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Engaged Scholars Institute

The goal of the ESI is to create a cohort of community engaged scholars who provide guidance, support, resource development and increase best practice participation in their respective colleges in order to advance scholarship, promotion and tenure support, and overall community engaged practices at WVU.

Meet our Engaged Scholars 2023 Cohort

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Amy Allen

Assistant Director, WVU Cancer Institute's Cancer Prevention and Control

Amy Allen is an Assistant Director with WVU Cancer Institute’s Cancer Prevention and Control and has spent 20+ years engaging West Virginia communities in outreach, education, and community-based research. Working among several Cancer Prevention and Control programs spanning mobile cancer screening, health communications, and healthcare provider/public education, Amy consistently seeks out new partnerships and technologies to address cancer health disparities in rural Appalachia. Current research partnerships focus on messaging to promote cancer screening, breath-based biomarker testing for lung cancer, and the dissemination of evidence-based practices and research findings. Her educational background includes a Master of Science in Community Health Education, a Master of Arts in Sociology, and Graduate Certificates in Health Care Administration and Digital Marketing Communications.

Learn More About Amy

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Peter Butler

Director of Design and Community Development | Professor, Landscape Architecture Extension Specialist

Peter Butler joined the WVU faculty in 2008. Prior to coming to Morgantown, Butler obtained his bachelor of arts in English and creative writing from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in landscape architecture from Iowa State University. His research interests include cultural landscape research and planning; community design process; industrial landscape reclamation and interpretation; and design studio pedagogy. His research projects include cultural landscape inventory, analysis and treatment; visualization; brownfields reclamation; land use planning; historic transportation corridor planning; and participatory design methods.

Learn More About Peter

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Erin Carlson

Assistant Professor, Department of English

Erin Brock Carlson is an assistant professor in the Department of English, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Writing Studies, including technical and professional writing. Community engaged scholarship and teaching is central to her work at WVU given her commitment to honoring the knowledge of rural community members across our state and region. Erin’s research centers the relationships between place, technology, and power, focusing on how communities work together to address complex public problems through communication and community organizing. She is currently working with Tamarack Foundation for the Arts on a statewide cultural equity research project and has worked with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and the Highlander Center on participatory research in the past. In her courses, she has partnered with a range of area organizations, including Girls on the Run of North Central West Virginia and the West Virginia and Regional History Center. Erin earned her Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Composition from Purdue University, her M.A. from Miami University, and her B.A. from Transylvania University.

Learn More About Erin

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Rebekah Chiasson

Ph.D. Student, Communication Studies

Rebekah M. Chiasson is a second-year Ph.D. student of Communication Studies at WVU. Her teaching experience includes instructing and acting as course coordinator for the Fundamentals of Group Communication service-learning course. She has managed service-learning opportunities for nearly 200 students per semester during the last two academic years. In the service-learning course, students work in groups to complete ten individual service hours with various community partners throughout Monongalia County. Students apply course concepts in hands-on experiences with their community partners and develop an appreciation for making a positive difference in their community. Her students' growth in group communication skills and commitment to bettering their community is a constant inspiration to Rebekah. Rebekah received her master's degree at Northern Illinois University. Her research includes instructional and interpersonal communication. She focuses on communicative behaviors teachers can employ to inspire student motivation and achievement, as well as supportive messages and conflict in personal relationships. Rebekah's service-learning COMM 112 course worked with 21 community partners during the Fall 2022 semester.

