There is no place like home when it comes to the Appalachian studies minor offered at Virginia Tech.
The minor offers a path of study about the location where the Hokies reside. The Appalachian region is 205,000 square miles that run along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains, from southern New York to northern Mississippi, as defined by the Appalachian Regional Commission, or ARC.
Included in this region is the entirety of West Virginia, along with portions of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
The Appalachian studies minor, created 27 years ago, gives students a chance to learn about significant issues in the region, such as cultural variation, environmental destruction, representational politics, as well as the various lifestyle practices between societies and different racial, gendered, ethnic and regional groups.
As the region includes 13 states, students who take courses offered in the minor learn about a culture that is not limited to a small stretch of land or area.
“The courses vary their focuses from music to ecology of Appalachia,” said Shasta Sowers, a junior agricultural sciences major and Appalachian studies minor.
Anita Puckett, an associate professor and director of the Appalachian studies program, said what students gain from the minor far transcends knowledge of one
“While the focus is on the specific region of Appalachia, what students learn is applicable internationally as well because of its emphasis on a critical self-awareness of human differences and the significance of place,” Puckett said. “(Students) say they have been better able to interact with those who come from different backgrounds than their own and are more flexible in new cultural situations.”
The program can also compliment other majors and minors.
Hayley Potts, a freshman human nutrition, foods and exercise major, is currently enrolled in introduction to Appalachian studies because she has family from Gap Mills, W.V., a portion of the Appalachian region.
“I really enjoy learning about the culture and history behind the area my family is from and wanted to take the opportunity to be in a regional studies class like this,” Potts said.
Appalachian studies also has room for undergraduate research and experiences outside of the classroom.
The department participates in the Appalachian Teaching Project each year, which is funded by the ARC. Through the project, students conduct undergraduate research and present their findings to the ARC, along with other Appalachian studies departments from 14 schools around the region.
This year’s research topic was “Cultural Factors Impacting Food Sustainability Initiatives in the New River Valley, Virginia,” and involved students working with local farmers in the region.
“It was one of the most important, yet unique learning opportunities that I’ve ever had because I was able to conduct research on my two favorite topics: agriculture and Appalachian culture,” Sowers said.