RRI Seed Grant recipients share research outcomes

BOONE, N.C. — In Fall 2021, Appalachian State University's Department of Rural Resilience and Innovation (RRI), the newest department in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), announced RRI Seed Grants to support research or service-learning class collaborations up to $5,000. The committee welcomed proposals that incorporated a transdisciplinary approach to work on at least one of three grand innovation challenges that face rural American communities today and in the future: rural health and vitality; sustainable, resilient growth and continuity; and rural-urban interdependence, agency and shared knowledge.

In the end, four teams were awarded RRI Seed Grants and one was awarded a seed grant from App State's Research Institute for Environment, Energy and Economics. The teams presented the outcomes of their projects at the 2022 Research and Creative Activity at Appalachian (ReCAPP) event held on October 21, 2022:


Addiction and Recovery in Rural Western North Carolina: A Community-Based Project

Dr. Cameron Lippard, Department Chair and Professor, Department of Sociology

Drug overdose deaths are at an all-time high in rural areas, and a quarter of rural Americans identify drug abuse as the most urgent health problem facing their communities. The issue is especially pronounced in rural Appalachia, the "epicenter" of the opioid epidemic. To strengthen community partnerships addressing drug addiction and recovery, more work is needed to understand inequalities among African American and LatinX communities. Through a collaborative community partnership with the non-profit Wilkes Recovery Revolution (WRR), Dr. Cameron Lippard and App State Department of Sociology students conducted a community-based research project to facilitate diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) workshops and assess African American and LatinX views on addiction and recovery in Wilkes County, North Carolina.

The team facilitated three workshops to learn and discuss definitions, values and strategies related to DEI work within community agencies. In total, 45 people participated in the workshop. The workshops led to the creation of a DEI committee for WRR, which includes representation from App State. Since holding the workshops, Lippard has received requests to hold more DEI workshops for other agencies in Wilkes County.

Additionally, students developed a survey that was available in both an online and in-person format and featured questions focusing on knowledge, services and barriers. The team used a quote sampling method to target and collect data from African American and LatinX community members and canvassed in minority-identified residential and business areas. In the end, they received 100 responses (50 African American and 50 LatinX respondents). Across both groups, respondents indicated little knowledge about available services. Both groups also reported barriers to healthcare with African American individuals citing perceived racial exclusion/isolation and LatinX individuals emphasizing immigration status and language barriers. However, African American respondents felt that addiction was prevalent in the community, while LatinX respondents did not perceive addiction as a problem in Wilkes.

Lippard and his team are currently conducting focus groups with community leaders, co-facilitated by App State and WRR. These in-depth group discussions are digitally recorded and transcribed and will be included in the final report to provide additional context to the survey results. Early discussions indicate confusion about what addiction and recovery are, little knowledge about addiction services, and racist and structural issues that prevent non-White community members from seeking treatment.

So far, the results highlight the importance of race and rurality to questions of addiction and recovery. The workshops indicated that community organizations need - and want - assistance with pursuing DEI-related work. While these results are meaningful, Lippard emphasized that additional work is necessary to translate the assessment findings into sound best practices/policies and expand services to isolated, minority communities.


Assessing Influencing Factors of Resilience and Quality of Life in Rural Registered Nurses in North Carolina

Rebecca Liljestrand, Clinical Instructor, Department of Nursing
Sarah Martin, Clinical Instructor, Department of Nursing

Dr. Rebecca Turpin, Associate Professor, Department of Nursing
Heather Venrick, Clinical Instructor, Department of Nursing

Dr. Rebecca Turpin and her team set out to survey registered nurses working in hospitals across rural northwestern North Carolina about their quality of life, resilience levels and strategies and influencing factors on resilience to inform the development of future resilience plans. RRI Seed Grant funding was used to compensate respondents for their time.

The team began by developing the survey instrument. While initially planning to measure burnout among nurses, the team decided that emphasis should be on resilience and quality of life instead. In addition to a demographic questionnaire, the survey included two instruments: the Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale (CD-RISC) and the World Health Organization Quality of Life Questionnaire - BREF (WHOQOL-BREF). The CD-RISC evaluates resilience based on 10 items, while the WHOQOL-BREF evaluates quality of life based on 26 items.