Learn More About Rebekah

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Elizabeth Claydon

Assistant Professor, School of Public Health

Elizabeth Claydon is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Social & Behavioral Sciences, where she teaches a variety of undergraduate and graduate level courses. She received a dual BA in Child Development and Medicine, Health, and Society from Vanderbilt, which started her interest in public health. She then pursued an MPH and Master of Science at Yale, focusing her research on obesity and eating disorder prevention. Dr. Claydon received her Doctorate in Social and Behavioral Sciences from West Virginia University in May 2018. Her dissertation work focused on preventing the intergenerational transmission of eating disorders and dieting behavior, in both community and clinical populations. Dr. Claydon’s research also involved a qualitative piece on the intersection between pregnancy and eating disorders. She is continuing this research agenda by educating health care professionals about eating disorders and weight stigma. Dr. Claydon is also starting to research the intersection between intimate partner violence and eating disorders. For service, Dr. Claydon acts as the Faculty Advisor for the Gamma Mu Chapter of the Delta Omega Honorary Public Health Society and is a member of the West Virginia University Council for Women’s Concerns. Elizabeth Claydon's PUBH 352 and PUBH 621 classes have earned the S-designation and are official WVU service-learning classes.

Learn More About Elizabeth

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Rita Colistra

Associate Professor, Reed College of Media

Rita Colistra is an associate professor of advertising and public relations at WVU’s Reed College of Media. She is also the founder and director of BrandJRNY, a grant-funded community branding initiative that serves rural West Virginia communities. Colistra’s research focuses on media sociology and theory from a public-interest perspective, community and audience engagement, and tourism and place branding. She has conducted extensive community-engaged research with West Virginia communities. Taking a multi-method approach, her work has focused on residents as well as regional and national audiences. Her applied and theoretical research has informed place-branding campaigns that have boosted tourism and economic development in partner regions, significantly increased community engagement, and expanded the knowledge base and enhanced understanding of these areas in academia. Her research also has guided advocacy work for organizations, leading to increased funding and participation and enhanced recognition and support among key stakeholders. Colistra’s focus on and passion for community informs all areas of her work. Her people-first, solutions-oriented approach to community engagement and scholarship has guided research-based strategies and campaigns to help address challenges and elevate opportunities in partner communities. Her process centers on authentic storytelling and representation of people and place and building and maintaining meaningful community relationships. Through this work, she equips communities with the knowledge, foundation and tools to allow for sustainable implementation and lasting positive impact. An award-winning professor, scholar and practitioner, Colistra has obtained nearly $450,000 in funding for research-based community branding and engagement projects and strategic communications work. She has partnered with students and professionals to develop nearly 20 campaigns for communities and organizations in West Virginia. She and her teams have won over 30 Crystal Awards and Honorable Mentions from the PRSA-WV Chapter and several national and regional awards for campaigns and research. Colistra has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including state Public Relations Practitioner of the Year; state Public Relations Educator of the Year; college Faculty Research Award; college Golden Quill Teaching Award; national Promising Professor Award; national PR SuPRstar Award for Professional Freedom & Responsibility; university Faculty Excellence in Civic Engagement Award; and Caveney Faculty Excellence Award, which honors WVU faculty for productivity in all three academic pillars—research, teaching and service. Rita Colistra earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from West Virginia University and her Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a Roy H. Park Fellow.

Learn More About Rita

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Daniel Eades

Associate Professor and WVU Extension Specialist

Daniel Eades has significant experience in applied, community-based economic research, and has worked for the past 12 years as an Associate Professor and West Virginia University Extension Service Specialist in the areas of rural economics and rural development. He views community engaged scholarship as the heart of the Extension Service mission – an opportunity to share best practices and expertise from the university in ways that empower residents and build capacity, and an opportunity to learn from and with residents who are working daily to address the challenges impacting West Virginia’s rural communities. Daniel’s teaching and outreach activities engage government and community leaders in the process of data driven economic development decision making and support a breadth of community and economic development initiatives focused on local planning and place making. His research interests include rural and regional development economics, the community development process and community vitality, and community data analysis. Daniel grew up in Beckley, WV. He received his B.S. degree in Environmental Studies, Natural Resource Management from Shepherd University and a Master's in Agricultural and Resource Economics from WVU. He is completing his doctorate in Human and Community Development at WVU. Before accepting his current position, he worked as a research associate in Clemson University’s EDA University Center and Regional Economic Development Research Laboratory (REDRL).

