Tuesday, September 2, 2014

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Research Teams Win Grants at First Appalachian Prosperity Project Symposium

Four research teams of faculty, students and community partners were awarded venture grants as part of the first annual Appalachian Prosperity Project Symposium, held Friday at the University of Virginia.

Grantees will develop new knowledge around topics such as diabetes prevention, access to healthy food, youth development and environmental education. The event explored a confluence of ideas and innovation to expand prosperity in Southwest Virginia.

The Appalachian Prosperity Project is a collaborative partnership among the University of Virginia, U.Va.’s College at Wise, the Virginia Coalfield Coalition, the private sector, and the commonwealth of Virginia. The partnership uses a systems approach to advance the inextricably linked fields of education, health and business development.

Kim Tanzer, dean of U.Va.’s School of Architecture, welcomed participants to the inaugural Appalachian Prosperity Project Symposium.

“We are grateful to associate professor Suzanne Moomaw of the Department of Urban and Environmental Planning for affording us the opportunity to host this conference,” Tanzer said. “This event celebrates the joint work being done by partners at the University of Virginia, U.Va.’s College at Wise and Southwest Virginia in the areas of health, education and business development in the Appalachian region of Virginia.” 

As the partnership’s academic lead, Moomaw directs the Architecture School’s newly created Community Design and Research Center, established to identify the needs of underserved communities throughout the Commonwealth. 

Within the school’s cross-disciplinary theme of research and public service, Moomaw collaborated with colleagues in all four departments at the Architecture School – architecture, architectural history, landscape architecture, and urban and environmental planning – and the school’s Institute for Environmental Negotiation to create the Community Design and Research Center. The center not only focuses resources and research from within the School of Architecture, but also serves as a home for collaborators across Grounds.

“The new research center will be a space to initiate and generate research and design applications that connect faculty, students and community members in projects aimed at addressing systemic local, regional, national and global challenges,” Tanzer said.

The support of the Office of the President has been prominent throughout both the Appalachian Prosperity Project and the development of the Community Research and Design Center. As evidence of that support, Pace Lochte, assistant to the president and director of Regional Economic Development, followed Tanzer’s opening remarks with an overview of the project and the day’s symposium.

In announcing the grant recipients, Lochte said, “These projects exemplify the Appalachian Prosperity Project’s goal of using classroom learning and research to address complex societal challenges, as defined by residents of Southwest Virginia.”

The awarded grants for 2013-14 include:

  • The Health Department in Wise will work with a team from U.Va.’s School of Nursing to improve health outcomes by developing strategies to increase access to healthy food.
  • The town of Grundy will partner with a class in the School of Architecture to design a new comprehensive teen center for the town.
  • Students from U.Va and U.Va.’s College at Wise will join with regional organizations in launching the Clinch River Youth Coalition to engage young people in the cultural and environmental heritage of the river.
  • Working with the Health Wagon Inc. in Southwest Virginia, the U.Va. Center for Telehealth will provide educational support for healthy eating strategies to those with or at risk for diabetes.

“These deep and far-reaching challenges of the Appalachian region of Virginia have been called the ‘wicked’ problems of society,” Tanzer said. “They include issues pertaining to human settlements, sustainable ecosystems, poverty, food and health inequities, economic development, income disparity, cultural and historical preservation and restoration, and social equity and justice.” 

“Our partnership is authentic and productive,” said Marcia Quesenberry, associate vice chancellor for strategic planning and projects at U.Va.’s College at Wise. “Working together we have made significant progress in improving access to health care in the region and have seen the power of this partnership.”

The symposium also featured a keynote address by Todd Christensen, former deputy director of the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development and executive director of the Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Foundation.

Also, Dr. Karen Rheuban, senior associate dean of U.Va.’s School of Medicine, professor of pediatrics and director of the Center for Telehealth, led a session on telemedicine in Appalachia, and Jean Haskell, former Whisman Scholar, Appalachian Regional Commission and co-editor of “The Encyclopedia of Appalachia” presented a breakout discussion entitled “Harvesting the Table: Food Heritage, Place, and Economy.”

Additional presentations and sessions covered topics such as 3-D printing, diabetes education and the Clinch River Valley Initiative. Students pursuing independent research projects related to Southwest Virginia also had the opportunity to showcase their work.

“The Appalachian Prosperity Project has already had a positive impact in my community,” said Glen “Skip” Skinner, executive director of the LENOWISCO (covering city of Norton and Lee, Scott and Wise counties) Planning District Commission and project partner. “In the town of Appalachia, we are bringing design faculty and students together with town leaders to leverage our natural assets and boost tourism.”

According to Moomaw, this symposium presented a new generation of research projects and connections among the Appalachian Prosperity Project partners, and ideas around 3-D printing applications, eco-tourism and better health outcomes generated during the event will undoubtedly inspire new directions for continued research and partnership.

“This partnership is definitely a win-win for the community and students, and it’s bringing a new sense of urgency to the issues at hand,” Skinner said.

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