The Collaborative encourages discussion and teamwork for developing new and innovative programs

The Collaborative posterAlysse Schultheis


On January 22, faculty, staff, students, and community members gathered together to gather information and brain-storm ideas for the Collaborative for Southern Appalachian and Place-Based Studies. The faculty at Sewanee have for many years offered a rich array of courses relating to the local region and Appalachia more broadly, and recent efforts have expanded to course offerings such as Appalachian Religion, History of Southern Appalachia, Child, Family, and Community Development in Rural Appalachia, through the Finding Your Place program for first-year students, and expanding opportunities for community-engaged learning.

Sewanee also has growing collaborations with Yale University through summer internships, semester-long placements, and faculty partnerships and shared scholarship. There has also been a long-standing interest at Sewanee in Photo courtesy of developing a program in Southern Studies. All of these elements might unite to form a program in Southern Appalachian Studies. In order to launch the planning and design process, the University applied for funding to the Mellon Foundation. The main goal of the Collaborative is to serve as an “incubator, facilitator, and amplifier for new, creative, and continued collaborative approaches that ground learning about Southern Appalachia in place and connect understanding to action,” said Dr. Karen Yu and Dr. Linda Mayes, co-facilitators of the Collaborative. In particular, Yu and Mayes say what is particularly exiting about the Collaborative is “that ideas might originate with students, faculty, staff, or community members and develop into diverse and rich interdisciplinary, inter-institutional, University-community collaborations that will help to shape a possible program in Southern Appalachian and Place-Based Studies.” Students can participate by bringing their ideas for new and exciting courses, research, workshops, panels, and seminars forward, and Yu and Mayes said, “the members of the Collaborative’s Steering Committee or implementation Committee would be glad to help.”

Launched at the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year, the Collaborative is in the process of interviewing candidates for post-doc and post-bacc fellowships. They are currently working with a History PhD candidate at Yale to identify and connect with potential collaborators at Sewanee in his proposed research project, “The Hillbilly Highway: A Social History of Transappalachia, 1918-1972.” The Collaborative is also helping to move forward a symposium on “imaginative Education: Cultivating a Sense of Place” proposed by a faculty, faculty emeritus, and community member team. In addition, the Collaborative has joined with others to help fund and facilitate the development of resources on social issue framing from the FrameWorks institute that will be available to faculty and students for their academic and community, and campus, engagement work. During the recent information session, Yu said they “had a great and enthusiastic turnout, and during our brainstorming session a few among the many ideas that emerged were possibilities for new and interdisciplinary studies around rural health, regional music, rural economies, and building communities.”

Yu and Mayes also hoped the session was valuable as an “opportunity for faculty, students, and community members to begin discussions of how they might work together around these and other themes to develop shared courses and research that are informed by multiple disciplines and also linked with community collaborations and programs.” The Collaborative offers opportunities and resources for bringing prior place-based programs and courses together in order to support and develop more academic opportunities. They hope to achieve this through informal conversation among faculty and students interested in southern Appalachian and place-based studies, building a network of potential collaborators and mentors, discussion groups and workshops, gathering and sharing of related resources, funding for developing new courses and research projects, and more.

Those interested in learning more about the Collaborative should visit their website or their email They will update the website regularly to include upcoming events, projects, and deadlines for proposals. Through this program, Yu and Mayes said, “we hope to facilitate a variety of meetings around specific topics in the near future, and we look forward to helping to move ideas forward through this collaborative process.