Project Abstract

The purpose of this project is to gather data on the post secondary experiences of young adults in Grundy County. Data collection will be accomplished through a community based participatory research project that enlists students from the POLS210B Politics of Poverty and Inequality course in a community engagement experience working with community partners. We will work with Grundy County high school, and Emily Partin, Director of the Grundy County Schools’ Family Resource Center. Telephone and online interviews with Grundy County high school alum will generate data that can inform evaluations of existing programs at the high school, and the structure and content of future initiatives aimed at enhancing post secondary resources and supports on the Mountain.

Project Alignment with the Collaborative for Southern Appalachian Studies

Upon final approval by the Curriculum and Academic Policy Committee, POLS210 Politics of Poverty and Inequality will contribute to the proposed minor in Southern Appalachian Studies. Two sections of the course will be offered each year serving as an important contribution to the minor from the social sciences generally and political sociology in particular. While adding a community engagement (CE) component to any class is extremely time consuming, it seems essential that as many courses as possible in the minor have a CE component. Students will gain exposure to survey research methods, and be able to evaluate and assess the results of the project upon completion, reflecting on how the data support or refute dominant narratives around rural youth aspirations, and challenges in achieving individual life goals. This community engagement learning experience enriches student’s academic understanding of poverty and inequality in rural v. no n rural contexts, and supports important learning objectives of the course including the role of government actors and institutions in education programming, identifying factors which predict variation in the college going and completion rates of rural youth, and understanding the factors that impede rural resident’s access to services.

Project Impact

Many of the University of the South’s community engagement programs and partnerships work with local community organizations and the public schools to develop, co-create, or support a number of existing programs that seek to boost learning outcomes by enriching K-12 learning and educational opportunities on the Cumberland Plateau. However, students who persist to high school graduation face myriad challenges in advancing to and successfully completing a two or four year technical school or college degree. A college support resource center or similar programming could play a key role in facilitating a successful college going experience for young adults attending a broad range of postsecondary institutions, and could also be a locus of enrichment and support for current middle and high school students with college aspirations, and with whom Sewanee Bonner, Canale, and VISTA volunteers have worked. We hope to use data collected through t his collaborative research project to inform the future direction of a college resource support center, or similar programs, as well as inform narratives for grant proposals that may be necessary to fund the resource center.

Over 30 students will be involved in the current CE project. Given that POLS210 will be offered each year, there are many potential future projects in the area of increasing college access and success, in which Sewanee students could be involved. The ongoing participation of Sewanee students in such projects is appealing for a number of reasons, not least of which is the obvious connection between what Sewanee is and does as an institution of higher education, and the vast inequality gaps in access to higher education among large numbers of rural youth. Current students in POLS210 are enthusiastic about the chance to participate in an applied and meaningful project that might contribute to increasing understanding of the antecedents of this inequality gap, and inform options for addressing existing inequities.

Final Report

Schneider & Partin Present Findings at 2018 Rural Policy Research Institute Conference