The surveys were disseminated to registered nurses living in rural northwestern North Carolina and 211 responses were received from hospital-employed nurses at 23 rural hospitals in NC. On average, respondents were 44.1 years old, worked 37.3 hours per week and had served 16.5 years as a registered nurse. 87.2% of respondents were female, 12.8% were male and 1% identified as another gender.

The mean summed score of the CD-RISC instrument was 31.7. The results indicated that the respondents' resilience was comparable with the general population in the United States and slightly higher than in a pre-pandemic study of midwestern hospital nurses.

The preliminary results of the WHOQOL-BREF instrument revealed a mean personal health score of 4.4 out of 5 and a mean satisfaction with health score of 3.7 out of 5, revealing only moderate satisfaction regarding overall health. The survey further broke down health satisfaction into four domains: physical, psychological, social relationships and environment. Of these, respondents scored lowest in psychological health (71/100), highlighting a potential area for intervention. Future analysis of correlational data and qualitative data will be undertaken to determine if additional associations exist between demographic variables and resilience, or quality of life and to determine preferred interventional strategies for building resilience.


Grassroots Sustainability and Resiliency in Appalachia: Protecting Regional Watersheds and Growing Local/Global Environmental Knowledge

Dr. Savannah Paige Murray, Assistant Professor, Department of English
Dr. Julie Shepherd-Powell, Assistant Professor, Department of Interdisciplinary Studies

Using community-based research methods, Dr. Julie Shepherd-Powell and Dr. Savannah Paige Murray investigated the connection between local and global issues of environmental sustainability and resilience with communities fighting the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), a 303-mile natural gas pipeline being constructed through West Virginia and Virginia. The construction of the pipeline continues to threaten the health of watersheds in the region, increasing sedimentation through erosion and posing risks to endangered aquatic life.

To learn more about the MVP, Shepherd-Powell and Murray went on three research trips and conducted in-person and virtual oral history interviews with landowners in southwest Virginia, professors at regional universities, staff members of the grassroots environmental non-profit Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights (POWHR), and other concerned citizen groups. Informal conversations and participant observations at public rallies and workshops also informed the study.

Students in Shepherd-Powell's Spring 2022 "Political Ecology of Appalachia" course spoke with POWHR staff members to co-construct a mutually beneficial project for communities fighting the MVP. On a class field trip to southwest Virginia, students conducted and recorded interviews with community members who shared what they loved about their communities and their concerns about the MVP. Students accompanied community members to visit and photograph proposed sites for the MVP.

The project's outcomes were three videos featuring POWHR members Robin Austin, Mary Beth Coffey and Grace Terry and a story map titled "Mapping Stories Along the Mountain Valley Pipeline." While the creation of a story map was not in the original plan, POWHR expressed a need for an item that could be shared on a variety of platforms to spread awareness about the MVP. The students worked together to build the map, which features introductory information, a map of the pipeline route, a timeline of events, quotes from interviews with community members and photographs. View the map here.

Earlier this year, an attempt to approve all of the pipeline's permits was rejected by Congress. Currently, the MVP must undergo more review, which is a success for those fighting against it. Shepherd-Powell is honored that her team was able to play a role in raising awareness about the MVP by sharing the stories of those who are affected by it the most.


Regional Public Sector Organizations and Their Roles in Rural Broadband Deployment

Dr. Jennifer Luetkemeyer, Associate Professor, Department of Leadership and Educational Studies
Dr. Jay Rickabaugh, Assistant Professor, Department of Government and Justice Studies

A Regional Public Sector Organization (RPSO) is an entity that meets three criteria: the membership is comprised of primarily local governments; it has a charter, bylaws or other governing documents; and it has a professional staff dedicated to the organization. Particularly for low-capacity rural local governments and school districts, RPSOs can provide economies of scale to undertake pertinent functions such as grant writing, compliance and reporting. Additionally, RPSOs are likely to have long standing relationships with other RPSOs in the region, state and federal partners, philanthropic foundations and regional private sector entities like chambers of commerce. To date, little research has focused on rural RPSOs, including how their leaders perform and how they interact with one another. Dr. Jay Rickabaugh and Dr. Jennifer Luetkemeyer explored how RPSOs influence broadband deployment, particularly digital literacy, in rural North Carolina.