Learn More About Daniel

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Audra Hamrick

Director of Undergraduate Studies, WVU School of Public Health

Audra Hamrick is the Director of Undergraduate Studies with the WVU School of Public Health and a Service Assistant Professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Audra joined the School in 2018 as the Director of Public Health Practice and Service Learning. In that role, she coordinated experiential learning opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students, working closely with public health agencies and community organizations to identify needs and ways to help meet those needs. Prior to joining WVU, Audra worked as a professional school counselor and in residential treatment for adolescents. She continues to work closely with the WV Center for Children’s Justice to provide training and support to school systems and stakeholders. Audra is personally invested in the community through her service as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). In this role she advocates for the best interests of children who have experienced abuse and neglect. Audra’s efforts center on preventing and mitigating the effects of adverse childhood experiences. Her personal service allows her to also detect opportunities for the university to partner and develop mutually beneficial outreach. Audra earned a B.S. in Behavioral Science from Glenville State College and an M.A. in Counseling from WVU. She is currently pursuing a Graduate Certificate in Community Development Policy and Practice. Ms. Hamrick is a National Certified and Licensed Professional Counselor and a member of the University’s Student Success Committee, Prevention Committee, Health Sciences Interprofessional Education Steering Committee, and Faculty Senate.

Learn More About Audra

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Anne Jones

Business Advisor for the LaunchLab

As an Advisor, Anne shares her business knowledge with students as well as members of the West Virginia Community by providing coaching, access to resources, and networking. She has a BA from St. Lawrence University, MA from the University of Massachusetts, and an MBA from Cranfield School of Management, UK. She has worked in new product development at Citigroup and served as an Assistant Dean at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Management. Anne was Executive Director of Economic Development for Tucker County, WV, and Business Advisor for the Mon Forest Business Initiative.

Learn More About Anne

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Miriam Leary

Assistant Professor in Exercise Physiology

Miriam Leary is an assistant professor and the assistant chair in the division of exercise physiology. She received a BS in Exercise Biology from the University of California Davis, a MS in Exercise Physiology from West Virginia University, a PhD in Exercise Science from the University of Texas at Austin, and completed a post-doctoral fellowship in the department of human nutrition and foods at West Virginia University. Much of her focus is on student success including the first-year experience, advising at-risk students, and academic support for all undergraduates. One of her leading areas of interest is in community engaged experiential learning through which she has created programming for undergraduate and graduate students to promote health through physical activity. She has established a productive research agenda in discipline-specific education research of exercise physiology students with a particular focus on experiential and service-learning opportunities in community-based exercise training. She has received internal funding to develop and implement community-engagement projects providing exercise training to community dwelling adults. Miriam serves as a faculty representative for the Faculty Advisory Committee at the WVU Center for Community Engagement as well as the Teaching and Learning Commons Faculty Associate for Student Success. She received the Excellence in Community Engagement award for Service-Learning Instruction in 2020. 

Learn More About Miriam

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Erin McHenry-Sorber

Assistant Professor, Coordinator of the Higher Education Administration Program

Erin McHenry-Sorber is the coordinator of the Higher Education Administration program. McHenry-Sorber has been an assistant professor in the program since 2014. Prior to coming to WVU, she worked as an assistant professor at Wilkes University. Her research centers on the internal and external structures and contexts that influence rural schools and communities and their relationships. She has authored papers in the Peabody Journal of Education, the International Journal of Inclusive Education, the Journal of Rural Social Sciences, and Leadership and Policy in Schools. The former publications focus on rural school-community conflict and the politicization of rural community identity. The latter publications investigate the gendered risks and opportunities in Marcellus Shale gas boomtowns and the experiences of rural school leaders in a Marcellus Shale community. Erin McHenry-Sorber has presented at numerous conferences, including the annual meetings of the National Rural Education Association (NREA) and the American Educational Research Association. She won the NREA Howard A. Dawson Best Research Paper Award in 2016. She serves as a consulting editor for the Journal of Research in Rural Education, as chairperson of the advisory board for The Rural Educator, and as a member of the NREA Higher Education/Research Committee. Her courses include Higher Education Curriculum/Reform, Diversity Issues in Higher Education, Higher Education Policy and Politics, Leadership and Organizations, Women and Gender Issues in Higher Education, and Qualitative Research Methods. She obtained a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from the Pennsylvania State University, a M.Ed. from Harvard University in Administration, Planning, and Social Policy, and a B.S. Ed. From Bucknell University in Secondary Education and English. Prior to working in higher education, Erin taught high school English and middle school reading and worked as a school district grant writer.  

