A team of Fairmont State University students traveled to Washington, D.C., earlier this month to present their research on economic sustainability in Helvetia, W.Va., through heritage tourism as part of the 2011 ARC Appalachian Teaching Project.
This was the only team of students from West Virginia selected to present in Washington, D.C. Tyler Chadwell, an English major at FSU from Fairmont; Ken Clutter, a respiratory care graduate of Pierpont Community & Technical College and current FSU student from Fairmont; Tiffany Martin, a history major at FSU from Clarksburg; Stephanie Shaffer, a biology major from Grafton; and Ryan Tacy, a criminal justice major from Fairmont, participated in a year-long research project and two classes to prepare for the presentation.
“The most wonderful part about the ARC and this teaching project is that we get to collaborate with students studying other communities. Even though the communities we represent are spread across the 10 states of the Appalachian region, we’re all facing the same issues and have similar opportunities,” Chadwell said.
“I like that this team brought us together from different disciplines. My major is biology, but for this project I had to learn about marketing. What I’ve learned from this project, I can apply to other classes,” Martin said.
The project is conducted through the Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center on the shared main campus of FSU and Pierpont. 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 2011-2012 academic year. FSU also received a $4,000 grant to assist with the purchase of materials and travel used for the presentation.
“What makes our project unique is that ours is based on the Roads to Appalachia Study Abroad program. We have traveled to Germany and Switzerland to be able to study the translation of these roots in America,” Byers said.
In the summer of 2011 the students participated in a study and travel abroad program through the Folklife Center called “Roads to Appalachia through Belgium and the Germanic Roots of Western Germany and Northern Switzerland.” The trip explored West Virginia’s connections to these root areas. All five students received scholarships to assist with their expenses for the program. In preparation for that trip, the students took a spring 2011 course.
As part of the largest and earliest ethnic population in America, the Germans settled in eastern and northern “western” (West) Virginia by the early to mid 18th century, primarily emigrating from the Rhineland-Palatinate region of western Germany. By the mid 19th century, German Swiss settlements were being made throughout central West Virginia, with the Aargau Region of Switzerland populating the small West Virginia mountain village of Helvetia. Among the heavy wave of settlers into Central Appalachia during the early 20th century’s Industrial Revolution, many glassworkers came from Belgian cities, such as Charleroi. Settling throughout West Virginia, these Europeans brought with them varied skills, traditions, customs, storytelling and other folkloric elements that are still being perpetuated in parts of Central Appalachia.
For their research project, the team of students worked through the Folklife Center and partnered with the Helvetia community to explore possible avenues to overcome the problem of geographic isolation.
“We worked really hard, and I hope that the village of Helvetia will be able to expand on the suggestions we have provided and apply them for what fits with them,” Shaffer said. “As visitors, we saw opportunities that they should take to further their development.”
The students built upon first person experiences from their 2011 trip, emphasizing visits to the Swiss regions from which the early Helvetia settlers originated. They studied ways in which these traditional roots may be used to connect the components of history, culture and tourism in modern Helvetia. They built on their immersion in a study of Swiss German culture (classroom experiences, site visit to Helvetia and various research concepts) to help Helvetia develop a greater sense of place and the cultural role used in heritage tourism. Students researched techniques used by isolated communities that have successfully overcome their geographical locations in promoting heritage tourism for the Helvetia Swiss village. In partnership with the various Helvetia community volunteer organizations, students will present their suggestions and findings.
“We attempt each time we conduct these projects to have long-term benefits to the community we study. We have worked more closely with Helvetia than any group in the past. We hope to make the exhibit we created available to the library archives in that community; the students’ presentation in Washington, D.C., was recorded and also will be shared. Next semester, the students will continue to share their research through presentations at Indiana University of Pennsylvania in March and the Celebration of Student Scholarship on campus in April,” Tenney said.
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 includes presentations from students representing 14 colleges and universities in 10 Appalachian states. 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.
For more information on the Appalachian Teaching Project, visit www.etsu.edu/cass/projects.
For more information on the Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center, visit http://www.fairmontstate.edu/folklife/.
About the photo:
Pictured from left to right are Noel W. Tenney, Tiffany Martin, Ryan Tacy, Stephanie Shaffer, Tyler Chadwell, Ken Clutter, Earl F. Gohl and Dr. Judy P. Byers.