Successful regional rural broadband deployment requires coordination among local governments (including school districts), access to philanthropic and state/federal resources, partnerships with the private sector and community organizations, technical expertise, and implementation experience–all these factors combined make it an excellent opportunity to investigate how RPSOs assist in rural regions. Drs. Rickabaugh and Luetkemeyer focused first on a program that partnered the Southwestern Commission Area Agency on Aging with the Fontana Regional Library System. To determine how these RPSOs coordinated their activities to implement rural broadband and enhance digital literacy, Rickabaugh and Luetkemeyer conducted interviews with key informants.

The researchers found that federal fund availability increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, presenting opportunities to innovate and reach new communities. The Fontana Regional Library System serves Jackson, Macon and Swain counties; they initially partnered with K-12 and community college students to provide hotspots for internet access. When students returned to in-person schooling, Fontana Regional Library system repurposed returned hotspots and received State Library System funding to provide Chromebooks and digital literacy programming to senior citizens. The Fontana Regional Library System partnered with the Area Agency on Aging to reach more seniors and in the end, 60 seniors participated in the programming.


Expanding Agricultural Entrepreneurship and Employment for Veterans Through Community Partnerships

Dr. Tammy Kowalczyk, Professor, Department of Accounting
Dr. Maureen MacNamara, Associate Professor, Department of Social Work

Dr. Elizabeth Shay, Associate Professor, Department of Geography and Planning

Dr. Tammy Kowalczyk, Dr. Maureen MacNamara and Dr. Elizabeth Shay work together to address rural sustainable development and resilience at the intersection of business, social work and planning. Recently, the team established a collaboration with Frontline to Farm (FtF), a project featuring App State faculty and students from the departments of Sustainable Development and Communication. FtF's goal is to help military veterans and beginning farmers get started in sustainable farming as a livelihood through educational modules, hands-on training, internships, networking and other learning opportunities.

With support from App State's Research Institute for Environment, Energy and Economics, the team set out to explore how rural workforce development training programs featuring groups like FtF foster community resilience. Specifically, they're using a collaborative curriculum model for rural sustainable development to evaluate the feasibility of a face-to-face farmer training initiative at the Patterson School in Lenoir, North Carolina.

Students in App State's Master of Business Administration program analyzed the fit of a face-to-face program at the Patterson School. After determining the program was a good fit, the Patterson School Foundation board representatives were introduced to the face-to-face team. Both groups met to discuss the school's capacity to host the program and identify goals for the project's strategic plan. With this knowledge, the team is currently identifying and developing external grant applications to fund an agricultural workforce development center for veterans and underserved populations, which would also support the offering of internships and experiential learning opportunities for App State students.

Kowalczyk, MacNamara and Shay are identifying interdisciplinary student and faculty partnerships in order to expand the project. In the Spring, students in the Department of Social Work's "Advanced Community Planning" course will analyze the project's value to key stakeholders. A potential future direction is the establishment of a rural planning course in the Department of Rural Resilience and Innovation to teach students about rural resilience strategy.


To learn more about RRI Seed Grants, visit rri.appstate.edu/seed-grants.


About the Department of Rural Resilience and Innovation
Appalachian State University’s Department of Rural Resilience and Innovation is one of 17 academic departments in the College of Arts and Sciences and serves as a hub for App State faculty, staff and students working on scholarship, teaching and service with rural community partners. The department, which launched in summer 2021, is home to App State’s online, four-year Bachelor of Science in veterinary technology degree and offers seed grants to fund research or service-learning class collaborations that address challenges faced by rural American communities. Learn more at https://rri.appstate.edu.

By Lauren Andersen
January 13, 2023

 Department of Rural Resilience and Innovation (RRI) Seed Grants
Published: Jan 13, 2023 8:05am