Archive for April, 2012

Discovering Appalachia Through Research

The Appalachian Institute admires the students at Wheeling Jesuit University that presented their scholarship into issues and projects that engage real questions for the region.  Research ranged from measuring the effects of coal and natural gas extraction to the prevalence of important local species.  Here are a few highlights:

  • Audra Macri, Ryan Schubert, Colt Street and Si Gammache, “Appalachian Institute Mapping Software.” Instructor Robert Kotson, Jr. mentored the project.
  • Sean Weaver, “A Study in the Movement and Propagation of Justicia Americana in Middle Wheeling Creek from 1995 to 2011.” Professor Dr. Ben Stout mentored the project.
  • Ronald B. O’Neil, “The Effectiveness of Buffer Zones to Mitigate the Impact of Longwall Mining on First Order Streams in Southern Ohio.” Professor Dr. Ben Stout mentored the project.
  • John Ruberg, “Establishing Baseline Water Quality for a Stream and a Spring.” Professor Dr. Ben Stout mentored the project.
  • Katlyn Marino, “A Comparison of Hellbender Microhabitat Data to Various West Virginia Watersheds Using a Geographic Information System and a Digital Elevation Model.” Professor Dr. Ken Rastall mentored the project.
  • Andrea Fitzgibbon, “Leaf Decay Coefficiants of Abnormally High Conductivity Streams in Southwestern Pennsylvania.” Professor Dr. Ben Stout mentored the project.

The Appalachian Institute also gave out its annual award for research that advances understanding in an issue specific to the Appalachian Region.  This year it was given to Andrea Fitzgibbon for her study on how measures of leaf decay reflect the impact of industrial processes on local ecosystems.  A copy of her abstract is attached.  A certificate of recognition was also given to the worthy team that presented on participatory mapping software.  This was the first group of recent history to have a project from a discipline other than natural science.

Discover past research projects here on our website and contact us if you are interested in your own project at ai@wju.edu .

ABSTRACT: Leaf Decay Coefficients of Abnormally High Conductivity Streams in Southwestern Pennsylvania, Fitzgibbon, 2012

Immersed in Coal Country: University of San Francisco

By Allison Schaub, University of San Francisco

A small group of University of San Francisco students myself included and staff had the unique opportunity to visit Appalachia, an area rich in culture, beautiful landscapes and a shiny black rock called coal. We went on a weeklong trip to West Virginia through the USF Ministry Arrupe Immersion Program in order to gain a deeper understanding of the impact the coal industry has had on the region’s people and environment. We traveled across the state meeting with non-profits such as Coal River Mountain Watch who are working towards ending the state’s dependency on coal, a natural gas company called Chesapeake Energy, The West Virginia Coal Association and then ended the trip with a powerful visit to Kayford Mountain. Seeing a mountain and the surrounding ecosystems completely destroyed from mining and hearing the story of Larry Gibson, who calls the mountain his home, was a poignant culmination of our immersion.

Coal has been the biggest source of US energy for hundreds of years, but the way of obtaining it has changed drastically. Coal companies now use a type of mining called Mountain Top Removal. The tops of mountains are blasted off using explosives, leaving the coal seams exposed in order to be mined. While this type of mining is safer for the miners in comparison to the traditional underground method, the environment and people living in the area are being adversely affected and the industry has become more mechanized, therefore providing fewer jobs to the people of West Virginia. The blasted mountain or “overburden” are filling valleys, causing massive flooding across the state and forcing people to leave their homes. Those that aren’t forced to leave the areas that coal companies have moved into are exposed to an array of health risks, such as cancer and birth defects.

A message we continued to hear throughout the trip was that there is a strong love-hate relationship when it comes to the coal industry and the people of Appalachia. The state of West Virginia is stuck in a cycle of poverty because of the lack of job opportunities there. The United States is dependent on cheap energy and West Virginia is dependent on the coal industry. It is a complicated issue and we feel very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to obtain a deeper understanding of the energy problems our country is facing by connecting to people who have different views on the issue. It is imperative that we all need to be more knowledgeable about the effects of our energy consumption and take responsibility in making changes to create a future that doesn’t require the sacrifice of our environment and the people that live in it in order to turn the lights on.

Note from the Appalachian Institute: To learn more about the cycle of poverty in West Virginia and how people are breaking out of it, see this PBS Frontline article:  http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/countryboys/readings/duncan.html

West Virginia the Rich: Loyola University of Maryland

Since I’ve been back from our trip to West Virginia, I’ve been consumed with the question of what it means to be rich. On on our immersion trip, West Virginia was described many times as being the “richest and poorest state in the country”. This didn’t begin to make sense to me until I got home.

We learned that West Virginia is the greatest producer of coal energy, only second to Wyoming. Ninety-seven percent of its energy comes from coal, as well as the majority of the country receives energy sources from this state. Our nation would not be able to function, as it does today, without the resources extracted from Appalachia. In the same breath, West Virginia’s unemployment is consistently rising due to a great deal of mechanization. The divided counties are united when it comes to concern of growing poverty and unemployment and ultimate stability of their futures.


In this sense, yes, West Virginia can be seen as being both rich and poor. While discerning about my time spent and experiences of the past week, I’ve concluded that West Virginia is richer in so many other ways than the rest of the country is lacking.

Although this may be bold, I will go out on a ledge to say that West Virginia is home to the nicest people in the nation. These wonderful people not only invited us into their centers, seminars, and service sites, but also into their hearts. They answered every one of our typically blunt, curious, and personal questions about home, work, and their beliefs of energy sources were impacting their way of life, with educated and passionate responses. While usually being so rushed for time, our conversations were relaxed, engaged, and thoughtful. I learned what it to be joyful to live in homes that were filled with family relationships, tradition, and culture, rather than computers and televisions. The beautiful mountains that guarded their homes, as well as, the hollers that separated them, were as important to the West Virginians as the air we breathe.


We cannot begin to understand until we immerse ourselves in what we do not know. This vulnerability forced us to listen which in turn brought us understanding. The stories of both the county people and the big energy companies, were enlightening and inspiring because we now can share it with all of you. After one week, I am just beginning to see how much West Virginia has to offer. In the simplest terms, I unknowingly left a piece of my heart in those hollers.

By Kelley Dolan, Loyola University of Maryland