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Spring 2023

Joseph Clement, "Discussion About Undergraduate Research in Appalachian Studies with Dr. Emily Satterwhite" [Synopsis]

Discussion Participants:

     Undergraduate research sounds intimidating. Working with a professor for upwards of four months on a specialized field of study doesn’t sound easy, or at times even possible. Just finding something to research can prove challenging. This seems especially true at a university as large as Virginia Tech. It’s easy to get lost in such a large population of students that all chase the same high academic standard. However, performing undergrad research is much less challenging than it looks at first glance.
     Dr. Emily Satterwhite has helped students engage in Appalachia Research projects for several years. Starting in 2021, her course has focused on promoting the renovation of Virginia’s Catawba Hospital. Amanda Ljuba got involved in this project in 2021, along with 11 other students. Virginia state delegate Sam Rasoul (serving the Roanoke area) workshopped with students to write legislation to repair the hospital. Amanda and her fellow students drafted a bill to conduct a feasibility study and sent it to Representative Rasoul and his lawyers. House Bill 105 was drafted and introduced into the Virginia House’s 2022 session.
     Brittney James signed up for Dr. Satterwhite’s class while waiting for the feasibility study to take place. Most of her and her classmates’ work consisted of keeping stakeholders updated in their project and maintaining interest by running social media accounts. Their new proposed bill, HB 2192, initially proposed renovation for the Catawba Hospital with a budget of $147 million. Again the bill passed unanimously in the House but died in the Finance and Appropriations Committee. In response, the proposed budget was reduced to $15 million. Dr. Satterwhite and Brittney are currently awaiting further decisions regarding the enactment of their bill.
     Brittney and Amanda both stated that their experience with Dr. Satterwhite was very helpful for their future careers. As a senior, Amanda has had several interviews as she prepares to graduate. Her experience doing literature reviews, community work, ethnographic research, and interacting with government officials has come up in all of her interviews. Typical undergraduate classes don’t teach students how to properly disseminate the results of their research beyond a presentation in class. Speaking with policymakers has given Amanda invaluable practice. Brittney is interested in getting her PhD, and said that her time performing a large project has prepared her well for this goal.

     As Brittney put it, “it’s called the humanities for a reason.” Performing research through CLAHS enables a hands on, human-centered approach to education. Humanities research helps students understand the experience of people from different cultures and backgrounds. With such a large population of students coming from Northern Virginia and Richmond, research opportunities like this give students the chance to encounter a new culture and to prepare with hands-on work for their future careers.
     Dr. Satterwhite’s class this fall will be focused on telling the untold stories of Appalachia through studying relevant monuments in the region. The practical work will remain similar – students will learn about a community and get to research a rich society. Students of all majors and backgrounds are both welcome and needed to properly conduct this project.

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