Learn More About Erin

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Emily Murphy

Associate Professor, College of Applied Human Sciences

Emily Murphy is an associate professor of health and well-being in the College of Applied Human Sciences. She is honored for her long-term success in acquiring nearly $22 million to support interventional strategies and public health initiatives in the state. This work has centered on physical activity promotion, child obesity prevention, food access, and healthy lifestyles for West Virginia community members, families and children. 

Emily is also recognized for her success in creating environmental and systems changes that are sustainable for years to come. For example, she helped establish the Healthy Eating Research Nutrition Guidelines at the Mountaineer Food Bank, which guides more than 450 agencies across the state to source and distribute healthier options for the families they serve. Her work with the Center for ActiveWV helps to promote a collaborative framework for enhancing physical activity among children and adults statewide and guide state and local policy and practice. Additionally, as co-chair of the Physical Activity Policy Team for the “Our Children, Our Future” campaign, Emily helped guarantee that West Virginia children are entitled to 30 minutes of physical activity each school day. She also collaborated with WVU Extension to develop 4-H curriculum and camp activities, and to integrate health education material into 4-H clubs, camps and family activities in every county in the state.

Read About Emily's Work

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Kevin Orner

Assistant Professor, Environmental Engineering

After obtaining a B.S. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he served for two years as a Water and Sanitation Engineer in the Peace Corps in Panama. Kevin completed his M.S. in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of South Florida, is an E.I.T. with engineering consulting experience, and was awarded a Fulbright Research Grant to study the recovery of nutrients and energy in Costa Rica.  He received a PhD in Environmental Engineering from the University of South Florida in Tampa in 2019, where he studied nutrient and energy recovery from centralized wastewater treatment plants. 

From 2019-2021, Kevin was a postdoctoral researcher in Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. Kevin's CE493A and CE593C Sustainable Development Engineering courses have earned the S-designation and are official WVU service-learning courses.

Learn More About Kevin

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Toni Owens

Pd.D. Candidate, Human & Community Development Program

Toni Owens is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Human & Community Development program, who was born and raised in Kansas City, and she currently serves as a Founding Advisory Member for WVU’s Faculty Justice Network. She has a B.S. in Social Sciences with a minor in American Ethnic Studies and a B.S. in Social Work from Kansas State University and a Master of Social Work degree from Park University. 

Toni is a licensed social worker and instructor with work experience in multicultural student affairs and diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. She has been teaching on the collegiate level since 2020 and completed her certificate in University Teaching in 2021. Her motivation for community engaged scholarship comes from her extensive history of community service and activism, as well as her desire to use research to assist with addressing community issues. 

Toni is currently a member of the Kansas City Association of Black Social Workers, the K-State Social Work Community Advisory Committee, NAACP, ACLU and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. She has been selected to be a Diversity Dissertation Fellow at Middle Tennessee State University, where she will teach one class a semester in the Department of Social Work for the 2023-2024 academic year, while completing her dissertation. After Toni completes her Ph.D. program, she plans to transition into a full-time career that will combine her passions for higher education, social work, and community development. She is a committed advocate that personally and professionally promotes mental/emotional wellness and social justice for all.

