ETSU students participate in Appalachian Teaching Project

Published 9:17 am Thursday, December 24, 2020

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JOHNSON CITY – The Appalachian Teaching Project (ATP), an applied research academic program training college and graduate students to design community-based economic development initiatives across the Appalachian region, celebrated its 20th anniversary this year.
 Supported by Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and organized by the Center of Excellence for Appalachian Studies and Services (CASS) at East Tennessee State University, participating schools offer a directed seminar guiding students in developing and executing field-based research projects specific to the needs of their surrounding communities and in alignment with ARC’s investment priorities. Students receive college credit for participating in ATP.
 As a capstone to this course, students present their work to other student delegations from ATP participating institutions, ARC leadership and community leaders in a formal, peer-to-peer conference setting hosted by ARC.
 Last month, the Appalachian Regional Commission hosted 150 students from 13 regional colleges and universities for the 20th annual ATP Conference. For the past 19 years, the conference was held in Washington, D.C., where students had the opportunity to meet with policy leaders and learn more about the city. However, this year’s event was held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
 “Students have had to face unprecedented obstacles this year, and I am pleased that so many participated in this important program that focuses on benefitting the people of the Appalachian region by designing innovative economic development projects,” said ARC Federal Co-Chairman Tim Thomas. “The 13 institutions participating in this year’s program are key partners developing the next generation of Appalachian leaders.”
 Presentations this year focused on substance use disorders and the economy, community development during the COVID crisis, and asset development as an economic development strategy in Appalachia. Summaries of each research project are available at
 During a conference segment focused on “Community Development: Adapting to COVID,” ETSU students from Dr. Rebecca Adkins Fletcher’s Appalachian Community Development course delivered a presentation on “RISE Erwin: Unicoi County’s Rise Toward Sustainable Economic Development.”
 As part of the project, ETSU continued its multi-year partnership with the community development group RISE Erwin to promote development initiatives in the town of Erwin in Unicoi County.
 Using a combination of in-person and virtual meetings with RISE Erwin members, the ETSU students looked at the group’s origin, current and future activities and plans, and concerns and opportunities regarding asset-building and economic sustainability in a changing economic landscape. The students placed oral histories from this work with economic impact data for Unicoi County and Northeast Tennessee and evaluated RISE Erwin’s economic and community impact. The ETSU students also examined the impact of COVID-19 on the community and evaluated local business and community responses to the pandemic.
 After gaining a better understanding of the community and the needs described by RISE Erwin members, the ETSU students created a report to assist RISE in evaluating its history, progress, current challenges and possible next steps. This project was designed to provide important data for future planning, grant applications and long-term sustainable economic development initiatives in the community.
 The ETSU students participating in the course were Victoria Hewlett and Timothy Holder, both of Elizabethton; Wilbur Massey, Johnson City; Thomas Jutz, Nashville; Keith Reed, Colorado Springs, Colorado; Megan Duff, Grays Knob, Kentucky; Sophia Chambers, Kansas City, Missouri; Emily Dingler, Holly Ridge, North Carolina; and Savannah Bennett, Iron Station, North Carolina.
 In addition to ETSU, participating institutions this year included Alfred (New York) State College; Auburn University; Fairmont (West Virginia) State University; Frostburg (Maryland) State University; Indiana University of Pennsylvania; Ohio University; Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College; Union College, Kentucky; University of North Georgia; University of Pittsburgh at Bradford; University of Tennessee-Knoxville; and Virginia Tech.
 Dr. Ron Roach, director of CASS and the ATP, stated, “It is a great privilege for ETSU to be able to administer the ATP. There is no other program quite like this that connects local communities throughout the region with college and university faculty and students, and with the ARC. The students also gain invaluable leadership and communication skills by presenting their research at a national conference.”
 Since 2001, over 2,500 undergraduate and graduate students from across Appalachia have participated in the ATP. Many program alumni have gone on to careers in public service, community development and other related fields across the region.
 CASS was founded in 1984 and includes the Regional Resources Institute, the Archives of Appalachia and the Reece Museum. In addition to the ATP, each summer CASS offers the Governor’s school in the Scientific Exploration of Tennessee Heritage.
 CASS is part of ETSU’s Department of Appalachian Studies, which offers a wide range of programs, including a master’s degree in Appalachian Studies; graduate certificates in Appalachian Studies and in Heritage Interpretation and Museum Studies; the Appalachian, Scottish and Irish Studies program with summer study abroad; and several undergraduate minors, including Environmental Studies, Old-Time Music, and Scottish and Irish Traditional Music. The Department also includes the renowned Bluegrass, Old-Time and Country Music Studies Program. Online courses are available.
 The ARC is an economic development agency of the federal government and 13 state governments focusing on 420 counties across the Appalachian region. ARC’s mission is to innovate, partner and invest to build community capacity and strengthen economic growth in Appalachia to help the region achieve socioeconomic parity with the nation.

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