A team of Fairmont State University students traveled to Washington, D.C., in December 2013 to present their tourism research as part of the 2013 ARC Appalachian Teaching Project. Their project focused on “Coal and Its Story: Development of a 21st Century Coal Community.”
The project explored whether the identification and promotion of North Central West Virginia Coal Heritage sites could provide economic stimulus within communities of North Central West Virginia by utilizing 21st century technologies to accent heritage tourism.
The project was conducted through the Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center. The students’ faculty mentors are Dr. Judy P. Byers, Director, and Noel W. Tenney, Cultural Specialist. The ARC designated Byers and Tenney as ARC Appalachian Teaching Fellows for the 2013-2014 academic year. FSU also received a $4,000 grant to assist with the purchase of materials and travel used for the presentation.
“This is the sixth year our proposal has been accepted and awarded the grant,” Byers said.
The FSU team -- the only team from West Virginia selected to present on the national level -- was comprised of undergraduate students Susan Carleton, Mike Barber, Christy Collins, Joanna Ross, Jaimie Turner and graduate student D. Jane Gilchrist. The students participated in a nine-month, intensive short course, local presentations and research to prepare for the Appalachian Teaching Project.
Their project centered on educating community partners to the potential of using social media tools (crowdsourcing) as a means of getting travelers to specific sites (wayfinding) and the value of these tools to enhance their individual missions, economic development and sustainability needs and to develop a greater awareness of the historical context of the region.
FSU students partnered with the Northern Appalachian Coal Mining Heritage Association (NACMHA), the Marion County Historical Society and the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Marion County.
“The support of our community partners was key to the success of our project. We hope that the information we gathered will be used to help promote the area and improve the traffic within the region,” Gilchrist said.
The students worked collaboratively with the community partners in focus groups; prepared and conducted a survey and interviews relating to tourism, technology usage and coal heritage; collected oral history; researched suggestions and made recommendations regarding development and implementation of a crowdsourcing strategy; conducted research into the development of a cohesive crowdsourcing plan for Marion County; created and monitored crowdsourcing tools (such as TripAdvisor and Yelp) for the community partners; utilized research in labeling community resources and designating their relationship to coal heritage for the incorporation in the future development of a Northern West Virginia Coal Heritage Trail; completed a review of literature and prepared an annotated bibliography of materials accessed; and used a multi-media approach to present suggestions to the community partners.
The team members will showcase their research findings with a tabletop display and multi-media presentation at the annual meeting of the CVB of Marion County in February 2014. They also will present a poster session at the annual Appalachian Studies Association Conference at Marshall University in Huntington in March 2014 and will present the research outcomes at the Celebration of Undergraduate Research at FSU in April 2014.
The purpose of the Appalachian Teaching Project is to provide college students the opportunity to engage in research projects that address endemic challenges facing Appalachian communities. Led by the Consortium of Appalachian Centers and Institutes, a coalition of Appalachian-studies organizations throughout the region, the program includes coursework and active student research on ways to build sustainable communities in Appalachia. This year’s conference included presentations from students representing colleges and universities in 11 Appalachian states and their constituent community. This participation strengthens critical leadership skills and engages young people as active participants in their communities.
“We are honored that Fairmont State University values this initiative, which offers students a unique opportunity to conduct active community research and present their findings to an audience of their peers and ARC administrators and staff,” said Earl F. Gohl, Federal Co-Chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission.
Cutline for the attached photo:
Pictured from left to right in the front row are D. Jane Gilchrist, Jaimie Turner, Christy Collins, Noel W. Tenney, Joanna Ross, Dr. Judy P. Byers and ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl F. Gohl.