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L. Chris Plein

Professor, Public Administration

L. Christopher Plein is a Professor of Public Administration and Eberly Professor of Outstanding Public Service at West Virginia University. He served as chair of the Department of Public Administration from 2004 until 2011 and also served as an Assistant and Associate Dean for West Virginia University’s Eberly College of Arts & Sciences from 2005 to 2013. He also holds an appointment as adjunct specialist in community and family development with the West Virginia University Extension Service. Chris's area of research specialty is public policy formation and implementation. His research concentrates on social and health policy; rural development and community transition; and higher education outreach and engagement. He has recently published in such journals as the Journal of Extension , Social Science Quarterly , and the Journal of Applied Social Science. 

Chris also studies public administration and policy in West Virginia. He is co-author of Welfare Reform in West Virginia (West Virginia University Press 2004) and West Virginia Politics and Government (University of Nebraska Press, 2008). Christopher has taught courses across the MPA curriculum, and currently teaches classes relating to healthcare administration, administrative justice and ethics, and the student capstone experience. He has also taught courses in WVU’s social work and leadership studies programs. He is active in the public administration teaching community and regularly serves as a site visitor in accreditation reviews and as a presenter at professional conferences. 

Chris has been active in service to the West Virginia and its communities. He has served as a citizen member of the West Virginia Legislature’s Legislative Intern Committee; served as a gubernatorial appointee to West Virginia’s high risk insurance program; and has assisted policymakers in both the executive and legislative branches with various policy and program studies. He has served on the boards of non-profit organizations, and currently is on the Board of Directors for the Allegheny Highlands Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Learn More About Chris

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Jennifer Ripley Stueckle

Teaching Professor, Department of Biology

Dr. Jennifer Ripley Stueckle is a Teaching Professor in the Department of Biology.  She is the Program Director of the Non-Majors Biology program and ACCESS Early College BIOL 101-102L Program.  Dr. Ripley Stueckle is the Director for Trout in the Classroom (TIC) in North Central WV.  TIC engages students in the program’s mission to protect and restore the nation’s water resources while fostering a respect and love for the natural world. Students hatch trout eggs and follow their development to fingerlings, ultimately stocking these fry in local waterways.  TIC has interdisciplinary applications from STEAM fields to social studies and physical education.  Dr. Ripley Stueckle’s TIC program is unique in that college students, specifically BIOL 101: General Biology students, participate and partner with the public-school students.  Dr. Ripley Stueckle also engages her General Biology students in maintaining the North Elementary Garden for which she was awarded the Jim Rye Friend of the North Garden award in 2019.   Since 2008, Dr. Ripley Stueckle has implemented educational outreach projects in her Immunology course.  Immunology students spend the semester creating hands-on, educational stations which are then shared with Monongalia County public school students.  Dr. Ripley Stueckle implements these projects because, “it is the way we all want to learn.  We want to do things.  We want to make a difference in someone else's life, in our community, and our planet.  Outreach is rewarding for all involved and it gives you a sense of excitement and purpose that isn't found in the traditional classroom setting.” 

