Cultivating a Research Culture in Appalachia

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CUS Bike and Build Team

Members of the CUS (Central United States) Bike and Build Team take a break to overlook the wonders of Breaks Interstate Park located in the mountains of Virginia and Kentucky.

Today’s blog comes to Fahe thanks to relationships we have been cultivating in the research community.  Thanks to the ingrained nature of Fahe Members in the communities they serve, they have an opportunity to access and collect information in a way that others can’t. Fahe has the potential to collect that information and help lower barriers for scholars.  By bridging the gap between practice and research, Fahe is increasing access to sites which provide valuable information to academics, Fahe, our Members, and funders. Recently we have had the good fortune to both meet and work with a an advanced graduate student on her dissertation project. Today’s blog, and a body of valuable research, is the result.  

The following piece comes from Emilee Mabrey, a doctoral student at Ball State in Muncie, Indiana, who is working towards a doctorate of education in Adult, Higher, and Community Education.  Her passion for affordable housing stems from a deeply held belief that housing is a basic human right.  Mabrey first learned of Fahe in 2018 while serving as a team lead for Bike and Build.  During a Habitat for Humanity home build in Madison County, KY she met Fahe’s President Jim King who introduced her to the organization’s scope and mission.  

Read Emilee Mabrey’s Full Bio.

Bike and Build – A Networking Experience

A major hope I had when embarking on a cross-country cycling journey was interacting with organizations who had their boots on the ground in serving the specific housing needs of their communities. A majority of my housing experience, until that summer, was with Habitat for Humanity, a global leader in the affordable housing industry. While Habitat does inspirational work, much of their guidelines and policies in the United States are the same regardless of location and the population in which they serve. Over the summer I wanted to learn about other housing organizations, the work they did including their goals and mission, and network with them in hopes of finding organizations I could partner with in future research projects.

Emilee and fellow co-leader on the construction site in Berea, KY, while putting up the exterior and interior walls on two Habitat for Humanity homes.

My Bike and Build group spent two days in Berea, KY, building with their local Habitat for Humanity affiliate. During our lunch break on the build site, Jim King, CEO and President of Fahe, introduced himself to the group and provided information on the work Fahe was doing across the Appalachian region. Jim was welcoming of our group and encouraged us if we were ever back in the area to check out the many partner organizations Fahe works with. I kept the information Jim provided about the mission and goals of Fahe.

 In the spring semester following my cycling trip, I was tasked to conduct a research study of my choosing as a way to gain in depth research experience in my area of interest. I reached out to Jim and explained how Fahe seemed like the type of organization that suited my research and dissertation needs. I was hopeful we could partner on a research project, with the anticipation it would allow me to network with Fahe and their partners, exposing me to other future, potential research partnerships.  

Jim introduced me to Katy Stigers, Fahe’s Research Director. Katy worked diligently in finding ways to tie together my research interests with Fahe’s communal work. After considering a few avenues, we landed on a specific housing initiate Fahe had recently established via a partnership with the Kentucky River Foothills Development Council, Inc. (KRFCD) that supported single parent students attending college – Eastern Scholar House. After working the last several years completing coursework and mini research projects in my doctoral program, I had finally found a project that included all of my research interests, i.e. single mothers, housing, and higher education. Because of the support I received from Fahe during this process, I asked Katy if Fahe would be willing to extend my timeline.  That way I wouldn’t have to hurry through the project to complete it before the end of spring semester and I could use it for my dissertation research project. Katy, and my doctoral committee happily agreed. Together, Katy and I set things in to motion.

The short explanation of the study is that it will explore how affordable housing and unique wrap-around services affects the educational experience of single-mothers as they pursue higher education.  The unique approach of combining education support with access to housing and child development services, allows single parent students and their children to increase self-sufficiency and combat poverty by removing some of the barriers to affordable housing and child care costs women living in this rural area face.  Through this study, I aim to share the experiences of single mother students living in Eastern Scholar House through their voices.  Their stories should be used to promote change within their immediate communities, as well as the larger society.  Through this study, I seek to encourage changes within the housing market, especially surrounding college campuses, so that more single mothers are able to attend higher education and be offered the necessary resources that encourage degree attainment. 

Katy brought together a team of experts to support the project, including a Fahe board member who is a professor at the University of Kentucky, and the program director of KRFDC. The four of us collaborated working through the logistics of the project. I felt extremely supported by this team. While I have a good relationship with my committee chair, the guidance and insider knowledge these three experts were able to offer made me feel accepted by the Fahe community. It was such a great feeling knowing that my work was going to impact a larger audience than I had ever expected. It instilled in me the necessary motivation to work towards completing a project that can often feel isolating and cumbersome. I included these mentors in every step of the process of gaining research approval from my institution.

Almost every woman I interviewed described herself as strong and independent, and are raising strong, independent children who will one day be our country’s leaders. The work Fahe and their partner organizations are doing in providing a space for these women to see and reach their full potential is a model that should be recognized by state and federal policy makers as one that is essential to the success of the country’s future. More work should be done to meet the needs of underrepresented populations who are struggling to make a better life for themselves and their children.

Final Research

After Mabrey finishes up her dissertation, we hope to be able to provide a full follow up of her research and findings.  We encourage any research students and academic institutions interested in conducting research in the Appalachian region to reach out to us on ways to collaborate.  Please contact our Research Director, Katy Stigers for more information.

Read Emilee Mabrey’s Data Collection Process Here

Aaron Phelps

Aaron collects stories from Fahe Members and the people they help in order to present the needs of Appalachia to the public through written word and video. In his free time he nerds it up by playing RPGs, writing fantasy stories, and playing drums.
Aaron Phelps
Aaron Phelps
Aaron collects stories from Fahe Members and the people they help in order to present the needs of Appalachia to the public through written word and video. In his free time he nerds it up by playing RPGs, writing fantasy stories, and playing drums.

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