector. My aim is to actively participate in projects that inform and engage communities on urgent environmental issues and the advantages of sustainable practices. While I am still in the process of refining my ideal position, my overarching objective remains consistent: to have a meaningful impact on my community and contribute to a more sustainable and environmentally conscious society. The Appalachian Collegiate Research Initiative (ACRI) project aligns seamlessly with my career objectives in environmental education, community engagement, and sustainability. This community-driven research endeavor presents a distinctive opportunity to directly interact with the local community, addressing their developmental challenges and imparting knowledge about environmental issues and sustainable methods. The project’s specific focus on advancing economic development in Fayette County through continuous research and data collection resonates with my commitment to sustainability as an integral component of community growth. Moreover, the project’s extended timeline offers the potential for a long-lasting influence and legacy, mirroring my ambition to make a significant contribution to my community. Having grown up in a similar rural environment, I am particularly enthusiastic about the prospect of effecting real change in Fayette County and serving as a model for addressing economic and environmental issues across the broader Appalachian region. My involvement in ACRI offers valuable opportunities to enhance my skill set and resume, which are essential for future career prospects. Throughout this project, I will gain hands-on experience in community-based research, data collection, and engagement with local leaders—critical skills for environmental educators. Collaborating with a multidisciplinary team demonstrates my ability to apply diverse knowledge to solve complex issues effectively. The project’s emphasis on long-term commitment and its potential to create a lasting impact showcase my dedication to sustainability and community development, further enhancing my professional profile as I pursue opportunities within the nonprofit or public sectors. My personal connection to communities like those in Fayette County reinforces my genuine passion for making a meaningful difference in similar regions, which can be a compelling aspect of my professional identity.

I enthusiastically joined the Appalachian Collegiate Research Initiative (ACRI) through Pitt’s Sustainability Capstone class. ACRI was my top choice of the five projects we were given the opportunity to work on throughout the semester. This decision was driven by a strong alignment between the project’s goals and my current professional aspirations/experience. Over the past two years, I’ve dedicated myself to serving as a Program Coordinator at Sustainable Energy Education and Development Support (SEEDS) of Northeastern Pennsylvania, an environmental nonprofit in my hometown. In that role, a significant portion of my responsibilities revolved around fostering meaningful relationships with the local community. The valuable skills I acquired, including effective communication, adept management, and interpersonal skill, seemed tailor-made for ACRI’s objectives. I am eager to apply and further refine these skills while contributing to this project, which holds the promise of making a real difference in our region’s sustainable future. I’m excited to see what the results of this project will be as well as the things I will learn and the people I will meet while working on it!

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