Learn More About Jennifer

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Angel Smothers

Clinical Associate Professor, School of Nursing

Angel Smothers was born and raised in a small rural coal camp community in southern West Virginia, where poverty is high and access to healthcare continues to be a significant issue. The proximity and shared values and beliefs of Appalachian community-based nurses place them in a unique position to support the health-related needs of the community members. Angel Smothers is a Clinical Associate Professor at West Virginia University (WVU). She is nationally board certified as a family nurse practitioner, faith community nurse, and hospice and palliative care nurse. She is also board certified as a clinical nurse educator (CNEcl). Dr. Smothers is also board certified in evidence based practice. She was the recipient of the WVU Undergraduate Research Mentoring Award in 2022 and has been nominated for the 2023 WVU Heebink award for service to the state of West Virginia. In 2021, she received the WVU Provost Office Research MVP award. In 2019, Dr. Smothers received the Future of Nursing WV Action Coalition leadership award. In 2018, she received the WVU School of Nursing Dean’s Spirit award. In 2013, Dr. Smothers was the recipient of the Future of HPNA Leadership award. She has worked in the area of faith community nursing for a decade, has taught at the university level for the past 19 years, and has been a nurse for 24 years. Over the past 7 years, Dr. Smothers has provided training for faith community nurses across West Virginia using the national Foundations of Faith Community Nursing curriculum through the Westberg Institute. Dr. Smothers has worked with nurses in rural communities across West Virginia as they seek to build faith community nursing roles within the communities of faith they serve. In addition, Dr. Smothers has forged collaborative connections with faith communities throughout counties in southern West Virginia. Dr. Smothers completed her undergraduate nursing education in rural WV and continued to maintain connections with the nursing faculty in this area of the state. In addition, Dr. Smothers has worked in a federally funded clinic in rural WV as a nurse practitioner. Her dedication to the nursing profession extends to education by teaching various nursing courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels in West Virginia for over 19 years. Dr. Smothers has expanded nursing education by taking nursing students to rural areas to complete their undergraduate capstones within a faith community. She is actively involved with national organizations including the following: HPNA (Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association), AANP (American Association of Nurse Practitioners), National Health Ministry Association, American Nurses Association (ANA), WV Nurses Association (WVNA), National Nursing Christian Fellowship, and Spiritual Care Association.

Learn More About Angel

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Betsy Thomas

Extension Agent - Agriculture & Natural Resources

Betsy has a strong desire to give back to the state she calls home and feels this position is a perfect way for her to share her passion and expertise in agriculture. She has been busy meeting people in the community and taking part in events, including her first Mon County Fair and State Fair of West Virginia over the summer. She notes that listening to people and hearing what they are interested in helps her define programs and activities to meet those needs.

Learn More About Betsy

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Li Wang

Teaching Associate Professor, John Chambers College of Business and Economics

As a Teaching Associate Professor at WVU John Chambers College of Business and Economics, Li worked with students closely in and outside the classroom. She is a firm believer in “learning by doing” and passionate about enabling students to engage in experiential learning opportunities to develop and achieve their academic and professional interests. Li also serves as the Director of Business Honors Program at Chambers College, preparing high-achieving students to become the next generation of global business leaders. Li encourages and challenges them to take on leadership roles and make positive impact to local non-profit and/or business communities and beyond. Every Fall semester, students in her Honors sections of BCOR 199 Intro to Business work with 15+ community partners on service-learning projects and generate impact value of $15,000+. Projects range from raising awareness of social issues, developing marketing materials, running social media campaigns, to hosting fundraising events. Students apply the knowledge and skills of various business functions to support non-profit community partners through these real-world projects. Li's Honors BCOR 199 course has earned the S-designation and is an official WVU service-learning course.

Learn More About Li

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Bradley Wilson

Associate Professor, Geography | Director, WVU Center for Resilient Communities

Bradley Wilson is a broadly trained human geographer. His research is rooted in fields such as community economies, agrarian studies, political ecology, post-colonial theory, and rural development. For 20 years he has focused on the response of communities to regional economic crises - in coffee and coal country - and the central role of solidarity, mutual aid, grassroots initiatives and social movements in forging alternative rural development pathways in those regions. Methodologically he practices critical ethnography but in recent years have more fully embraced his identity as a participatory action researcher - working in teams to accompany community partners as they work for social change. With his students, hehasestablished a robust action research program and experiments focused on cooperative economics, food justice, food system development, community health and environmental justice in West Virginia and Appalachia which is now housed in the WVU Center for Resilient Communities. In recent years he has been thinking about pragmatist pedagogies and how to practice community geographies.

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Alyssa Wright

Head, Research Services, University Librarian

Alyssa Wright is the Associate Librarian for the Social Sciences at West Virginia University. She has a MA in Communication Studies and an MLIS from the University of Iowa. She is certified by Foundation Center as an expert funding researcher and trainer. She teaches courses in information literacy and grant seeking. Her previous teaching experience includes courses in communication, writing, rhetoric, and public speaking at the university level.

Learn More About Alyssa