By: Oliva Doyle
Started around 25 years ago by a group of sociology professors, the Appalachian Studies program at Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) focuses on analyzing the region as a place, identity, and academic discipline, and is offered in the form of a minor and certificate and can be added towards a degree of any kind. During that time, it has experienced a number of changes, from budget reallocations and other modifications. As a result, the program is not as well-known on campus as it once was. With the addition of a new coordinator, however, the program is experiencing a revamp and looking to offer opportunities for connection and collaboration within EKU and the community.
Professor of English and the new coordinator of Appalachian Studies Erin Presley is energetic about her new role in the program and looks forward to creating a bigger presence on campus, and reengaging students, faculty, and staff.
“One of the things I want to work on is expanding course offerings so that we are in more disciplines,” said Presley. “It’s a pretty good mix right now but we are pretty heavy in CLASS (College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences), so I’d like to build more interdisciplinary relationships.”
The Appalachian Studies program has many courses that are cross-listed with other disciplines on campus, but Presley is looking to add even more to the mix.
“The main thing is I want there to be more course options,” Presley said. “Some students have already taken all the classes so that’s proving a roadblock for students to be able to complete the minor in a timely fashion, so I want to eliminate that roadblock by having more.”
With heavy interdisciplinary coursework already in place and more being planned, this program will be able to reach more students with diverse interests.
“While they are all based in Appalachian Studies, you are also learning about other topics as well. If you’re like me and like doing things outside of your major it’s really nice to be able to do something different every once in a while,” said Maggie Camp, a senior psychology major with an Appalachian Studies minor.
The content taught in the program benefits a diverse population of students. Despite students’ knowledge of Appalachia, this program offers something for everyone.
“As an Appalachian, my county is recognized by the ARC, the Appalachian Regional Commission, and as an Appalachian there’s so much I didn’t know, so someone who’s not from Appalachia would have even more to learn than I could benefit from,” said Brandi Sears, a senior English major with an Appalachian Studies minor.
Along with enhanced coursework and the ability for larger student interest, Presley is hoping for enhanced student outreach and involvement outside of the classroom.
“On the student front, I’m going to bring back a student group. We are going to have a kickoff of that group in the spring, and really just want to connect with those students who come out to see what they want to do with the group,” said Presley.
Students will get to decide what they want the group to consist of, whether that be service projects to give back to the community or planning on-campus programming. Members of this group will have the ability to shape it into something that helps the Appalachian Studies program both on and off campus.
“I think it’s good for the campus as a whole because it really represents our service region of Eastern Kentucky, and we have so many students who are from this region,” Presley said. “I think it’ll be a way to build that community and offer more support for those students, so they feel more at home at EKU.”
A number of EKU’s students call the Appalachian region home, so more visibility of the program and continued services it provides can result in connection among students. Madison County is one of the 54 counties in Kentucky that help make up the Appalachian region as recognized by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC).
As an Appalachian native, Sears’ participation in the Appalachian Studies program has enhanced her knowledge and strengthened her connection to her community.
“It’s funny how you can grow up in a place your whole life and think you know a place, and think you know it’s people, and think you know it’s history and its culture, and then you start actually studying it and you find out that there’s a lot more to it that you absolutely had no idea about,” said Sears.
The revamping of the Appalachian Studies program offers opportunities for collaboration within the community, as well as ways to benefit both students and EKU’s campus in general.